Klondike’s Wandering School House

On August 29 the Klondike School House, called Tr’odek Hatr’unohtan Zho in the Han language, finally got a home.

I’m talking about the Dawson campus of Yukon College, which has been bounced all over town since it started up in the early 1980s.

My early awareness of Yukon College was when I lived in Faro. Faro had something called a Community Services Librarian, a lovely woman named Audrey Twardochleb, who worked out of the joint town/school library and arranged courses and special learning events for the town.

Working in that same Del Van Gorder School with my wife and me was Karen Dubois, who decided in 1982 to go home to Dawson, and said she was going to be working for the Yukon College branch there.

Faro didn’t have one of these, but the initial description sounded a lot like what Audrey was doing for us.

Karen tells me that this was early days for Yukon College, which was about to begin its transformation from the Yukon Vocational Training School, and would be located for the next few years at the site near the Robert Campbell Bridge in Whitehorse where the Yukon’s Department of Education now lives.

The Dawson branch’s residence was even more tenuous. It operated, much to my surprise when I learned this, out of a couple of the rooms in the Anglican Church’s Richard Martin Memorial Chapel.

Flash forward three years and we are moving to Dawson ourselves. At that time we were working in the old incarnation of the Robert Service School (RSS) and the town and school libraries had not yet been combined.

The public library was on the second floor of the territorial building on Third Avenue, above the liquor store. Yukon College had one room up there to begin with.

When the new RSS was opened with the combined Dawson Community Library in 1989, Yukon College took over most of the rest of the floor for a few years. They also operated an office administration course out of a room above the CIBC in the Dawson Plaza complex on Second Avenue.

In due time, however, the liquor store was moved into the reconstructed Red Feather Saloon complex and the territorial building was condemned.

Well, condemned except for when it was needed by the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in after the Chief Isaac Centre burned down, or by the City of Dawson after it moved its administration building from Fifth Avenue to Front Street and needed a place to live during renovations.

By that time Yukon College had moved across town to somewhat better quarters on most of the second floor of the old Court House on Front Street.

It was an awkward fit. Those rooms were never designed to be used as classrooms, and not even the minor alterations really helped much. There were other Yukon Government offices in the rest of the building, and nearly everybody felt that the air was a little “off”.

Parks Canada, which owned the building, eventually agreed and asked everyone to leave so they could work on the problems.

By this time the condemned liquor store building had been reinvented as the Yukon (originally KIAC) School of Visual Arts (SOVA). Building designer Greg Hakonson had intentionally reworked it so that a Yukon College addition could be attached.

But it wasn’t to be ready in time for the exodus from the Court House, so the campus ended up spending a year in even more makeshift quarters on Second Avenue, right beside the CIBC, in the quarters which once housed the Raven’s Nook store.

Now all that wandering is over, and the Klondike School House has a home of its own, joined by a hallway and a front deck with SOVA.

It looks like a good fit and a lasting accommodation for both of them. But in Dawson you never know for sure.

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