Changes are not always welcome, even if they are historically accurate

Sometime before the beginning of winter, the old CIBC building on Front Street will turn grey and I’m quite certain that some people will be upset.

The building has been going through changes since the town bought it for $170,000 back in 2013. I don’t think we had any idea how much potentially toxic material would have to be removed, or exactly what shape the roof was in, but we’ve been moving incrementally forward in getting it to the point where it could become useful instead of just being a neglected eyesore.

This summer, we’ve been working on replacing some of the ornamental tin that was used to make a wooden frame building look like stonework. As part of the process, we had to decide what colour to paint it. In my time here, it’s always been a sort of sandy yellow and I quite like that, but there’s abundant evidence to show that this was not always the case. 

Many photographs show that it used to be white. A deeper dive into the research has established that it started out as a sort of rock or slate grey. This is a choice that makes sense when you consider that the original intention was for it to appear to be made of stone. Still, I expect to hear some people complain about it. It’s happened in the past.

In the 1990s the restoration of the Commissioner’s Residence gave said residence the fresh yellow coat we’ve known for the last 30 years. But before that, it was white, and quite a few people were unhappy when the Parks Canada renovations restored it to what the records show were its colours during the years that it actually served as a residence.

Not to pick on Parks Canada here, but the restorations to Robert Service’s cabin a few years later produced another uproar. For many years the grounds around the cabin were neatly kept and visitors enjoyed looking at the sod roof that appeared behind the antlers which Service mentioned in his farewell poem to the cabin. A more detailed look at some of the photographs taken while Service lived there, from 1909 to 1912, revealed that the Bard of the Yukon was not much for yard work and that the roof in photos from the time was made of tin rather than sod.

Not terribly far away from that Eighth Avenue site, there were a couple of similar structures roofed with sod. In the case of Service’s abode, however, it appears that Edna Clarke, the woman from whom he rented the place, had been mindful of Dawson’s tendency to burn down and had gone with the recommended tin roof. So, in keeping with its mandate, Parks replaced the roof and let the yard become a bit more like the shaggy place it once had been. 

There were complaints. One letter, which appeared in the Klondike Sun, was penned by a former Parks employee who had enjoyed interpreting Service for summer visitors over a number of years.  He was quite upset that the place he recalled so well had been changed.

So maybe you can see why I expect there will be some complaints when the peeling yellow paint on the old CIBC building is finally replaced by a slate grey coat later this season.

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