On an increasingly slender budget Parks Canada attempts to preserve quite a bit of real estate in Dawson City. A lot of it is still intact due to the efforts of local business owner Fred Caley.
The recent acquisition of the CIBC building by the City of Dawson was the end of a decades-long struggle to save a building that has already been graced by a National Historic Sites and Monuments Board plaque.
Nevertheless, it’s a fair complaint, often heard, that many of the buildings owned by Parks are external shells only, and that the most one can see of their original uses are the tasteful window displays.
Parks has lacked the resources — some would say the imagination — to bring buildings like Billy Biggs Blacksmith Shop or the Dawson Daily News into the sort of productive life that the Dawson City Arts Society gave to the moldering Odd Fellows Hall.
The Old Post Office was used as a summer mail drop, but Canada Post and Parks have since fallen out over that contract. That’s a shame, because that was a perfect use for the grand old edifice just down the street from the far less imposing modern building.
From time to time Parks has had Doors Open events when folks are permitted to wander around with the aid of a guide and see what’s behind the facades.
We had such an event during the Gold Show weekend in May when six buildings, five owned by Parks, were opened to the public.
The Masons allowed entry to the Masonic Lodge (originally the Carnegie Library) while Parks opened the Old Post Office, the Northern Commercial Company Warehouse, Billy Bigg’s Blacksmith Shop and the Red Feather Saloon (a reconstruction rather than an original).
Word is that a variety of doors will be opened on a rotational basis this summer. It will be a different one each day from 1 to 3 p.m., so the program could easily go for a week without repeating itself. The Visitors Information Centre on Front Street will have those details.
This is in addition to the buildings that are open regularly: the showcase Commissioner’s Residence, Robert Service’s Cabin, the Palace Grand Theatre and the photo display at Harrington’s Store, called Dawson as They Saw It.
I like this open building idea a lot. I’ve enjoyed each of the three Doors Open events I’ve attended. It adds to the impact of the place to see the old printing equipment in the Dawson Daily News building and see just how small and thin-walled the rooms were in the brothel known as Ruby’s Place.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.