Front Street’s Elegant Showcase

The Commissioner’s Residence sits on Front Street, just past St. Paul’s Anglican Church, in Dawson City

It is one of six buildings in town designed by Thomas Fuller II, who eventually followed in his father’s footsteps to become the Chief Dominion Architect of Canada. 

Five of these buildings — the Old Post Office, the Court House, the Territorial Administration Building (Dawson City Museum), the Telegraph Office (museum director’s residence) and the Commissioner’s Residence — still exist. The Dawson Public School burned in 1957 and the second replacement, now called the Robert Service School, turned 25-years-old this May. 

The residence was among the last of the showplace buildings Fuller designed for Dawson. It was built in 1901. 

Except for the addition of the sunroom at the rear of the second floor during the residency of George and Martha Black, the interior layout has remained much the same, while the exterior trims and facades have changed with the times. The distinctive wrap-around veranda was added in 1903. Originally rather fancy, it was restored to a plainer façade in 1908 after a fire in 1906.

The current restoration of the ground floor matches what was in place when the Blacks lived there from 1912 to 1916. When they left, it ceased to be the official residence and served several other functions.

Between 1950 (after a fire that destroyed St. Mary’s Hospital) and 1963/64, the Sisters of St. Anne used the upper floors of the building as a seniors’ residence, and then it lay idle until it was acquired by Parks Canada in 1973. 

The building was substantially damaged in the 1979 flood, when a metre of water swept through the main floor, adding to the seasonal stresses of freezing and thawing during its period of inactivity. 

Parks Canada undertook a massive restoration project when the building was reopened to the public for tours in 1996, during the first of Dawson’s three big centennial year celebrations.

Part of the project involved restoring the 1914-era golden-yellow colour to the building. This upset some residents at the time because they were used to seeing a nondescript colour. 

The building is open for tours during the summer. This year they run from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. daily. In the past there have been afternoon teas, at which a Parks Canada employee would play the role of Martha Black. 

The major public event of the season has been the Commissioner’s Tea, held for the last 39 years, and organized by a combination of the IODE and Parks Canada, which makes sure that the flower beds are all blooming for guests to see. This year’s event was held on June 7, but next year it is scheduled for June 13, the next Saturday, which is the Yukon’s actual birthday.

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