Archival Research: The Issue of Rent

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 letter that gave the Dawson City Museum permission to occupy the Old Territorial Administration Building for 5$ a month after their first location burnt down. Here it is:

Correspondence Minister 1961-2, Box 39c. Dawson City Museum Archives.

Why is the letter interesting?

The Dawson City Museum (DCM) was housed in the old fire hall until it burned down in 1960.

Old Dawson City Museum on Fire, June 5, 1960 (Artist: Roy McLeod; Dawson City Museum Archive 1993.3.11)

The DCM began looking for a new building immediately because they wanted to open for the Gold Rush Festival in 1962. In an appeal to occupy the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB), a Museum representative wrote:

It is imperative to assist the Festival that we have accommodations. Until we can have assurance it is not possible to get going on this important project as we will need to start from scratch.

Shaw 1962

Fortunately, the federal Department of Public Works agreed to lease the space at a rate of $5 for the festival period.

In the late 70s Parks Canada planned to take over the space, but their budget for the Klondike National Historic Site program was cut from $1.5 to $1 million, meaning they were unable to include the OTAB in their renovations (Northern Times 1979). As such, it became a territorial building and the DCM continued to grow in the space.

The DCM did not pay rent or have a lease for most of its time in OTAB. In 1998, they entered into negotiations at the request of Yukon Property Management, which proposed a rent of $10,000 a year (DCM Minutes 14 January 1998). The Museum could not afford this, but began to pay $4,000 a year in 1999. Despite inflation, the Museum continues to pay the same rent for the space.

The Old Territorial Administration Building

Is there broader relevance?

Most obviously, the Museum never left. The original rental price referred to the period of the Festival. Then, there was no lease agreement but the Museum remained and eventually expanded into the unused rooms. In other words, the Old Territorial Administration Building has been the Museum’s home since 1962 thanks to a decision made by Public Works to provide the Museum with space in time for the Gold Rush Festival.

The low rental cost also reflects a form of support from the territorial government. The amount has not increased with inflation and the building’s operation and maintenance costs are between 135 thousand and 158 thousand a year. As such, we see the same path dependent effects with the rental costs. The Museum pays $4000 a year in rent because that is the cost established over 20 years ago.


What do you think? Do you find the document as interesting as I do? If so, what lessons do you think we can draw when talking about the history of the Dawson City Museum?


Shaw, G. 1962. Letter to the Superintendent of Buildings. Correspondence Minister 1961-62, Box 39c. Dawson City Museum Archives.

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