The Yukon Supreme Court returned to the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB in local slang) late in January. It will continue to occupy space there until March, at the rate things are moving. The subject of the trial is not fodder for this column, but I’ve been spending so much time in the building lately it seemed a shame not to make use of it.
The OTAB was constructed on Fifth Avenue between January 1, 1899 and January 1, 1901, from plans prepared by Department of Public Works architect, Thomas W. Fuller, who designed a number of iconic buildings in town.
At no time since then has federal government taken as much interest in Dawson as did the Liberal government led by Sir Wilfrid Laurier from 1896 to 1911, determined as it was to prove that the Yukon surely was part of the Dominion and not to be traded off to the Americans.
The OTAB was the seat of the territory’s government until 1953, when the capital was moved to Whitehorse. The Legislative Assembly met in the large, high-ceilinged room on the second floor, but that space was also used as a courtroom as early as 1910, when the Fuller designed court house on Front Street was reassigned for the use of the Northwest Mounted Police.
Today the OTAB is primarily the home of the Dawson City Museum, the nearly derelict two-and-a-half story building having been saved by a rare all-party resolution in the 1980s. The north end of the building still contains territorial wildlife offices on the second floor, while the ground floor has the court registry rooms and another room where small legal matters are settled. It is also where teleconferences are held when local representation is needed for affairs in the capital. For the last three weeks it has served as the jury room for the trial being held upstairs. The upstairs chamber is impressive, with all wood trim and fixings, large windows on the east and west sides and some anachronistic track lighting on the ceiling, reflective of the fact that it is also used for museum displays. The wooden chairs in the room are not terribly comfortable. The wood has shrunk, and the glue holding them together has dried out. A number of them need to be taken apart and reassembled.
The jury is surely grateful that the presiding Justice took pity on them at the end of the first week, and had a baker’s dozen of the comfy chairs from the museum’s theatre room brought upstairs.
The museum’s display galleries are on the ground floor. The archives room is next to the chambers, and the open storage rooms are just down the hall. The museum’s offices and workrooms are in the two-story section behind the chamber.
It’s an impressive building. I’ve never had the opportunity to spend so much time in this part of it.