In early 1887, George Dawson and Richard McConnell initiated what may have been the most ambitious project ever undertaken by the Geological Survey of Canada – namely, the first survey of northern British Columbia and Yukon. To access this vast and remote area, they ascended the Stikine River. Dawson then continued up the Liard River and down the Pelly River to Fort Selkirk. Tracing in reverse the route that a decade later saw thousands of prospectors flocking from the coast to the Klondike, Dawson passed through the site of Whitehorse and crossed the Chilkoot Pass to the Pacific.
McConnell’s party embarked on an even more demanding route, sweeping first south and then far to the north, becoming the first GSC expedition to cross the Arctic Circle, before they too crossed the Chilkoot and headed for home.
Dawson’s detailed and precise survey of his route, encompassing an incredible 155,000 square kilometres traversed in one summer, laid the foundations for exploration in the area for decades to come. In tribute to his work, the hub of the Klondike Gold Rush was named Dawson City in 1896.
Dawson, G.M., 1888. Report on an exploration in the Yukon District, N.W.T., and adjacent northern portion of British Columbia. 1887; Geological and Natural History Survey of Canada, Annual Report, 1887, Part B, Dawson Brothers, Montreal, 244 p.
Jenkins, P., 2007. Beneath My Feet – The Memoirs of George Mercer Dawson; McClelland & Stewart Ltd, Toronto, 350 p.