Before there was ever a Yukon Department of Tourism and Culture (including whatever earlier names it may have had) there was the Klondike Visitors Association (KVA).
Tourists came to Dawson as early as the Gold Rush, the most famous being Mary Hitchcock and Edith Van Buren, who arrived with an entourage and all the comforts of American high society, including a bowling alley. Their adventures are recorded in a book called Two Women in the Klondike: The Story of a Journey to the Gold-Fields Of Alaska.
After Robert Service became famous, his devotees began making pilgrimages to the cabin he once rented up on Eighth Avenue, which is one of the reasons why Parks Canada acquired and maintains it.
The KVA first formed as the Klondike Travel Bureau (KTB). This was concocted as a publicity stunt by Canadian Pacific Airlines, in an effort to revive riverboat service to Dawson.
Dawsonites dressed up in Gold Rush period costumes to welcome the visitors, hosted tours of the goldfields, and eventually moved on to create Klondike Nights, which featured gambling with play money, performances by locals and plays based on Service’s poems.
The money generated went to produce the very first tourism pamphlets and assisted in the reconstruction of the Palace Grand Theatre after the feds decided that Tom Patterson’s Stratford Festival experience could be replicated in the Klondike.
In the 1960s the territory finally caught-on and formed the Yukon Travel Bureau. The KTB then morphed into the KVA and often succeeding where the YTB did not.
From its volunteer roots the KVA has evolved into a non-profit society that manages a budget of nearly $2-million annually, and provides the government with nearly $300,000 in slot machine revenues each year in the form of 25 per cent of the profits from the one-armed bandits.
The KVA has a long list of accomplishments and ongoing projects.
It has just concluded its second full year of managing the Trek Over the Top snowmobile tours. It operates Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall every day during the summer – and whenever there is a popular event in the off-season. In addition, it offers Community Event Casino Weekends as fund raising events for groups in town.
It founded and operates the Jack London Museum and Interpretive Centre and provides funding to the Dawson City Museum.
It works with the Dawson Community Library and the Writers Trust of Canada to operate the Berton House Writers’ Retreat.
After Pierre Berton spent $50,000 to buy back his boyhood home, the KVA spent $100,000 making it suitable for visiting writers to live in.
It operates the Free Claim #6 on Bonanza Creek, where visitors can experience the lure of panning for gold.
The KVA assists with the annual Thaw di Gras Spring Carnival, helps the Commissioner with the Ball in June, holds the annual Yukon Gold Panning Championships on July 1, sponsors and organizes the Authors of Eighth Literary Tout and Writing Contest each August, and closes the main tourist season with the Great Klondike International Outhouse Race and Community BBQ.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.