Dawson City - home of the Klondike Gold Rush and Sourtoe Cocktail. Situated in Canada’s north-west, the Yukon Territory is a land of extremes, from vast, pristine wilderness to an abundance of wildlife. Breathtaking displays of the aurora borealis dance in a spectacular performance across the night sky.
Most famously, the Yukon Territory is home to the Klondike Gold Rush, also referred to as the Yukon Gold Rush. It was actually an American prospector, George Carmack who made the first gold discovery in midAugust 1896 by literally stumbling across gold nuggets by accident whilst salmon fishing. The news of this gold strike spread quickly leading to the last great gold rush in the American West, which saw thousands of miners make the difficult and lifethreatening journey across the icy Chilkoot Pass.
Burdened by heavy packs and supplies and weary with exhaustion and hunger, prospectors would continue on to the Yukon River where rafts and boats were built to tackle the raging rapids to arrive at Dawson City, the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Less than half of those who started the treacherous journey to the Yukon survived and those who did arrive at Dawson City stood little chance of finding gold. However, those who survived an entire winter could earn the nickname of ‘Sourdough’. This name evolved from sourdough bread, which was a vital means of survival for miners living in the tough conditions of the Klondike Gold Rush. Those not a ‘sourdough’ were known as a ‘cheechako’ or ‘outsiders’.
Two brothers who did survive the trek to the Yukon were Otto and Louis Lychens who ventured all the way from Denmark in the hope of striking it rich. They staked a placer claim at the mouth of Miller Creek and built a large log cabin. During a trip running full proof rum into Alaska, Louis got one foot wet whilst stepping into a water overflow. Instead of stopping to dry off his feet, he carried on to escape the Mounties who were thought to be behind them, and unfortunately his foot froze solid. With the nearest doctor 60 miles away, and after getting drunk on rum, Louis was forced to chop off his big toe with a large chisel to avoid potential gangrene.
Instead of throwing the toe away, what better way to commemorate the event than by curing it in salt and keeping it in their old log cabin for prosperity? It wasn’t until 50 years later that Captain Dick Stevenson, a local tour boat operator found the toe in an old pickle jar and brought it down to the Elderado hotel in Dawson City where he invented the world famous Sourtoe Cocktail on 18 September, 1972.
Originally enjoyed with a beer glass full of champagne, customers can now drink a shot of whiskey with a real preserved human toe, if they dare, at the Sourdough Saloon in the Downtown Hotel. As the tradition says, “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe.”
Unfortunately, this original toe was accidentally swallowed in July 1980 by a miner called Garry Younger who was attempting to beat the Sourtoe record. Apparently, on his thirteenth cocktail, his chair tipped backwards and the toe was swallowed.
Since then, toes from around the world have been donated to the Downtown Hotel to continue this Sourtoe Cocktail tradition and over 100,000 people have qualified for the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.