Once upon a time there was a movie theatre in Dawson City. The Orpheum was located just across Front Street from the Waterfront Building where Wildflower Designs (formerly The Doghouse) is now.
The Orpheum was run by Fred and Palma Berger between 1966 and 1979, when it was heavily damaged by the flood that spring and did not qualify for reconstruction funding. There hasn’t been a theatre in Dawson since then.
The building was demolished a few years after the 1997 fire that destroyed the Bergers’ other property, Arctic Drugs, which was next door, putting an end to any hopes of the town having a cinema again.
The Dawson City Museum is trying to fill that gap. Laura Mann, the Museum’s Executive Director, says the project started a few years ago with its winter time Classic Movie Nights.
This was a Wednesday evening gathering of a faithful few who got to sit in the museum audio-visual room’s comfortable new chairs (courtesy of Holland-America) and watch old movies on a large screen.
“One of the complaints here is that there’s not a lot of social life in the winter,” she said.
Mann says the real draw for those classics was the trivia contest and the door prizes. The movies were familiar fare, but the staff came up with a trivia contest that would be held about halfway through each film and awarded prizes based on how well the audience was paying attention.
It was a social event, something to while away the winter dark. But it was also a lot of work.
“We had to watch the first half of the movie, come up with the trivia questions and decide on an idiotic door prize – all for a very small audience.”
It was fun but it was too much work for the return, so staff decided to drop the program about a year ago.
Enter Anne and Nathan Bragg, returning to Dawson after some time away. Mann credits Nathan with having the idea of getting a license to allow the museum to show new pre-release DVD movies. This meant having them just a short time, sometimes just days, before they arrived at Jimmy’s Place, the local video store.
So now the Museum offers both kids’ and adult fare with matinees and evening shows on Saturday and Sunday most weekends.
“We’re not wanting to compete with the local business,” she said.
The goal here is just to offer a social event.
Last weekend, for instance, kids got to see Megamind and adults were offered the Academy Award nominee The King’s Speech. There’s nothing new planned for the weekend just ahead of this column, but at this writing the animated feature Tangled, which has been hailed as a revival of Disney animation, is on the bill for February 26-27.
So far the family films have had the biggest draw, giving parents and children a chance to enjoy some time together (this is not, Mann emphasizes, a drop-off-the-kids situation). For this, even some of the older fare works well. One of their biggest matinees recently was a showing of The Little Mermaid.
The program has a blog (http://www.dcmmovies.blogspot.com) where people can check in to see what’s coming up, or make suggestions about what they would like to see. Currently the posted wish list consists of Incendies (R),Inside Job (PG-13), True Grit (PG-13) and The Illusionist (PG).
You’ll have to check for yourself to see which ones make it to the screen.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.