Probably there is no
other city on the continent of America where the commercial conditions
are so peculiar as they are in Dawson. The limited period of
transportation, the difficulty of accurately calculating on the
importation of not more than a sufficient quantity of the different
lines of goods, the risk to perishables, the delay occasioned by the
congestion of traffic during the latter part of the summer, and high
freight rates; all these considerations create an unusual velocity in
the mind of the wholesale merchant.
Many of the necessities of life are canned goods which, together with
staples and other merchandise, have to be imported between the middle of
June and the latter part of October, this being the period when the
Yukon river, which is the great channel of transportation in the
interior, is open to navigation. Some lines of merchandise are shipped
from Whitehorse to Dawson over the winter trail, hut the express and
freight rates are so high that wholesale merchants and importers order
for delivery during this season of the year only goods and commodities
which they are confident will find a ready market. It is only by
experience, by a thorough knowledge of the requirements of the community
and by careful manipulation that large importers can attain any degree
of success. Staple provisions and other commodities are ordered as late
in the summer as possible, and the transportation companies have a busy
time during the last three or four weeks of navigation. 1 here are two
reasons why orders are delayed until so late in the season. In the first
place, importers desire to ascertain as nearly as possible the quantity
of provisions available on the market, and in the second place they
desire their last consignment for the season to be as fresh as possible.
The experience of the past has been that when there is more than a
sufficient supply of a certain line of goods, the wholesale merchant or
importer will reduce the price in order to dispose of his stock before
the opening of navigation, and as a result importers carrying lines of
goods which have [been reduced in price will probably compete by a
further reduction, and the commodity may be sold at a considerable loss
to the importer. If the supply of a certain commodity, which cannot be
retained during the whole winter in a state of preservation, exceeds the
demand, then the importer must necessarily sell at a sacrifice, because
he will be confronted with the loss which naturally takes place among
perishable foods. On the other hand the whole-ale merchant or importer
can increase the price as soon as he discovers that there is a
likelihood of a deficiency in a certain line, as he feels confident that
there is only a slight possibility of the market being replenished
before the opening of navigation, and if it is replenished by goods
brought overland then he can command the difference between the summer
and winter rate.
During the past two years the population of Dawson and the surrounding
district has considerably decreased, and in consequence several retail
and wholesale merchants have closed out their business. The gradual
reduction in population necessarily created a corresponding reduction in
the number of stores and other business houses. The result of such a
condition is the gradual cessation of business on the part of the
merchant who only transacts a small volume of business, and the
continuation in trade of the merchant who does a large amount of
business, unless there is an amalgamation of interests. Business in
Dawson at the present time may be said to have found its level. The
distribution of the retail and wholesale trade seems to have reached
that stage where the margin of profit on the volume of business
transacted is a satisfactory return or interest on the capital invested.
In the early days of the camp the miners had to come to Dawson from the
creeks in order to obtain their supplies, and such utensils and
machinery as were required for the operation of their claims, but during
the last three or four years stores have been established at different
points on the creeks, and the miners do not now find it necessary to
make the long and expensive trip to Dawson. Within the last year or so
the business of the creek stores has been invaded by pedlars, who travel
between Dawson and the different creeks and deliver all kinds of goods
at cabins on the claims at a rate very little higher than retail prices
in Dawson. By purchasing from the creek stores or from the pedlars at a
slightly increased rate, the miners save tin1 expense of a round trip to
Dawson, as well as the time occupied by the trip.
Apart from the consideration of the question of supply and demand, the
Dawson merchant has to encounter the risk of fire and storage rates.
Notwithstanding the heavy expenditure incurred by the different
municipal councils in the establishment and maintenance of an efficient
fire department, Dawson has been visited by disastrous conflagrations.
When the thermometer is meandering anywhere from 20 to 70 below zero it
is essential to tax the stoves at times to their utmost capacity in
distributing heat, and during the winter season a disastrous fire may be
caused by an overheated flue or some such other incident which would be
quite unusual in a moderate clime. There is no city in the west where
greater precaution is taken against fires than in Dawson. There is a law
providing for the erection of proper safeties and other precautionary
measures, and an officer is appointed to enforce the law. In the fall of
1906 a hydrant system was installed for the better fire protection of
the city. Prior to this period, engines were located at different points
along the water front, and when an alarm was turned in, lines of hose
were immediately laid from the engines to the scene of the fire. Under
the new system, however, hydrants are located along the principal
streets, and as soon as an alarm is turned in eight streams of water,
each of a pressure of over 100 pounds, can at once be thrown on a fire.
The water is forced along wooden pipes by an engine, and during the
winter the water is kept at a certain temperature to prevent it from
freezing, and an electrical heating apparatus covers each hydrant. The
fire insurance rates in Dawson vary from two to seven per cent,
according to locality, but most of the merchants prefer to assume the
risk themselves instead of paying what they consider an exorbitant rate.
In some sections of the city insurance cannot be obtained.
The storage of goods during the winter is very costly. The rent of a
warehouse will run from $75 to $120 a month; and to this amount has to
be added fuel, which this year (1907) averaged $15 per cord, and coal
about $ls per ton, and the waires of a warehouseman, $150 per month. If
a merchant neither owns nor rents a warehouse, he can place goods in
warm storage at the rate of $2 per ton, and in cold storage at the rate
of 70 cents per ton per month in each case.
The following is a list of retail prices of goods on the Dawson market,
April 31, 1907:—
MEAT AND GAME.
During the summer large
consignments of sheep and cattle are shipped to Dawson from British
Columbia and the Northwest. The animals are killed and the carcasses
placed in cold storage. The last consignment of the season arrives about
the middle of October, and the first consignment of the next year is
brought to Dawson over the winter trail and arrives about the latter
part of March. During the winter, however, hunters and Indians supply
the market with game, such as moose, caribou and mountain sheep, which
is hauled from the mountains to the city by dog-teams. The Peel River
Indians usually arrive in Dawson about the latter part of December with
several tons of moose and caribou; and a few weeks later hunters on the
headwaters of the Klondike arrive in Dawson with the first consignment
of their season's work. Came is the only kind of fresh meat available in
many of the outlying districts, and hunters find a ready market among
the miners on the creeks.
Ptarmigan are numerous on the headwaters of the Klondike, and there are
also some grouse and wild duck.
The following are the retail prices of meat and game on the Dawson
During the past few
years a considerable fur trade has been carried on by trappers and
Indians, who usually dispose of their stock either at Fort Selkirk or
Dawson, or at some of the outlying trading posts. Same trappers,
however, who have large consignments of fur. prefer to ship either to
San Francisco or London. The localities mostly frequented hy trappers
are the Pelly, the headwaters of the Klondike, the White ri\er, the
Stewart and the Fort\mile. The best fur is obtained on the headwaters of
the Polly, where a few years ago marten were plentiful. During the
winter of 1902-13 two trappers caught 440 marten, and also a large
number of otter, beaver and mink, which they sold at the trading post at
Fort Selkirk. The marten averaged $7 per skin. Unfortunately, however,
marten, mink and otter are getting very scarce in this locality, while
lynx, wolves and wolverine are numerous.
In the Pelly country there is a trading post at the mouth of Foss river,
where fur can be sold by trappers and supplies can be obtained for
prospecting. Unless a trapper has a large number of skins, it will not
pa\ to make the trip either to Fort Selkirk or Dawson, as the extra
price that could be obtained would not repay the expenses and time
occupied In the trip. The steamer Quick makes an annual trip to Ross
river, taking up supplies and returning with fur.
A much higher price can be obtained for wolves and wolverine in Dawson
than can be obtained in the markets outside of the Territory. This class
of fur is shipped from Dawson to St. Michaels and other points on the
lower Yukon, where it is much in demand by Indians for trimming
purposes. For one wolf or wolverine the Indians will give in exchange
three white foxes or three marten. The value of wolves and wolverine is,
therefore, determined in the Dawson market according to the demand by
the Indians along the lower river.
The following prices are being paid for fur in Dawson this year (1907);
and the prices at Fort Selkirk and Foss river are for the preceding
During the first few
years of the camp a very largo business was transacted by hardware
merchants. Shelf hardware was much in demand, as were also the different
utensils required for placer mining purposes. With the gradual decrease
in population and the introduction of dredges and other large mining
plants, the demand for hardware merchandise has decreased. The
companies, who have acquired large areas of mining property and who are
operating dredges and other large plants, import their mining machinery,
fittings and other utensils.
The following are extracts of tariff items from Schedule A, Import
Duties of Customs, as amended up to the 12th February 1907, as affecting
certain mining machinery which may be imported into the Yukon
articles of metal as follows, when for use exclusively in mining or
metallurgical operations, viz.: Diamond drills, not including the motive
power; coal cutting machines, except percussion coal cutters; coal
heading machines, coal augurs, rotary coal drills, core drills, miners'
safety lamps and parts thereof, also accessories for cleaning, filling
and testing such lamps: electric or magnetic machines for separating or
concentrating iron ores; blast furnaces for the smelting of copper and
nickel; converting apparatus for metallurgical processes in metals;
copper plates, plated or not; machinery for extraction of precious
metals by the chlorination or cyanidl processes; amalgam safes;
automatic ore samplers; automatic feeders; retorts; mercury pumps;
pyrometers; bullion furnaces; amalgam cleaners; blast furnace blowing
engines; wrought-iron tubing butt or lap welded, threaded or coupled or
not, over four inches in diameter; and integral parts of all machinery
mentioned in this item.
British preferential tariff........ Free.
Intermediate tariff............. Free.
General tariff................ Free.
No. 401.—Machinery and
appliances of iron or steel of a class or kind not made in Canada, and
elevators and machinery of floating dredges, when for use exclusively in
alluvial gold mining.
Intermediate tariff............. Free.
General tariff................ Free.
461a -Iron or steel
pipe, not butt or lap welded, and wire-bound wooden pipe, not less than
thirty inches internal diameter, win n for use exclusively in alluvial
British preferential tariff..... 5 per cent.
Intermediate tariff......... 7.5 per cent.
General tariff............ 10 per cent.
453. Telephone and
telegraph instruments, electric and galvanic batteries, electric motors,
dynamos, generators, sockets, insulators of all kinds; electric
apparatus, n.o.p.; boilers, n.o.p.; and all machinery composed wholly or
in part of steel, n.o.p.; and iron and steel castings, and iron or steel
integral parts of all machinery specified in this item.
British preferential tariff..... 15 per cent.
Intermediate tariff......... 25 per cent.
General tariff............ 27˝ per cent.
454. .Manufactures, articles or wares of iron or steel or of which iron
and steel (or either) are the component materials of chief value n.o.p.
British preferential tariff..... 20 per cent.
Intermediate tariff......... 27˝ per cent.
General tariff............ 30 per cent.