Archival Photo Finds: Evolving exhibitions

After a very intensive week in the Dawson City Museum archives, I am sorting, reading, and analyzing what I found. In order to help with analysis, I discussed archival documents as part of the Archival Research series. The Archival Photo Finds series similarly considers the stories archival photos can tell.  

Within this post, I look at photos of the Museum’s permanent exhibitions from 1959 to today. 




1976 – 1978


2010s – 2020


Why do I find the pictures so exciting?

The photos demonstrate an evolution in how artifacts were displayed in a community museum with a relatively small budget. 

Prior to the 1970s, the Museum objects were grouped together with some organization. However, the space had a “community attic” feel without a narrative. Here is an example:

In the 1970s, the Museum began to employ a year-round director who used employment programs to hire staff. The paid staff worked to professionalize the Museum, organizing the exhibitions to tell stories. Here is an example, which shows the development of Dawson City chronologically with different eras:

The photo was found in the Dawson City Museum Corporate Archives with 1976-77 on the back (Box 41; 2000.16.152).

They also began creating dioramas, which organized artifacts according to themes (e.g., items seen in a store):

The photo was found in the Dawson City Museum Corporate Archives with 1977-78 on the back (Box 40; 2000.16.159)

In the 1980s, Parks Canada members were on the Museum’s board, participating on the display committee when dioramas were a popular way to exhibit materials in museums. As such, the Museum staff created more dioramic displays like the one below :

This image is of a postcard from the Dawson City Museum, showing a Miner’s Cabin. The Cabin was built as early as 1989 (see photo above).

The Museum opened a new permanent exhibition in the early 2000s, renovating part of the South Gallery. However, I do not have pictures illustrating this change. If you have any images of the “Lind Gallery,” please let me know!

In 2009 the Museum made mannequins that looked like community members. These mannequins then populated the exhibitions. Here is an example of a mannequin in the Miner’s Cabin from the photo above:

A Miner's Cabin diorama with a mannequin that looks like a community member.

Recently, the Museum opened their new exhibitions. They were created in partnership with a design team and use more contemporary methods of display. For example, information is considered thematically rather than chronologically, there are no dioramas, and some objects are behind glass.

Here are some photos of one of my favorite themes – Klondikephilia:

Interestingly, has kept a community museum feel with large groupings and collections of objects. There are so many artifacts on display! Here is an updated visible storage display:

What can we learn from the pictures?

The pictures demonstrate staffs’ commitment to creating professional museum displays despite limited resources. As expectations and best practices have changed, so has the Museum.

The pictures also help answer the research question – How has the Dawson City Museum developed in relation to government policy and community action?

  • Government policy: The creation of new exhibitions requires money. The Museum’s ability to update and renew the space, therefore, depends on government policy. Both the territorial and federal government have provided funding for exhibition development through programs that address museum or cultural policy goals. The Museum has also accessed funding from other programs, such as the territory’s Community Development Fund.
  • Community action: The community is reflected in the exhibitions, which tell stories about community action. Further:
    • The dioramas reflect the approach taken to exhibitions within Dawson City’s heritage community.
    • The objects displayed were donated from communities of people interested in the Klondike.
    • The mannequins are a literal reflection of the local community.
    • And, perhaps most importantly, the Museum is a vehicle through which the local community is presented to tourists. The permanent exhibitions have reflected the stories the Museum staff and board members, who are also members of the local community, feel are important to tell.

I look forward to seeing how the Museum continues to evolve over time!


What is your biggest take away from the pictures? What do you think that we can learn?

Do you agree with the connections I have made to government policy and community action?

Do you have any pictures of the Dawson City Museum’s interior that would enrich this presentation?

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