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Gold Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields

Gold Dredges in the North

    Not long after gold was discovered in large quantities in the Klondike, dredges were brought into the Yukon, the first dredge being built in the fall of 1899. One of the two dozen dredges that worked this area, Dredge No. 4 rests on Claim No. 17 Below Discovery on Bonanza near the spot where it ceased operations in 1960. The largest wooden hull, bucket-line dredge in North America, it was designed by the Marion Steam Shovel Company.

    Dredge #4 was built during the summer and winter of 1912 for the Canadian Klondike Mining Company on Claim 112 Below Discovery on Bonanza Creek. It commenced operations in May of 1913, and dug its way upstream in the Klondike Valley into what was known as the "Boyle Concession," sinking there in 1924. In 1927 it was refloated and continued to operate from the Klondike Valley to Hunker Creek. The ground at the mouth of Hunker Creek was so rich the dredge produced as much as 800 ounces of gold in a single day on Claim 67 Below. It operated until 1940. The dredge was rebuilt on Bonanza Creek valley by the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation and from 1941 to 1959 worked the Bonanza Creek valley.

    Dredge #4 is 2/3 the size of a football field and 8 stories high. It has a displacement weight of over 3,000 tons (2,722 t), with a 16 cubic foot (.45 cubic m) bucket capacity. The dredge could dig 48 feet (17 m) below water level, and 17 feet (5m) above water level by using hydraulic monitors and washing the gravel banks down.

    The dredge was electrically powered from the Company's hydro plant on the Klondike River about 30 miles (48 km) away, requiring 920 continuous horsepower during the digging operation. Extra horsepower was needed occasionally for such things as hoisting the "spud" (pivot) and the gangplank.

    The dredge moved along on a pond of its own making, digging gold bearing gravel from in front, recovering the gold through the revolving screen washing plant, then depositing the gravel out the stacker at the rear. A dredge pond could be 300 feet (91 m) by as much as 500 feet (152 m) wide, depending on the width of the valley in which the dredge was working. The operating season was an average of about 200 days, starting in late April or early May and operating 24 hours a day until late November.

    The dredges were a very efficient means of mining for gold. The very fine flour gold however was very hard to save, as were nuggets too large to go through the 1 1/8 inch holes (1.9 cm) in the revolving screen or those caught in the nugget catcher. These went up the stacker and out to the tailing piles.

    During the summers of 1991 and 1992 the dredge was excavated, refloated and relocated to its current position on higher ground to protect it from seasonal flooding. The project was a joint effort involving Public Works Canada, 1 Construction Engineering Unit of the Department of National Defence and Parks Canada.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields

The text and schematic above are from a Parks Canada brochure published in about 2000.
The photos and comments below are by Murray Lundberg.

    Some background: in April 1990 I started work with Atlas Tours as a Motorcoach Driver/Guide for tours throughout the Yukon, Alaska, and the Dempster Highway into the Northwest Territories (our main base was in Whitehorse), as well as some short tours in British Columbia and Washington State (based in Richmond, BC). In the Yukon and Alaska my tours were generally 10-12 days along, and all of them included Dawson City.

    When I first saw Dredge No. 4 in May 1990, it was lying at an angle, sunk in the mud and unprotected. I usually took the more adventurous of my guests on a tour of the interior of the dredge, which was dark and dirty with floors and stairs at a precarious angle. Unfortunately I seem to have no photos of the dredge from those early days - I was probably too focussed on keeping my guests safe. The photos that follow begin in about 2000.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
In about 2000, initial stabilization and repairs on the superstructure were being done.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields, 2002
I had a good look at Dredge No. 4 on August 30, 2002, during a major restoration period when the massive bucket ladder had been removed.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
The tour companies I guided for sometimes used Dawson City's most famous guide, Dave "Buffalo" Taylor, for the Dawson and goldfields tour. He's seen in the centre of this photo with some of my guests on June 17, 2003.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
Looking up the tailings stacker on June 14, 2006. In operation, a heavy conveyor belt hid those rollers.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
Touring the dredge interior on June 14, 2006.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
Touring the dredge interior on June 14, 2006. Imagine trying to move these pieces to a remote Yukon creek!

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
The vibration of the dredge in operation quickly shattered light bulbs so they were protected by being hung on springs. June 14, 2006.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
After 17 years of being both motorcoach driver and tour guide, I took a gig as just tour guide with a long-time friend driving. On July 5, 2007, we had a look at Dredge No. 4 on our goldfields tour.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
For many years, Parks Canada had a trailer on the site with tour-ticket sales and some very good interpretive displays. This photo was shot on July 12, 2012.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
In about 2014, a private contractor took over doing the dredge tours, and the Parks Canada trailer was replaced by this ticket kiosk. The sleeping husky was a nice touch on June 16, 2015.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
In 2016, the interpretive sign showing a schematic of the dredge was replaced by a new but identical one.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
September 21, 2016.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
On February 7, 2019, I took my Yukon Quest sled dog race tour guests for a look at the dredge and some of the race teams inbound to the Dawson City checkpoint.

Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
Over 46 years, Dredge No. 4 recovered 8 tonnes of gold. At top production, almost 23 kg (50 lbs/800 oz) of gold were cleaned out every 3-4 days.

Model of Dredge No. 4, Klondike Gold Fields
An extremely detailed scale model of Dredge No. 4 can be seen at the Visitor Reception Centre inn Dawson City.