A previous post discussed employment policies as cultural policies. Within this post, I examine the Dawson City Museum’s experiences to demonstrate how employment policies intersect with other policies at all levels of government.
Theses intersections can lead to better access to the program or other opportunities. They can also be barriers to access. In other words, these intersections can have positive and negative effects for community museums.
Employment Programs and the Dawson City Museum
The Dawson City Museum (DCM) began accessing federal employment programs in the 1970s, using them to employ a Director/Curator year round.
In particular, the Local Initiatives Program (LIP) was key to funding employment during the winter. LIP’s development is shown on the timeline of federal community museum policy here.
When the territorial government began subsidizing the salary for a year round Director / Curator at the DCM in the 1980s, federal employment programs continued to play a significant role. I have listed some of the programs the DCM accessed in a list of actors supporting the sector here.
In recent years, Canada Summer Jobs and Young Canada Works have been particularly important. The current Director actually started working at the Museum as a Young Canada Works summer employee.
Positive (for the Museum) Intersections
When the Dawson City Museum (DCM) began employing staff year round (using the federal support), they were the first museum in Yukon to have a Curator / Director.
Kyte (1980) observed that the full time Director allowed for proper museum management. Similarly, Johnson (1980, qtd. in Kyte 1980) stated “Clearly, the museum has benefited from this arrangement, to the point where its programs are the most advanced and effective of any Yukon museum.” According to the 1986 Lord Report, hiring the Director enabled them to:
- reorganize the exhibitions into thematic displays;
- establish a cataloguing system;
- develop training for the part time workers; and
- engage in heritage related projects in the community.
These activities were supported because the Curator / Director was able to:
- spend time accessing funding programs, such as LIP and funding for a planning study.
- work with Parks Canada employees (who were also on the board) on improving the Museum’s activities, such as collections management.
In short, the federal winter employment programs allowed the Museum to hire a year-round employee who could then make better use of the funding programs and other support available to professionalize the small community museum.
Considering the reports mentioned above (Kate 1980; Johnson 1980), the DCM then provided the evidence that supported arguments for salary assistance from the territorial government, which began in 1985.
As described in the Legislative Assembly:
Negative (for the Museum) Intersections
As previously mentioned, the current Executive Director of the Dawson City Museum (DCM) began as a student / summer employee through the Young Canada Works (YCW) Program. YCW and Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) have been important to the Museum’s public programming during summer months.
However, accessing these employment programs has been increasingly difficult. The DCM no longer relies on YCW to the same extent for a few reasons, which I discussed with Alex (the Executive Director) during our interview.
- Wage Competition
In 2020 and 2021, Canada Summer Jobs provided a wage subsidy reimbursement of up to 100% of the territorial minimum wage to nonprofits (source). The Yukon minimum wage is $13.85 and will become $15.20 in August.
The Yukon Government employs student employees from Yukon through it’s STEP program, which has a starting wage of $20.19. Here is a chart showing annual increases:
So, the Museum is disadvantaged compared to Yukon government in a wage competition for local students.
Similarly, the Museum is disadvantaged compared to Parks Canada in a wage competition for students across Canada. While I was unable to find a specific job post for comparison, some Parks Canada jobs are through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP).
Through FSWEP, Post-secondary students can receive from $15.40 to $33.58 per hour. Here is a chart showing potential wages:
There is a third source of competition – other provinces. As other subnational governments raise their minimum wage, the $17/hour that the DCM can provide by adding to the federal contribution becomes less attractive. For example, when the Executive Director began working at the Museum through YCW, his home province (Nova Scotia) had a minimum wage of $9.65. Nova Scotia’s minimum wage is now 13.10. As wages in other provinces (rightfully) become more competitive, the higher wages in Yukon look relatively smaller.
In sum, the DCM can struggle to fill positions as the wages they can provide are lower or not significantly higher than those provided by or through the actions of governments (federally and subnationally).
2. Housing Problem
Dawson City has a housing problem – that is, a lack of housing for renters and a substantially increased number of renters during the summer months. Here are CBC articles about the issue from 2011, 2015, 2016a, 2016b, 2016c, 2017, and 2019.
This article from 2016 discusses an apartment building developed to address the need. Importantly, the development was possible due to municipal and territorial policies. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in has also been involved in development to address the issue (source). More broadly, the Yukon government has worked on affordable housing projects in different communities (source). In other words, the continued housing problem is a policy issue with potential solutions from different levels of government.
In short, as people become more aware of the housing problem in Dawson or struggle to find housing, they become less willing to go to Dawson City for a summer job at the Museum.
3. Effort vs. Benefit
Due to points one and two (wage competition and lack of housing), filling the government funded positions can be difficult for the Museum. There are also difficulties caused by the Museum’s location, requiring remote interviews.
For the employees, the Museum’s location can be an incentive (Dawson City is so much fun!), but it also provides additional challenges. Mainly, it is expensive in terms of money and time to get there. For example, when I visited Dawson, m tickets involved a long layover in Whitehorse, which necessitated a hotel stay and extended my trip by a day each way.
Considering the time and expense that both the Museum and employees invest, what should the Museum do if the employee’s quality of work is not sufficient? The Executive Director faces the question – Is it ethical to fire someone when they have flown to a City in a remote location without a support system since their employment contract is only a few months anyway?
In short, there are barriers for the Museum when accessing employment funding, which can make the effort they put into accessing and using the support disproportionate to the benefit they receive.
If you wanted to make the short term employment policies better for the Dawson City Museum, where would you concentrate your advocacy? Why?
Johnson, Linda. 1980, January. A Future for the Past: A Preliminary Discussion Paper on Yukon’s Heritage Resources. Department of Library and Information Services. Yukon.
Kyte, John E. 1980, November. Museums in Yukon: A Profile and Training Report. Prepared for Yukon Historical and Museums Association.
Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management Inc. with Lori Patterson Jackson and Linda R. Johnson. 1986. Yukon Museums Policy and System Plan. Volume One.
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