Archival Research: Reduced Student Positions

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 consider the effects of cuts to student employment programs experienced in the early 2000s. Here is an excerpt from a letter the Dawson City Museum’s Director sent to the territorial museums advisor:

2003, August. Letter to the Museum Advisor. Correspondence. Box 39a. Dawson City Museum Archives.

Why is the letter interesting?

As I have explained elsewhere, student employment programs are incredibly significant to community museums. In 2003, the Dawson City Museum (DCM) relied heavily on both Young Canada Works (YCW) and the HRDC Summer Career Placement (SCP). However, they received:

  • fewer student positions – that is, 6 fewer positions than they applied for.
  • fewer work hours a week per student – the SCP positions were reduced to 30 hours a week.
  • fewer work weeks per student.

As a result:

  • It was more difficult to staff the museum during opening hours.
  • Students quit partway through because they were not making enough money.
  • The Museum opened later than usual.
  • The Museum needed to pay out of pocket to have students working during Discovery Days – a significant holiday in Dawson City.
  • The Museum was unable to participate in Discovery Days and, therefore, saw a significant decrease in visitor numbers.
  • The Museum had to pay for a Gift Shop assistant out of their budget.

Fearing additional cuts, the Director wrote:

I feel that the Dawson City Museum and our reputation will be adversely affected if we continue to cut back hours, activities and services because we do not have the human or financial resources to do otherwise.

2003, August. Letter to the Museum Advisor. Correspondence. Box 39a. Dawson City Museum Archives.

Is there broader relevance?

During the 1990s, the DCM was able to take advantage of multiple employment programs, contributing to an expansion of museum activities. However, they began to experience cuts in those programs in the early 2000s. In addition to cuts, other government programs intersect to make funding more challenging to access as discussed here.

As I consider the development of the Dawson City Museum, I am looking at explanatory factors for change. The Museum experienced a significant change as it moved from the 1990s to the 2000s – that is, it went from being a hub of community activity, expanding its operations and engaging in significant projects, to being a tourist attraction more narrowly with seemingly less community engagement.

It is possible that the decline in summer student employment contributed to this change. With fewer people available to staff the Museum and provide programming during its busiest season, what affect does that have on the work of the permanent staff?


What do you think? Is this a potential explanation for a decline in museum activity / community engagement experienced in the 21st century?

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