Sawdust, grass and gravel are flying, there is painting to be done, tidying and dusting—the rural museums around the territory are gearing for the tourist season.
“Opening is always a great flurry,” says Sharron Chatterton, manager of the George Johnston Museum in Teslin, with an exhalation of all the tasks yet to be completed, “all those last minute details of turning a seasonally closed business into a seasonally open business.”
The Dawson City Museum in Dawson City, the Kluane Museum of Natural History in Burwash Landing, and the George Johnston Museum in Teslin are three of the museums that have been closed over the winter. All three are preparing to open their doors in the coming weeks—the Kluane Museum of Natural History on May 15, the Dawson City Museum on May 19, and the George Johnston Museum on June 1.
“[Opening for the season includes] all kinds of routine and exciting things,” Chatterton gushes, “People are walking in with artifacts. A World War II giant ladle came into us today.”
The ladle was found near Brooks Brook in Teslin, where a U.S. military contingent of 40 lived when the highway came through in 1940.
Sharron Chatterton in the storeroom at the George Johnston Museum Dawson City PHOTO: Michael Hodgson
“Someone was just wandering through the grass there and found one of their great big kitchen ladles,” says Chatterton, “It’s one little, tiny thing, but when you add it to all of the other things, it’s interesting.
“I have out on the table at the moment, a 1940s clamp top cartridge case that came in recently, I have a hat that someone brought in, a beautiful glass dish, a piece associated with a computer in the 60s… all kinds of oddments come in all the time.”
Eventually these artifacts will turn into a collection.
One new exhibit the museum is putting together includes red, Teslin Tlingit ceremonial clothes, complete with headdresses, beadwork and a lynx paw blanket.
Adding to a large scale exhibit which debuted last year, the Aeradio Range building is getting a fresh coat of paint, and a 130-foot radio tower will be resurrected and laid out on cables later this summer.
According to Chatterton, the museum is expecting 3,600 to 4,000 paying visitors this year, following the pattern over the last few years.
However, they’ve already had visitors.
“Today I have had six visitors, but they are all not supposed to be here,” she laughs.
This happens year-round, she says. People drop in when they see a car parked out front.
“[Locals] usually come and give advice.”
Meanwhile, in Dawson, the museum is still picking up after a sprinkler system failure in April, which soaked the east side of the north gallery and the second floor visible storage.
Executive director Laura Mann, says the cleanup has been going well and, though they’ve had to postpone plans for new exhibits, the museum will be opening on schedule.
“Even though it wasn’t a disaster from which we couldn’t recover, it was still roughly 3,500 artifacts that had to be moved, dried, checked, returned to their exhibit location or put into storage,” says Mann.
Dozens of photographic prints were ruined and have to be reprinted and reframed, and labels were tossed and need remounting.
“All the artifacts that were on exhibit are back in place, and we are working on the photographs and the labels—we’ll get it done because we have no choice,” says Mann.
The museum’s first big night takes place one day before the opening. On May 18, Ron James is making his Dawson debut.
Last year, the comedian was in Whitehorse. This year he will doing an exclusive Yukon performance in Dawson.
“We had our eye on a spring event, and certainly Ron was at the top of the list. But we really didn’t know if he would even agree,” says Mann. “But he had it in his mind to come to Dawson—he’d just been waiting for someone to ask him.”
Meanwhile, despite the sprinkler setback, Mann promises the 11,000 to 14,000 annual seasonal visitors will find a strong lineup of programs and exhibits this summer.
“We are pretty much a force to be reckoned with,” she says.
At the Kluane Museum of Natural History, new manager Wendy Martin is steering towards her very first opening. Her excitement to showcase the collections leaks through her calm composure.
“The first time I walked in here I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “When you first walk in you think it’s such a little place. We have a little gift shop in the front, then you get into the back where the exhibits are, and you can spend two hours back there easily.”
Cold, dark and dry may be the best way to preserve artifacts, but bringing heritage to the light is an important part of all three communities.
In Teslin, a community of 500, Chatterton credits the museum’s growth to the vested interest of the community members.
“It’s a knack, and you need to wait,” she says. “This museum has been asleep in the past… it is just wide awake right now.
“It’s an exciting, beautiful little place to work. I feel very lucky.”