Ask tourists what they like about Dawson City and you get a variety of responses.
They like the old buildings and the sense of history they convey. They like that the town doesn’t seem to be frozen in history — that there is a day-to-day life here.
They like the boardwalks.
Our downtown core, from Front Street up to Fifth Avenue, is connected by board walkways that offer the option of staying above either the mud or the dirt that is a feature of all of Dawson’s streets except Front. They are a feature that turns up on a lot of the formal and informal surveys regarding what visitors like about the ambiance our town.
Tourists like the look of our boardwalks. You’ll find our visitors backing out to the middle of the street so that they can get a good picture of the boardwalks with their cameras, smartphones or tablets.
But our boardwalks are both charming and tricky, which is why a lot of people, both visitors and locals, chose to walk beside them rather than on them. You will see visitors walking two or three abreast on the street.
They boardwalks are mainly for pedestrians. Efforts have been made over the years to make them accessible to people with walkers and for those little scooters, but they haven’t worked well, and because most of the walks are 10 to 20 cm higher than the streets in the summer, they are a challenge for those with mobility issues.
When they’re brand new, like the ones in front of the Alchemy Café or the stretch by the Dawson Daily News Building, they can be quite nice and pleasant to walk on. But that level smoothness doesn’t last.
The ground in Dawson is constantly shifting, and it’s not too long before newly installed stretches of boardwalk begin to tilt one way or the other, or both ways. Fresh dirt foundations settle and suddenly there’s a dip in the walkway, or a bit of a bounce.
Then there’s the material, which bears the impact of rain, intense summer sun, and all the things it’s been subjected to it in the winter to keep the snow and ice clear. The boards last a couple of years, but eventually they begin to chip and splinter.
It doesn’t help that in the winter the street levels inch up with the accumulated snowpack until they are level with the boardwalk.
Parallel parking chews the ends off the boards and angle parking breaks them off in places, hastening the need for rebuilding.
All around town you can see where individual boards have been replaced as they gave out in areas where the ones around them are still functional. Eventually whole sections get to the point where they need to be pulled out and replaced. By that time, the boards are flexing underfoot; the walkway is canted in several different directions; and it’s actually less of an adventure to walk along beside them on the street.
Still, our visitors do like the look of them.