June 10 will be a double-barreled day of action in Dawson City, as it always is during what could be called Commissioner’s Day. The two events on this day – the Commissioner’s Tea and the Ball – are always held on the Saturday closest to June 13, which was the date in 1898 when the Yukon Act was proclaimed, separating this piece of the North from the rest, which was still known as the North West Territories.
The Commissioner’s Tea is held on the spacious front and side lawns and veranda of the Commissioner’s Residence. This was once exactly what its name proclaims, but is now owned and maintained by Parks Canada.
Official notices trace this event back to the teas Martha Black used to hold as chatelaine of the mansion back in 1912 when her husband, George, was the Commissioner, but the reality is that those events died off when the territory’s administration contracted after the First World War, and the teas were revived by the IODE in 1975, making this the 42nd tea in an unbroken string since then.
These days the IODE ladies and a host of volunteer bakers and servers run the event with the participation of Parks Canada and some input from the Commissioner’s Office.
A typical tea will see speeches by the Commissioner, the local head of the IODE and the Superintendent of Klondike National Historic Sites, as well as a bit of Robert Service’s poetry.
There will also be some music. During Commissioner Doug Phillips’ term of office, the music has come from young people selected to be part of his Youth Showcase. This year, all of those performers will be from Dawson: Alysha Soliguin, Nicci Favron and Erin Hilliard.
There may be Commissioner’s awards and other formal presentations, though the office is keeping mum on that score for now.
The afternoon event, held between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. is open to the public and is a favourite with visitors to town. Although many of the Commissioner’s official guests will be sporting 19th century or early 20th century daywear, there is no required dress code for this event.
One of the highlights of the afternoon is a tour of the residence. The ground floor was restored to its full glory during the Gold Rush Centennial celebrations in the late 1990s, while the upper floors reflect some of the uses to which the building was put after its heyday. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the Sisters of St. Anne used it as a residence and senior citizen’s home. After that it sat empty for decades.
The evening gala, the Commissioner’s Ball, is a more formal event, and guests – who do need to buy tickets for this one – are encouraged to dress in period or fancy costume.
The Klondike Visitors Association assists in planning and executing this event.
The usual venue is the Palace Grand Theatre, but it’s still undergoing renovations, so the Chamber of Commerce’s brand new large event tent will be erected on the Fort Herchmer grounds (once the home of the North West Mounted Police) behind the Commissioner’s Residence and the gala will be held there, as it was last year.
It will be an evening of speeches and fine food, catered by Aloha Catering, with more music by the youth performers and dance music from the Whitehorse band Soul Migration, who are described as playing “soul, R&B, reggae, rock, blues and many shades in between,”
One of the highlights of the Ball is always the group photograph, which will, once again, be in front of the Residence.
Of special note is that this is the last Tea and Ball for Commissioner Phillips, who has held the post for an extended run since December 2010. His initial five-year appointment was extended to take him into the Canada 150 celebrations. He has had a busy time during his term, having toured the territory and its schools several times while celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, Canada’s Maple Leaf flag and the Canada 150 preparations.
Weather for the Commissioner’s Day events has been variable over the years, but the Tea has never been rained out and the tent proved to be ample protection from last year’s evening downpour. To purchase tickets for the Commissioner’s Tea and Ball you can visit dawsoncity.ca. For more information contact the Klondike Visitors Association at 867-992-5575 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.