The idea of designating the Klondike region as a World Heritage site first started percolating in the 1970s. Parks Canada experts agreed that “the Klondike” had merit as a universal story, and in 2004 it was placed on Canada’s Tentative List for World Heritage Sites to be considered by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The theme was life before, during and after the Gold Rush, and the ongoing accommodation between First Nations and newcomers, including land claims. From the beginning, the First Nations’ perspective was important, as were the continuing, living communities and a working mining landscape. The original concept included the stampeders’ trek along the Gold Rush corridor from Seattle over the Chilkoot Trail to Dawson and Tr’ochëk, but the U.S. government was not ready to approve the American portion.
In early 2010, an ad hoc Steering Committee started to investigate the costs and implications of entering into the nomination process, and concluded that the Klondike region alone has a good chance of success. They also conducted a survey to gauge local interest in a potential Klondike nomination. Although there was general support for the nomination, the survey revealed that there were misunderstandings about what designation would mean. A Communications Strategy was developed and community interest and values were further explored through a website, fact sheets and questionnaires during events.
World Heritage was flagged as a key priority during regional economic planning identified in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement, as one of nine projects with potentially far-reaching benefits for the whole community. In early 2013 federal funding was secured to re-ignite the process and a community-based Advisory Committee composed of key community partners was formed. A full-time, locally based project manager was hired to work with the advisory and project management committees to carry forward a more detailed feasibility study and engage with the community.
As a first step, a draft economic impact analysis was completed in the spring of 2013. This analysis revealed positive projections for increased visitation and spending, GDP growth and regional employment opportunities. In fall 2013, community working groups began developing a draft Statement of Universal Values and identifying places that illustrate these values.
In 2014, a Strategic Direction document was drafted and the Advisory Committee decided to move forward with the nomination of “Tr’ondëk-Klondike”. Working groups started drafting the site’s boundaries with participation from representatives of the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association and the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
The Tr’ondëk-Klondike nomination project picked up momentum in 2015, as research papers on architecture, First Nations land use, and placer mining were commissioned. The Advisory Committee and project team continued to refine the site’s values and physical boundaries, and started writing the nomination dossier.
The nomination for the proposed Tr’ondëk-Klondike World Heritage Site was submitted to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in January 2017. Following an evaluation by UNESCO’s advisory body on cultural heritage, ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), Canada withdrew the nomination in May 2018 to undertake further work.
The local World Heritage Advisory Committee is currently exploring a revised direction for a future World Heritage Site, and will be seeking public input in fall 2019. A revised World Heritage site nomination would tell the history of the Klondike region from a First Nations perspective, focusing on settlements at Tr’ochëk, Dawson, Moosehide, Fort Reliance and Forty Mile. The Klondike goldfields would not be included in the revised heritage site proposal.
This project is led by a community-based Advisory Committee, chaired by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Director and includes representatives from the Klondike Visitors Association, Dawson City Chamber of Commerce, Dawson City Museum, Klondike Placer Miners Association, Yukon Chamber of Mines, City of Dawson, Government of Yukon – Tourism and Culture, Parks Canada – Klondike National Historic Sites, up to four local residents, and a Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen.
The project is managed by Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the project management team includes representatives from Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (Heritage department) and Yukon Government (Historic Sites unit).
Our title “Tr’ondëk-Klondike” recognizes the full spectrum of our shared history. The name “Klondike” which brings to mind the quest for gold, a bounty of riches and is famous around the world, actually originated as the Han Athapaskan word Tr’ondëk.
Tr’o signifies the hammer rock used to drive the salmon weir stakes into the mouth of the river; ndëk means “river”. Another interpretation uses the word Kl’o, which means grass, and translates roughly to: “waters flowing through the grass at the mouth of the Klondike.” The word Hwëch’in means the “people”. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in means: “the people who lived at the mouth of the Klondike”.
— Gerald Isaac, February 1999