The Yukon government spent $139,000 to throw 3.5 ounces of gold into a creek, according to documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
The Klondike Visitors Association (KVA) received a six-figure grant from the Yukon government to fund its Gold Rush II tourism initiative. The association planned to send invites to about 20 media outlets to give them an opportunity to pan for gold and raise the profile of the area as a tourism destination.
However, since the original gold rush cleaned out most of the actual gold, the organizers decided to start by buying some gold and tossing it into Bonanza Creek near Dawson City.
“It is mind boggling to imagine how government officials could sit around a table and sign off on a plan to spend thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money to throw gold in a creek,” said Aaron Wudrick, federal director for the CTF.
“Not a single person in the room stood up to question this? We criticize governments for throwing away taxpayers’ money every day, but this is the first time we’ve seen a government spend thousands of dollars to literally throw gold into a creek.”
To unpack this plan, let’s start with the crowd funding campaign put up by the Klondike Visitors Association asking people to pitch in: “It’s as easy as: 1) buy a perk with your hard earned money; 2) we’ll convert that money into real Klondike gold; and, 3) we’ll put that gold into the creeks of the Yukon. Any questions?”
Apparently, a lot of people questioned the value of donating their hard-earned money to buy gold and throw it in a creek.
The association set a goal to raise $100,000. They fell short of their goal by a mere $95,472.
Undaunted, organizers took the $4,528 they did manage to raise and bought about 3.5 ounces of gold.
But, of course, that was only the first step. If you throw gold in a creek, and no Instagram stars are there to see it, does it make a splash? Clearly selfies would be very necessary, but it’s not cheap to attract social media influencers.
That’s where the Yukon government came to the rescue with taxpayers’ money.
The Yukon government gave the KVA the grant to promote and stage the event, as well as cover the cost of junkets for journalists and social media influencers to find the 3.5 ounces of gold after it was thrown in Bonanza Creek, according to documents. A total of $139,000 was spent.
Originally, the plan called for invites for nearly 20 media organizations, but apparently most invitees sent regrets.
When the Gold Rush II event happened on Aug. 20, 2019, three social media influencers and one reporter from online publication Vancouver Is Awesome made the trip.
A total of 150 attended the event, although that included organizers and 25 other Yukoners. Despite the turnout, the KVA still planted the 3.5 ounces in the creek, lining the pans of participants with ready-to-find gold.
And the $139,000 in taxpayers’ money went down with it.
“People pay their taxes because they expect governments to provide important services like health care and education. They would be unpleasantly surprised to discover a government using it to help throw gold in a creek” said Wudrick.
“If organizers thought they could pull off a publicity stunt by tossing 3.5 ounces of gold in a creek, they should have done it with their own money, but instead taxpayers were on the hook for just about a thousand dollars for every person who actually went to the event.”
So how much publicity did the event generate?
Nadine Sykora (@heynadine), who has 96,600 Instagram followers, posted a smiling selfie after panning about $100 of gold. The post generated 2,810 likes. (For context, Sykora’s picture of her lunch at a vegetarian diner in Wisconsin generated 4,110 likes and her video of swimming with pigs in the Bahamas generated 11,416 views).
Rachel Bertsch (@meandtheworld) posted 17 pictures and videos of her family’s gold rush experience for her 35,400 Instagram followers.
Zachary Moxley (@downtofilm) posted four pictures for his 112,000 Instagram followers that showed him riding a horse in a hoodie, looking out a plane window and gathering a parachute. There were no pictures of panning for gold.
Coverage from the reporter who made it up north doesn’t appear to be readily available online.
All of this constituted success, according to the Yukon government.
“Post-campaign evaluations concluded that as of September 30, 2019, the campaign achieved a total of 58,453,634 impressions (i.e. instances of Yukon destination awareness) in Canada, the USA and around the world,” read the ministry statement.
However, there are no plans to repeat the event.
As for what happened to the 3.5 ounces of gold that was purchased and dumped in the creek, the tourism ministry confirmed participants got to take the gold they found as souvenirs.
No attempts were made to recover any of the gold that might have washed out and the ministry indicated future visitors to the free claim would be able to claim the material.
“When the crowd-funding total came in at less than five per cent of the goal, it should have been a clue for the government that this was a bad idea,” said Wudrick.
“If people don’t want to put their own money into something, the government shouldn’t put taxpayers’ money into it. The only good news coming from this gold rush is that the Yukon government isn’t planning to do it again.”