Past Meets Present in Atlin, B.C.

Photo by Marta Keller

What was once a settlement of 10,000 gold rush enthusiasts in the isolated wilderness of northern British Columbia is now a town of about 500 year-round residents. Today, Atlin, British Columbia, is considered an honorary member of the Yukon as the only road access is via B.C.’s northern neighbor. And, due to its remoteness, the community’s history has been well-preserved for the modern tourist.

Atlin is a lesser-known part of Canadian gold rush history. With the discovery of gold in the Yukon in 1896, prospectors rushed to the Northwest with the dream of making a fortune. Some found their way to the traditional territory of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. By 1898, Kenneth McLaren and Fritz Miller uncovered gold in Pine Creek. Tents and wooden buildings were quickly erected, and Discovery City was established.

But the gold rush ended as swiftly as it began and was replaced by tourism until the Great Depression. During the Depression, Atlin emerged as a main hub due to its proximity to Atlin Lake, which served as a critical transportation route. With the construction of a permanent highway in the early 1950s, tourism slowly revived.

At the T-junction into Atlin, traveling eastward for a few miles along Surprise Lake Road leads to gold mining attractions. First, there is the cemetery where gold-seeking pioneers are buried. Next, Pine Creek is visible from the road and has a short walking trail with a viewpoint. Visitors can also view the collapsing remnants of Discovery City. A little farther ahead, modern-day gold miners still seek their fortunes.

To the west, Discovery Avenue leads to the town center, where visitors find historic buildings with colorful fronts, many still in use. The Atlin Museum, in the 1902 schoolhouse, offers a peek into Atlin’s past with original memorabilia. Outside the museum, a collection of large mining artifacts and buildings is available, some from Discovery City. Built in 1900, the Atlin Courthouse serves as a gallery for artists, while live performances, films and documentaries are hosted in the 101-year-old Globe Theatre.

On the shore of Atlin Lake, the prominent white M.V. Tarahne, a former passenger boat from 1917, is permanently settled. During the annual summer Tarahne Tea fundraising event, visitors can enjoy a throwback experience reminiscent of those early times.

Atlin’s old-fashioned charm, including the absence of cell-phone service, combined with its striking natural surroundings, make for a notable past-meets-present experience. Learn more about travel to Atlin at hellobc.com/atlin.