Dawson’s Public Gardens Are A Treat

Dawson has a long history of dressing up with flowers and plants.

When Martha Louise Black was the chatelaine at the Commissioner’s Residence on Front Street, one of her innovations was to plant both food crops and floral adornments.

The current summertime look of the residence is intended to reflect the period of the Black occupancy and to coincide with the Commissioner’s Tea on the spacious lawns. While Parks Canada struggles to have flowers blooming by early June, the agency does a pretty good job of brightening up the place.

Flower-season really gets going after the Victoria Day weekend, when plant vendors — both local and trucked in from Whitehorse — are among the busiest venues at the annual Gold Show in May. Porches and entrances suddenly burst with hanging baskets and those explosive plastic flower bags, full of varied seeds that erupt with fresh blooms week after week.

Last season’s rose bushes are hauled out of winter storage and encouraged to grow another year; flowerbeds welcome new seedlings, and the combination of enough rain and lots of sunlight soon has the town sparkling.

We have public gardens too.

Martha didn’t garden alone, and between the two world wars Victory Garden was established next to what was then the Territorial Administration Building (now the Dawson City Museum) on Fifth Avenue.

There are a number of other gardens around town now; the most recent is outside the town hall/fire hall complex on Front Street, where a recently installed set of flag poles have crisp new flags flapping in the breeze.

I’ve mentioned some of the gardens along the dike in a recent column. Now I want to move a bit further down the dike to the other major floral garden. It’s an example of how a silk purse can be made out of a sow’s ear.

The area now known as Mary Hanulik Garden (after a woman famous for her home gardens) started out life as an unfortunate necessity. There’s a covered cistern near the top of the dike that fills-up from the sewage treatment plant, and discharges it via the outflow pipe, deep in the Yukon River. Because it had to be checked regularly, it needed to have an access road.

Its location, just across Front Street from St. Paul’s, at the corner of Front and Church, made it a natural part of a walking trail as well, and eventually it was the site where two boulders were located to hold plaques honouring three men who had a lot to do with the foundation of the town: George Dawson, Jack McQueston, and William Ogilvie.

Around the same time, it became standard practice to plant flowers along the sides of what was becoming known locally as “Norm’s Hump” (after our superintendent of Public Works). Eventually this flower and shrub planting became a serious affair, one that has attracted the notice of Communities in Bloom several times.

Giving the garden (now worth seeing every summer) a more gracious name was one of the final steps in transforming a bare service road into an attractive public treasure.

It’s also worth noting that the scents from the many plants just about completely cover any lingering fragrance from the cistern.

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