Archival Research: The Beringia Centre as a Competitor

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 build on the centralization (support for a territorial museum) vs. decentralization (support for a network of museums) conversation in Yukon community museum policy. The first post on this topic is available here and the second here.

I am looking at the Minister of Tourism’s response to advocacy from the Yukon Historical and Museums association (YHMA). The YHMA articulated a concern that funding for new staffing positions at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, which is a territorial institution that opened in 1997 to exhibit natural heritage, would ultimately harm the community museums in the territory.

Here is an excerpt from the Minister’s letter:

Keenan, David. 1997, May 16. Letter to the Chair of the YHMA Committee. Correspondence director 1997 1998. Box 25. Dawson City Museum Archives.

Why is the letter interesting?

I find the letter interesting for two reasons:

First, the letter assumes that community museums are only hiring summer student staff and not permanent staff with the same “level of skills, training and experience” the government was looking to hire (Keenan 1997). It neglects the possibility that community museums, like the Dawson City Museum which has had a year round curator since 1975, may want to hire professional staff but struggle to compete with government positions due to their limited resources.

Second, the letter goes on to say:

Considering that Parks Canada has been hiring summer interpretive visitor service staff in Kluane National Park, Klondike National Historic Sites in Dawson, Chilkoot Trail National Historic Park and S.S. Klondike National Historic Site, year after year, with no impact on museum operations, it is extremely unlikely that Beringia Centre staffing would have any negative consequences.

Keenan 1997

The Minister assumed Parks Canada operations and staffing had not competed with community museum’s attempts to hire students. This assumption conflicts with my existing research. In Dawson City, the Museum does compete with Parks for staff and has less to offer in terms of salary and accommodations. I talk about that here.

In short, the letter shows little consideration of community museums’ concerns about a territorial center. In particular, the government representative does not seem to understand how a territorial centre may compete with the existing community museum program for funding and resources. Or, perhaps more accurately, community museums’ concerns were not a priority. As the letter stated:

I can appreciate your desire for more Yukon Government funding of museums activities but your interests have been and are consistently weighed against equally legitimate interests in all aspects of our Yukon Society. It is therefore important to recognize that Government of the Yukon has allocated additional O&M funds to community museums in the 1997/98 budget – particularly when many important non-governmental organizations either had reductions or saw no increases whatsoever.

Keenan 1997

Is there broader relevance?

I do not know if there is broader relevance. However, the creation of the Beringia Centre suggests a shift toward supporting centralized museums and museum-like institutions within Yukon. What is not clear is: Has that change been paired with a shift away from support for a decentralized system? Further, when considered with reference to government responses to museum problems in the 1980s (e.g., Government Relationships), was there a shift away from concern for and knowledge of community museums’ problems?


What do you think? Are these the same lessons you draw from the letter? Do you have potential answers to my questions?


Keenan, David. 1997, May 16. Letter to the Chair of the YHMA Committee. Correspondence director 1997 1998. Box 25. Dawson City Museum Archives.

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