It is that particular configuration of the Hougen Heritage Gallery at Arts Underground that really astounds you about this latest show.
From the name, Man’s Best Friend: Mutts, Malamutes and Huskies in Yukon History, you know there will be a lot of dog photos (because, you know, if Yukoners are nuts about dogs today, it must have been true yesteryear).
So you go through the Main Street doors, down the stairs and into the gallery to see a long wall on the right, with one photo after another of dogs, until it reaches a wall perpendicular to it that has three rows of dog photos spilled onto it.
There are working dogs in the gold mines and pulling sleds; there are companion dogs with ruffians and those who could afford finery in a harsh land; and there are dogs who look as natural in a landscape or streetscape as a tree or a lamp post.
It has always been thus, you say to yourself as you walk closer. Then you look over your right shoulder and see an even larger wall with even more photos.
That’s when the impact of the MacBride Museum of Yukon History exhibit hits you.
“I’m a big fan of dogs,” says Leighann Chalykoff, of the MacBride Museum, who has a mutt at home from the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter.
She’s not the only one. Chalykoff says she was interviewed on the radio about the show and she asked for photos of modern dogs: “People called right away and that was nice. It was an immediate reaction that says, ‘This is important to me and I want to share it.'”
The result is a matte board on a portion of a wall that has dog photos of all types taped to it.
Learning how important dogs were in Yukon history came much earlier as Chalykoff entered “dog” into the search engine of the MacBride Museum database. Of 20,000 historic photos, she got 400 hits.
“So,” says Chalykoff, “it’s a substantial part of our collection.”
There were 27 photos chosen to show a range of dogs working on mail runs, transportation and as companions.
“There are a lot of lovely shots of people with their dogs,” says Chalykoff. These include Martha Blackwho has donated many photos to the MacBride Museum.
The opening of the show confirmed what Chalykoff had already suspected: people were surprised that dogs played such a strong role in the development of the Yukon and they thought this was a great idea.
It was an appropriate idea, too, starting during Rendezvous and Yukon Quest festivities.
The show, Man’s Best Friend: Mutts, Malamutes and Huskies in Yukon History, will remain up until April 30 at Arts Underground.