One of Whitehorse’s oldest commercial art galleries has changed hands.

Art Webster started the North End Gallery at First Avenue and Steele Street 12 years ago.

“It was April of 1999 – the last century – when we opened our doors. It was about half the space you see now, and it took about six months to actually fill it with fixtures and product,” Webster says.

This was the second foray into the gallery business for the former Dawson City mayor, Klondike MLA and cabinet minister. He opened his first in Dawson shortly after losing his seat in the 1992 territorial election.

“I had a lifelong interest in art and architecture, I saw there was a business opportunity in town and I didn’t have a job,” he says.

“I came across a very well-located building right across from the old Post Office on historic Third Avenue. There was no real outlet there for arts and crafts for local people, and as the building came up, there was my opportunity.”

When local residents learned he was renovating the building to house a fine-art gallery, choosing the name was a slam-dunk: Art’s Gallery.

“Nothing profound,” Webster says. “Just obvious.”

After relocating to Whitehorse in the late ’90s, Webster wanted to put his interests and experience to work again. He soon spotted a waterfront location that would suit his purposes.

A number of other art and craft businesses had recently closed, including the Heritage Gallery, Yukon Native Products and Northern Images.

“So the business opportunity was here, I had the building and the location, my daughters had just started school, so I was available full-time to devote myself to opening up and minding the gallery.”

This time around Webster chose a name that reflected both the gallery’s location at the north end of Horwood’s Mall, and the nature of the product – “art created in Canada’s North End,” as the firm’s slogan has it.

Besides featuring original works by Yukon artists such as Halin de Repentigny, Emma Barr and Richard Shorty, the gallery carries a wide range of prints by local artists, as well as many items by craftspeople from the two other northern territories, with an emphasis on aboriginal products.

In the dozen years Webster has been in business here, he has witnessed a major change in both the number of local artists and the quality of the work.

“When I started to get involved in art here in the territory, there were three or four artists who were very talented. Now there are many artists, and they have many more opportunities to create their art, promote it and sell it,” he says.

“It’s very encouraging for them and, as a result, a lot of talent has come out.”

The proliferation of spaces where art and crafts are displayed and sold since Webster started goes beyond new galleries such as Yukon Artists @ Work and Copper Moon.

“In the beginning, there was Yukon Gallery and Spruce Bog as the two main places to sell original art and crafts,” Webster says. “Since then, the number of options that have become available is almost endless.”

This past Christmas season, he points out, Whitehorse had over 40 craft shows.

“And there are businesses of every description selling art off their walls – not just the obvious ones, like coffee shops. There’s physiotherapists’ offices. There’s a clothing store that’s selling art work. There are pop-up galleries,” he adds.

“Who knew that a bicycle shop, for two months a year, would become an art gallery?”

Webster says the change is good for business, as well as for artists and craftspeople.

“In general, my viewpoint has been the more the merrier,” he says.

“Last year when the Fireweed Market operated its Twelve Days of Christmas at the Old Fire Hall, our sales really increased. This year, it was a much larger effort, and our sales maintained the same level.”

The gallery’s new owner, Donna Reimchen, is an engineer who formerly worked in transportation maintenance with the Yukon Government.

While she doesn’t anticipate making any significant changes anytime soon, Reimchen does have a goal for the operation.

“I want it to be a space that has an atmosphere that is inviting to people. If it can help people to recover a bit from the stresses of the world, be a refuge of sorts, I think that would be wonderful,” she says.