Diamond Tooth Gerties is an iconic Dawson building. It’s the cash cow that finances most of the operations of the Klondike Visitors Association. As of January 27, 2015, it’s even more than that; it’s a Municipal Heritage Site.
In the somewhat stuffy language that seems to define municipal bylaws, city council determined that “The building known as the Arctic Brotherhood Hall and the land on which it stands as defined by the legal limits of Lots 1, 2, and 20, and the westerly 8 metres of lot 19, Block S, Plan 8338A C.L.S.R. in Dawson City, YT is hereby designated as a Municipal Historic Site. The building is located at 1001 Fourth Avenue.”
As a gambling operation, Gerties is not nearly as hot as it used to be when it was the only legal entity of its kind in Canada; casinos are now a dime a dozen all across the nation. Even the addition of slot machines back in 1993 did not entirely restore the allure. They, too, began to pop up everywhere, and as they got more and more sophisticated, the ones at Gerties really began to show their age.
Compared to the newer models out there, the ones in Dawson’s casino were like pinball machines pitted against video games. That came to an end with a big upgrade last fall, as the KVA and the territorial government (which takes 25 per cent of the gross profit from the machines each year) put $1.2 million into replacements for the aging devices that executive director Gary Parker regularly refers to in his annual reports as becoming unintentional historic artifacts.
Gerties was originally the home of the Arctic Brotherhood, constructed in 1901 in a mere three weeks with contributions from its membership. The brotherhood folded in 1925, and the building became a community hall. Then, in 1929, it was re-purposed as the home of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, which had lost its building to a fire. That aerie continued to use the building until 1943, when the last of its members took flight.
In 1967 it was renovated as a Canadian centennial project and renamed Centennial Hall, becoming a community center once again. It became Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall in 1973 and that has been its primary focus since. It is still used for a number of special community events each year.
While owned by the City of Dawson, it is leased to the KVA for the nominal annual fee of $1. In turn the KVA maintains and upgrades the building and pours many tens of thousands of dollars into its upkeep every year.
As Parker noted during the organization’s recent annual general meeting, the historic designation doesn’t guarantee that extra money will be provided to maintain the building.
But, he said, “We sincerely hope and expect that it will heighten awareness and increase motivation about the importance and value of municipal involvement and leadership to ensure the building’s future.”