The second full revival season has been launched at the Palace Grand theatre. Marveling at the theatre is past due; It’s time to celebrate that the theatre is hosting more than daytime Parks Canada programming.
There’s nothing wrong with showing off our treasure, or staging the Greatest Klondiker in the afternoons, but the Palace Grand was built for more than that.
Arizona Charlie Meadows had the theatre built in 1898. On opening night, July 18, 1899, patrons enjoyed themselves immensely, despite sitting on the same type of less-than-comfortable high back kitchen chairs that are still used there now.
Meadows ran the place for a few years before heading off to the next big opportunity. History hunter Michael Gates records, “the theatre staggered through the decades” under a less flamboyant name, the Auditorium.
Saved from total ruin by the Klondike Visitors Association, the building was given to Parks Canada in 1961. It was one of the first big restoration projects in Dawson.
The original building was beyond salvaging; the current structure is a reconstruction.
Pierre Berton’s Klondike and the National Film Board’s City of Gold stirred up interest and inspired Stratford Festival impresario Tom Patterson to persuade the federal government to mount a festival here.
The Palace’s production of Foxy, starring Bert (the Cowardly Lion) Lahr was not a grand success, either here or in New York, though Lahr won a Tony Award for his performance. Dawson was just too far out of the way to draw audiences.
Eventually a gold rush-themed summer variety show, The Gaslight Follies, would flourish. It ran for forty years; but the KVA shut it down at the beginning of the 21st century because of the recession.
It left a hole in the Dawson City tourism package. Everyone knew it, but it was confirmed by an economic development study commissioned by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
In the spring of 2013 the Dawson City Arts Society was provided with the funding to run a season’s pilot project, after years of abortive efforts by Parks Canada to go it alone.
This is season two of that effort. Some of last year’s performers will again take to the stage, along with newcomers. Just recently, Conrad Boyce, one of the stalwarts from the days of The Gaslight Follies, staged “A Night at the Grand Opera House, 1899”, with Jillian Dunham.
On June 27, The Palace hosted A Klondike Home Companion featuring Jon Ostrander; The Handsome Devils; Blackberry Wood, and The Kings of Dawson City.
And on July 4, it welcomes the Silver Screen Scoundrels, playing original live soundtracks to authentic silent films.
In the meantime, the Palace continues to provide a vital backdrop for some of the major events in Dawson: the Association of Yukon Communities AGM, the annual Gold Show, the commencement exercises for the Robert Service School, and, of course, the annual Commissioner’s Ball.