Reflections: What rationale underlines and legitimizes government action targeting community museums in Yukon?

by Robin Nelson

As part of my pre-interview reflections for the Dawson City Museum (DCM) Project, this post considers the question: What rationale underlines and legitimizes government action targeting community museums in Yukon? 

In the interest of clarity and brevity, this post focuses narrowly on the Yukon government’s operational funding for museums, asking:

Why has the Yukon government historically provided operational funding to Yukon community museums?

Background: Past Research

Due to my past research, I have preconceptions about how governments justify support for community museums, which may have influenced my reflection in this post. 

My dissertation (Nelson 2021) considered how government support for community museums in Ontario has been rationalized over time, within different contexts, and by specific actors (people, organizations, documents, etc.). I found five prominent arguments for museum support: 

  • Museums are:
    • Educational
    • Tourist Assets
    • Inherently valuable as collecting institutions
    • Identity / community builders that reflect diversity and encourage tolerance
  • Ontario should support them:
    • To support local activity or to encourage local investment

Here are some screenshots from Ontario Museum Association resources that make these arguments:

Background: Yukon’s Operating Grant Program

Most reports indicate operational support for community museums in Yukon began with an operations and maintenance program in the mid 1980s. I think there is a more complicated history.

Here is some evidence that Yukon has periodically supported community museums’ operations since (at least) 1959:

  • 1959: The Council passed a resolution indicating the MacBride Museum should receive funding (source).

  • 1961: The federal government had been providing a museum grant, which the Dawson City and MacBride museums split before 1961. When the grant stopped, it appears an annual territorial grant began (source).

  • 1968: Support for community museums’ operations is mentioned as a kind of special contributions grant in a report proposing funding procedures (source).

  • 1970: Yukon’s Commissioner stated there was no money for museums (source).

During the 1970s, there were different versions of a capital program explicitly for museums. While there does not appear to have been an operating grant for museums, there was an operating grant for registered Societies that contributed to the development of tourism. Some museums were eligible for that grant (source). I assume I will find evidence that the Dawson City Museum received this funding.

I am a little confused about exactly when the operations grant for community museums began in the 1980s, how many museums originally received the support, or how it was originally administered. The most comprehensive report I have read states:

When the funding program was introduced in the 1980s there were few museums.

Cole & Associates 2014, 7

Here is the timeline of the programs’ development that I have assembled:

  • 1983: Yukon provides $60,000 in operations and capital funding to six museums (source)

  • 1985: The two largest museums (the MacBride and Dawson City museums) receive an increase in funding with matching dollars for curatorial salaries (source).

  • Late 80s – 1990: After consultations and a report, Yukon releases a Museums Policy (1990).

  • Early 2000s: After consultation and a report (again), Yukon develops a Museums Strategy.

    Operational funding for those in the operational grant program (seven at that time) increases.

  • 2003: Four museums (previously ineligible) enter the program.  

  • 2004: First Nations Cultural Centers begin receiving funding.

  • 2008: Yukon introduces three year funding agreements.

  • 2014: The Cole report (2014) recommends increased funding.

  • 2015: The Minister of Tourism and Culture announces a 20% increase to the program (I have been told that it was, in practice, a 30% increase over three years). 

I am not sure if there have been any more recent developments. This timeline is a work in progress!

Museum Policy as Tourism Policy

The early support mentioned is not clearly rationalized, suggesting a perceived inherent value for museums. 

However, when the Commissioner said there was no money for museums in 1970, his statement suggested he saw little value in museums for communities, noting: 

we’re having a difficult enough time taking care of the living without worrying about the dead. 


During the 1970s, museums then became eligible for grants (capital and operational) due to their connection to tourism. Museums contributions to the tourism industry became the predominant articulated rationale for the Yukon’s operational funding to museums. 

The connection to tourism is most evident when considering the department from which Yukon museums receive funding. Here is a table with the information I have compiled thus far (its a work in progress!):

Year Department Responsible for Museums
Tourism and Economic Development
1981Heritage and Cultural Resources (Briefly
Library and Information Resources)
1982Tourism, Heritage and Cultural Resources
2001Business, Tourism and Culture
2003 – currentTourism and Culture

As you can see, museums have almost always been the responsibility of a Department of Tourism with a brief exception during the 1980s. The Department of Tourism, Heritage and Cultural Resources defined the museum specific operating grant, which then expanded under all subsequent tourism departments.

Tourism related activities seem to have contributed to the program’s expansion. For example, in 1992, Yukon began funding a marketing program for museums (that still exists today – the explorers’ passport).  Institutions were added to the program, such as the Binet House and Northern Lights Center. However, they were not considered eligible for operational funding as museums. The disconnect became an issue discussed by the Legislative Assembly (source).  

The institutions (and two more) then became eligible for museum operational funding in 2003/2004.

In short, museum funding expanded to include new institutions, in part, because these institutions were already included in the passport program (a tourism marketing initiative). The inclusion in a marketing program for museums challenged their exclusion from museum operational funding, highlighting the significant role of tourism objectives in Yukon’s approach to museum funding.

Here are some additional examples that show the explicit connection made (by government, consultants and the museum association) between funding for museum operations and tourism:

Tourism Policy Concerns

Since tourism is a dominant rationale underlining operational (and marketing) support to Yukon community museums, the arguments about territorial support for tourism are also relevant.

Importantly, a vibrant and prosperous tourism industry is not the end goal in government action relating to tourism. Instead, government contributions to tourism and the subsequent development of a tourism industry are explicitly positioned as contributing to Yukoners’ quality of life.

The connection between a prosperous industry and quality of life is made most explicit in the positioning of both the Yukon Tourism Action Plan (1988) and Museums Policy (1990) as part of “Yukon 2000: Building the Future.” Yukon 2000 identified Yukoners’ shared values (self-reliance, a mix of economic activity, community empowerment, equality, and a clean environment), which then informed new goals to guide policies broadly:

  • The option to stay in the Yukon
  • Control of the future
  • An acceptable quality of life
  • Equality

These goals led to new policies, including an encompassing economic policy. The Yukon Economic Policy (1988) committed to continuing support for museums within the section on cultural industries, noting culture is an:

important element in the quality of life that attracts  workers and visitors to our communities.

YUKON 1988, 38

Museums are also mentioned in the section on tourism, which articulates a commitment to supporting the industry in ways that give:

greater control and benefits from tourism to Yukoners.

YUKON 1988, 54

Government action relating to museums and tourism thus became part of the broader economic policy to develop a more sustainable economy and meet Yukon 2000’s goals. 

These goals continue to be evident in the more recent Yukon Tourism Development Strategy (2018), which emphasizes sustainable development and the connection with all Yukoners in addition to the sectors’ economic contributions. A thriving sector benefits all Yukoners because the goal focuses on growth in order to support stable and year-round employment.

In short, museum policy is a tourism policy. Tourism policy is an economic policy. However, the goal is not to have a thriving tourism sector to make businesses happy. Instead, economic policy aims to increase Yukoner’s quality of life by providing jobs and the option to stay in Yukon. 

Some Nuance

As stated above, support for community museums can be rationalized in multiple ways. While there is an emphasis on tourism in Yukon, there is also some variation over time, within different contexts, and across actors. For example, the Museum Policy (1990) mentions multiple benefits of museums – they form a social foundation for building a future, improve cross-cultural communication, encourage newcomers to stay in the Yukon, and (of course) tourism with related benefits to the local economy. 

Of particular significance, I plan to explore the rationale underlining Yukon’s support for conservation and other collections work, which is not well connected to an economic or tourism argument. I suspect the focus relates to the availability of funding through the federal government for these activities. However, there is also a discursive difference in arguments for the program:

It is clear that the heritage of a local area is precisely what interests the tourist and it is the signs and flavour of the visible past that compensates the tourist for his expenditures. But the heritage of a people is primarily a cultural business and we attempt to preserve, record and restore evidence of the past mainly that we should know who we are and what we are doing.

YHMA 1984, 3-4


What do you think of my argument? Are you convinced?

Is tourism the dominant rationale for operational funding to community museums in Yukon?

What rationale(s) do you find most prominent in your jurisdiction of interest?

Sources (that were not hyperlinked)

For most quotes, I provided a hyperlink. The resources below are not currently available online.

Catherine C. Cole & Associates. 2014.  Funding Allocation for Yukon Museums and First Nation Cultural / Heritage Centres Options Paper. Cultural Service Branch, Department of Tourism and Culture, Yukon Government. 

Kyte, John E. 1980, November. Museums in Yukon: A Profile and Training Report. Prepared for Yukon Historical and Museums Association. 

Tourism, Heritage, and Cultural Resources. 1983, September. Preserving our Past: Policy Recommendations for the Protection and Management of Yukon’s Heritage Resources. Government of Yukon. 

Yukon Historical and Museums Association. 1984. A Submission to the Government of Yukon Concerning the Proposed New Heritage Legislation. 

Tourism. 1988. Yukon Tourism Action Plan. Yukon Territorial Government.

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