Archival Research: Overwhelming Obstacles

After a very intensive week in the Dawson City Museum (DCM) archives, I am sorting, reading, and analyzing what I found. The documents scanned are interesting and contributing to the narrative(s) about the DCM’s development. In order to help with the analysis, the “Archival Research” series considers the stories archival materials tell, looking at the items I found most exciting.  

Within this post, I am looking at the Dawson City Museum’s response to a 1968 Fire Marshal’s report, which stated a fire would result in a complete loss of the Museum’s building – the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB). I talked about a later fire inspection, labeling the building a “death trap,” in the last Archival Research post – Government Relationships. Not much had changed from 1968 to 1979!

The letter in question is from the Museum Society’s Treasurer to the Commissioner. It is three pages so I won’t post the entire document. Here are some interesting excerpts:

1.1.38 correspondence 1968, Box 1, Dawson City Museum Archives

Why is the letter interesting?

The Museum received the Fire Inspector’s report condemning the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB) housing the Museum in August 1968. Importantly, those running the Museum did not believe the OTAB was any more dangerous than it had been when the government used the space. The treasurer argued:

Sure this old building is a fire trap. Has been for as long as I can remember… One thing is certain that it is no more a fire hazard than it was when the government were using it, in fact less.

See letter above

As a result, the inspector’s report was seen as an unreasonable obstacle for an already overburdened group of volunteers running the Museum. After describing the Museum as a team of three people, the treasurer stated:

… it might be a good time to bunch it. Why keep batting ones head against a wall?

See letter above

The letter makes the writer’s frustration clear. The volunteers running the Museum felt overworked and were not getting the support they needed from the community or government. Instead, the government was creating obstacles:

It has now come to the time where the hurdles are too great. Bucking public apathy is hard enough, when government artificials start giving one a bad time this is the last straw. As far as I am concerned, personally the government can shut down the whole operation, I would save myself a lot of work and worry.

see letter above

In response to the letter, the federal government began working with the Museum to find a solution – that is, alternative accommodations. However, it did not work out. By 1970, the Museum offered to sell their assets to National Historic Sites for $1 as they planned to cease operations.

Is there broader relevance?

Clearly, the Museum still exists in the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB) so they did not sell the collection or even move.

I also found no evidence that they addressed the fire inspector’s report… it appears to have been forgotten about until the Museum failed another report in 1979 and were prevented from re-opening in 1980 (See Government Relationships for more information).

However, the event is still important because it illustrates a broader point – that is, running a museum is hard and people are often overworked. The few people running the Dawson City Museum in the late 1960s were not getting the support they needed from the community or government to do so effectively. The fire inspector’s report was the final straw, leading to so much frustration that the Museum’s collection was almost consumed by the federal government’s operation in the area.

Importantly, the Dawson City community tends to rally in support of the Museum in times where the institution is threatened. In this instance, a new board was elected and brought an enthusiasm to the Museum’s operations, which enabled it to continue (Snider 1971 1972). As the new Secretary wrote:

We have faced a problem in that some have had a desire to abandon the work rather than improve it. This has started to change now with some changes in our directors.

Snider 1972


What do you think? Are these the same lessons you draw from the letter? Do you think this is an important event in the development of the Dawson City Museum?


Snider, K. C. 1971, January 27. Letter to the NHS Superintendent. 2.2.1: Correspondence. Box 1. Dawson City Museum.

Snider, K.C. 1972, February 21. Letter to the White Valley Historical Society. 2.2.2: Correspondence 1972. Box 1. Dawson City Museum.

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