Yukon geologists raid the archives to aid ongoing search for gold

Yukon geologists have been digitizing a massive archive of historic Klondike maps and exploration data that may still prove useful to historians and gold-hunters.

'The amount of data is huge,' said Sydney Van Loon project lead for the Yukon Geological Survey

Sydney Van Loon of the Yukon Geological Survey studies an old map from the Klondike region, held at Libraries and Archives Canada in Ottawa. She's leading a project to digitize hundreds of old maps to make them available online. (Yukon Geological Survey)

Geologists Sydney Van Loon and Jeff Bond can't disguise their delight over the old maps they've been poring over.

"It's pieces of art — every single one of them," said Van Loon.

"The draughtsmanship behind them is incredible," adds Bond.

The maps are decades-old documents of the Klondike region after the gold rush, and Van Loon and Bond have been painstakingly sorting through the archives and digitizing the data and images for the Yukon Geological Survey.

The idea is to tap into an historic resource, and make any useful information available to the miners and prospectors still working in the area today.

Hundreds of detailed maps — along with field notebooks and other records — are held in Ottawa by Libraries and Archives Canada. Van Loon and Bond have been spending time there, looking through piles of material to find things that may be of interest.

Turns out, there's a lot that's of interest. So far, the geologists have scanned about 850 maps and thousands of pages of geological data — including 12,000 exploration drill holes — and they're nowhere near being done.

The maps and data were originally made and collected by the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corp., which operated in the Klondike region between 1923 and 1966. The company dominated the area, with hundreds of employees, several dredges and an amassed collection of valuable geological data.

'The surveying is extremely accurate,' said Jeff Bond, head of surficial geology at the Yukon Geological Survey. (Yukon Geological Survey)

"It's super-rare for us as geologists to be able to analyze data for an entire drainage, and/or several drainages. So, the drill data ... I mean, the amount of data is huge," said Van Loon, who's leading the project.

"They had draughtsmen, and engineers, geologists, really robust incredible operations, and collecting amazing data. And Jeff and I are realizing, and the miners are realizing, the potential and the value and how accurate this data was — even from the 1920s."

Bond says Dawson City was essentially a company town through those decades, with all efforts devoted to surveying the area and finding potential pay dirt.

"These folks were very hands-on and on-the-ground and you know, the surveying is extremely accurate," he said.

'Reusing and recycling' data

Digitizing the information and making it available online is a way of "reusing and recycling" it, Bond says. The hope is that miners will use the existing data without drilling the same areas again.

"We're really trying to help the miners make the most of the resources within some of these core creeks, and looking at you know, gold showings just outside the dredge limits — and within the areas that were dredged, because there are resources leftover where things were dredged," he said. 

"This is giving you a hint as to potentially where a good location might be."

Historians may also find useful information in the old maps, Van Loon says. (Yukon Geological Survey)

Van Loon also says it's not just for miners — there's also a lot of good information for historians.

"A lot of these maps have the dredge master house, or cabins, and shafts — and you know, they've marked trails, historic roads," Van Loon. 

You can even find out how much bacon the company consumed, she said.

"As you can imagine, we can spend a lot of time reviewing this stuff."

Data and maps are being added to the Yukon Geological Survey's searchable online database

Written by Paul Tukker with files from Christine Genier


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?