The Odd Places Some People Live

Dawson City has long been known for unique answers to its housing shortage, especially in the summer, when the place is flooded with summer people (or summerdoughs) looking for work and a cheap place to live.

Some of them live in run down buildings that probably don’t meet any kind of safety standard. Some have been known to live in RV units in the back yards of local landowners, though there is now a town bylaw to discourage that sort of thing.

Some attempt to camp in the bush around the town. They get themselves into trouble with the authorities by starting fires and by leaving refuse around that fouls the area and attracts scavenging wild creatures.

One foolhardy fellow pitched a tent part way up the Moosehide Slide. He lit a fire in a stiff breeze, set all his belongings on fire and had to be rescued by helicopter.

A certain generation of recalls with fondness that there used to be a summertime phenomenon known as Tent City. It blossomed across the river in West Dawson and housed a good portion of the transient population of the town in tents and other arrangements. One summer in the 1990s the Klondike Sun had a student intern who lived in a tree house over there. He and his significant other didn’t build the place, so someone else had been there before them.

Dawson City entered a two year trusteeship about five years after the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in settled its Land Claim. This meant there was no town council in place for TH to negotiate land use with, and Tent City folded.

Summertime housing has been tight since then. The situation has prompted several delegations to town council over the years, the last serious round of complaints having been a couple of seasons back.

Not all new arrivals are as tenacious as Caveman Bill Donaldson. He moved into a honeycomb of three caves just across the river from town in 1996, and has remained there ever since. Caveman Bill recently suffered a fire in his main cave and has had to rebuild his store of possessions from scratch. He has been supported by friends, and restocked with food by a donations box at the Dawson City General Store.

Two summers back, West Dawson resident Holly Haulstein built a couple of rafts and tethered them in the river as part of a housing solution. A trained opera singer lived in a tiny log cabin on one of them and a photographer occasionally stayed in a wall tent on the other.

The floating cabin was back again last summer, with the resident’s boat often tied to it. I’ve often wondered about the sanitary arrangements out there, but the Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which cares so much about the town’s effluent, was not heard to complain.

Enterprising river cruisers appeared around Canada Day on something they called the SS Recycle, a raft that contained a cast-off couch and a two-person bell tent. They were around for several weeks before they disappeared.

The last odd domicile on my summer list would have to be the former Gold City Tours bus, which was parked for a time on the empty lot at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Front Street. The residents had painted “DC Dingbats” on the side. They’d taken a number of the seats out and leaned them up against the side of the bus to enjoy the sun, and had a BBQ kitchen rigged up as well as an additional tent (guest quarters?) outside.

Seems as if some people will do just about anything to live in Dawson for a while.

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