There are lots of people in Dawson who couldn’t give you street directions to save their lives. Part of the confusion is the problem with street and house numbers that I wrote about last time, but that’s not the only reason.
Simply put, building functions, locations and names keep changing over time and people tend to refer to things the way they first learned them.
Take Mary McLeod Road for instance. It’s the one that leads up to the cemeteries and it’s really an extension of King Street. It used to be called the Dome Road, because that’s where it went. Then they built a New Dome Road, leading to the country residential subdivision that I call “Literary Heights” (because the streets are named after London, Service, Berton and North) so it came to be called the Old Dome Road.
That was judged to be redundant, so it was changed to honour a Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder, and that how it’s named today.
Go back further in time, however, back to the 1930s, and it was known as the A.C. Trail, after the Alaska Commercial Company, which built it in the first place.
So when you want to know how to reach the cemeteries, the answer you get may depend on the vintage of the Dawsonite you’re asking directions of.
The saga of Bombay Peggy’s, now a combination Victorian Inn and pub on the corner of Second Avenue and Princess Street, is another example of change and movement.
When I arrived in Dawson in 1985, Peggy’s was a derelict house in a gully not all that far from the ferry landing. It had a certain charm, but was not habitable and was undergoing what I’ve heard experts refer to as “demolition by neglect”.
The building had been many things during its active life, including a mining company’s headquarters, a family residence, a boarding house and an art gallery.
During Margaret Vera Dorval’s tenure in the early to mid-1950s, it was reputed to be a brothel, and Peggy’s is the name that stuck, much to the chagrin of some of the law-abiding persons who once used it as a home.
During a brief period, which she has told me was probably a combination of insanity and ignorance, Wendy Cairns and Kim Bouzane, who was her business partner at that time, bought the place, lifted it from its swampy rest, moved it uptown, renovated and expanded it, and turned it into the charmingly successful establishment it now is.
It opened for business in 1999.
Now, we get a lot of visitors in Dawson each summer, quite a few of them following up family connections from people who used to live here, or perhaps they once lived here themselves. Often times they’re coming back after decades away. Just those two examples are enough to give you a taste of the confusion they have waiting for them as they attempt to match the template of their memories with the realities of today.