It was by chance that a couple of years ago I found a short movie made by a German traveler and wildlife tourist named Berthold Baumann, where he introduced Keno City—a small, remote town at the end of the Silver Trail highway in the westernmost region of Canada—during a nine-minute walk recorded with his mobile phone. Fifteen residents, a hotel, a bar, a museum, a gym, and a library all appear in the film, as well as the top of Sourdough Hill, visible behind the group of cabins (including his own) from which his journey deeper into the territory commences.
The town was founded where silver had been discovered during the Klondike Gold Rush; it was named after the gambling game Keno, which was very popular at the time in the miners’ camps and was originally brought to North America—and later to Europe—by Chinese workers. Unlike the paper version played today in Germany, which is based on abstract, mathematical relations of players, purchase, and chance that one can weekly bet on by crossing out squares, the Keno City “players” bet on rectangular plots of land up to 500 by 2000 feet that were often situated near a creek and had to be exploited for years, under adverse work conditions and with the hope of hitting gold.
Today, long after the disappearance of the resources and miners, the town sporadically attracts people like Baumann who are drawn to its isolation and the surrounding wilderness, and who want to explore and experience—at least for some time—the austerity and self-sufficiency of a sparse, natural environment. The spirit the gold diggers and pioneers impressed upon the land and (ghost) towns still seems to resonate in this vast land; the uncultivated land and wilderness still connote the promise of fortune and freedom. (A promise for those who master the landscape!)
“It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder! It’s the stillness that fills me with peace!” Scrooge McDuck enthusiastically recites a poem by Robert W. Service about the Klondike Gold Rush, as he rides his sled through the Yukon, where he successfully exploited a claim and made his fortune . . .