Apr . 29 . 2015

Reality TV is full of gold diggers, but for once they’re actually going to be shown in a positive light thanks to Paperny Entertainment’s newest series, Yukon Gold. Premiering in early 2013 on History Television, Yukon Gold follows four mining crews as they try to strike it rich during northern Canada’s extremely short mining season. We recently sat down with series creator David Paperny to chat about the challenges of filming in the Yukon and the appeal of getting back to his roots as a documentary filmmaker.

Q. What inspired you to create Yukon Gold?

A. The idea came to me last February when the Yukon Film Commission invited me to come up for the Available Light Film Festival in Whitehorse. I met a lot of great people and heard about this new gold rush happening. I also learned that no one had covered this world in a documentary series. So I brought my development team onboard and we started researching it for four months. I then quickly brought in History Television as our broadcast partner. They were very intrigued by the stories we were uncovering and they staked me in development funding. By early May we had a great sizzle that we presented to History and by early June they gave us the green light for a ten-part series. My life has never been the same since.

Q. It sounds like Yukon Gold is a bit of a departure from your recent hits on the Food Network.

A. It is. Yukon Gold really takes my company back to its roots. It has a strong documentary component, it’s highly entertaining, and it showcases a unique world with great, real characters. It’s the kind of project that I really love sinking my teeth into.

Q. Were you actively looking to produce more documentary programming?

A. For sure. Nothing excites me as much as entering a colourful, beautiful, vibrant and dramatic world like the one we captured in the Yukon. I live and breathe that as a documentary filmmaker, as a storyteller, and as a producer of popular television. I was really happy to spend the time up there that I did.


Q. Viewers may be surprised to discover that gold mining is still taking place in the Yukon more than a 100 years after the Klondike Gold Rush. What state is the industry in these days?

A. About a dozen years ago gold was hovering around $250-$300 an ounce. Today gold is at about $1,800 an ounce, so suddenly it can be phenomenally profitable to get into the gold mining business. Our series profiles four family-run gold mines in the Yukon area. Most of them are around Dawson City and there is a gold boom happening up there. Some of these miners are relatively new to gold mining and some of them have been doing it for several generations so we have a really colourful and eclectic mix.

Q. When a lot of people think of gold mining they think of a dusty old prospector bent over a stream. What were the gold miners you encountered really like?

A. The funny thing is that much of the job hasn’t changed since 1898. All of these miners still use a gold pan. What’s different is the extra machinery. Instead of shovels you’ve got excavators and bulldozers. But you still get the same kind of people that were up there 120 years ago. They’re gamblers, they’re tenacious, they’re heroic and they’re fiercely independent.

Q. What is it that makes them so heroic?

A. These guys are risking everything: their families, their livelihood, their safety and their careers to find gold. You never know if you’re going to find it or not. You never know if that patch of dirt you’ve laid claim to has gold in it or not. They’re risk takers, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re do-it-yourselfers. You can’t drive your bulldozer or excavator down to the local garage if it breaks down. You’ve got to fix it yourself. You have to be tenacious and patient and persevere and that’s partly why they’re heroic. They also take on challenges that few of us would ever imagine taking on. Aside from equipment breakdowns they have to battle freak storms. They’re really up against it. At the end of the day, if you’re going to be a gold miner, you really have to face yourself because that’s all that’s going to be around you. Most of us don’t want to do that. We like the distractions of a big city, of urban life, but not up there. You have to rely on yourself and your core crew. I find that a heroic quality and we managed to capture it in our series.


Q. Now that you have a feel for the job, could you make it as a gold miner?

A. I had a chance to go up in an excavator and bark out orders, so I’m ready for that if I ever leave the great profession of TV producing.

Q. Filming in the Yukon must present a plethora of challenges. What were some of the bigger logistical obstacles the crew faced?

A. We faced a lot of the same obstacles that the miners faced, from broken equipment to freak snowstorms to supplying our crews. Time was another challenge. Just as it’s a short mining season from the spring thaw to the fall freeze-up, we had a short period of time to get our story and we didn’t know exactly what the story is. It’s a great example of the best of what a real reality series can be. There’s always drama, but you never know where it’s going to come from. Following that drama is a huge challenge for the crew. We had four fantastic crews embedded in these mining camps. It was a hardship posting that tested their own mettle and need to persevere far from home and from the comfort of loved ones.

Q. It sounds like you could have had another reality series by turning the cameras on your crew.

A. Yes. We often thought that we could have shot a great behind-the-scenes of the Making of Yukon Gold.


Q. The locals in Dawson City probably weren’t used to being on TV. Was it difficult getting them to open up and share their lives in front of a camera?

A. Once they trusted us, they trusted us wholeheartedly. They were confident that we were not going to manipulate them or overwhelm them with demands. They actually enjoyed the time they spent with our crews. They’re very proud people so I think they were happy to have the hard work they put into their job documented.

Learn more about Yukon Gold by clicking here.

Canada, Canadian history, David Paperny, Dawson City, gold mining, History Television, mining, Paperny Entertainment, premiere, Shaw, TV show, Whitehorse, Yukon, Yukon Gold