A Klondike Korner: Sometimes life imitates art

Sometimes art represents or imitates life. Sometimes it’s the other way around. There are two really clear illustrations of this idea in Dawson City at the moment.

Jack London’s cabin (well, half of it) is located at the corner of Firth St. and Eighth Ave. The half that we have here was part of the whole found by the party led by the late Dick North in 1965. The other half is in Oakland. 

According to the photos taken at the time, there was no food cache located near the cabin on Henderson Creek. There may have been at one time, but it was gone after nearly seven decades. 

When Jim Robb was imagining the scene in 1984, and again in 1988, he quite logically added a cache on one side or the other of the cabin. 

When Jack London Square was being further developed as a tourist attraction by the Klondike Visitors Association in the late 80s and early 90s, they decided that a cache, like the one in Robb’s prints, would make sense. They copied the 1984 arrangement. 

The cache here now is the second edition, as the first one collapsed when the legs rotted. Maybe that’s why there wasn’t one on Henderson Creek.

The other case in point is the newly painted Robert Service School, which is 32 years old this year, having opened for business in May of 1989. It is the third public school in the town, the first having burned in the late 1950s, and the second having succumbed to indifferent maintenance and upkeep about 30 years later.

The sections of that building can still be found scattered around town, the largest portion being the Service Wing of the Westmark Hotel, two blocks south of the present school.

The new RSS was originally painted a conservative grey, which did not weather well. It also tended to help hold the heat in a building that was generally too warm at the beginning and ending of each school year. Having worked there for two decades, I can attest to this. 

This was replaced by a sort of institutional beige colour, which was actually due for replacement last year. The school’s newsletter says this was delayed by COVID-19.

In 1989, Ted Harrison was commissioned to create a poster of the school to celebrate its official opening. My copy has 1990 written on it. 

Harrison used a bright palette that was eventually adopted by the Westmark Hotel for its back lot buildings and the later addition on the east side of Fifth Avenue. 

The school’s new colour scheme is a close approximation of that poster, a decision taken by a committee made up of senior students, staff and parents, according to the school’s newsletter. 

“The committee does not decide on the colour scheme,” the newsletter says. “But it guides the process of determining the colour scheme. YG has stated that the only parameter is that there are three colours.”

The Harrison poster is basically yellow, orange and red, so it fit the parameters and it was a strong contender early in the planning.

Public reaction has been mixed, but I’ve posted pictures of the project at various stages on my Facebook page during June and July, and most of the comments are trending towards favourable. 

When there’s some snow on the metal roof, it will look even more like the poster.


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