Interview Analysis: Tourism Role

As part of the Dawson City Museum Project, I conducted fifteen interviews with people associated with the institution historically and today. Most of the transcripts have been approved. So, my Research Assistant and I are analyzing them now. The Interview Analysis series considers this analysis and the insights people have provided.

As someone who loves museums but recognizes they are colonial constructs, I often wonder: What, exactly, is the contemporary role of a museum within a community? Do they perpetuate and reinforce colonial narratives or do they serve other functions?

In the working paper Dawson City’s Community Attic, I discussed the critical role of tourism to the Dawson City Museum’s establishment and early development. Within this post, I consider the interview with the Dawson City Museum’s curator to describe the Museum’s contemporary role in tourism.


In 2021, the Dawson City Museum reopened with new permanent exhibitions. These new exhibitions aim to better engage and reflect the local community.

Importantly, the old exhibitions were installed in the 1980s with small changes over time and an addition in the early 2000s. They primarily appealed to a tourist audience rather than locals. As stated in the interview with the curator:

I could see the visitors that were enjoying it at the time. It was really checking their boxes, for lack of a term. I’ve really perceived it, in that sense, as a tourist attraction for a certain kind of niche of visitor.

There were some community events happening, but there wasn’t as close a connection to reflecting community stories or community focused activities that I would expect from a small museum.


Here, they wanted to see the authentic item in a certain display. Again, very much for the tourists, because most locals know about that, and there wasn’t necessarily any additional context provided.


As part of appealing to tourists and reflecting the tourism industry within Dawson City, the Museum exhibitions were oriented around the Klondike Gold Rush. As stated in the interview:

It was very much Gold Rush focused. It kind of toed the party line locally of the Gold Rush experience. I think it really complemented, in a sense, the Parks Canada narrative, because it just kind of gave what people wanted to see; lots of stuff in the story of the Gold Rush context.


The focus on the Gold Rush was reflected in the interpretation, including rocker box and gold pouring demonstrations. As the Curator explained:

They very much covered that period in history, the Gold Rush – just before, or during, and just after – that tourists tend to craveThat’s very much how I saw it. I think that’s very much the tourist designated program, and again, any tours or guidance within the building would focus on the salient features of that period.


Tourism and the Dawson City Museum

The Dawson City Museum was founded, in part, for tourists in an effort to grow the tourism industry following deindustrialization and the Yukon Government’s move from Dawson to Whitehorse. The exhibitions that were in place for between 20 and 40 years served this objective well. Considering tourism, therefore, helps to explain consistency in the Museum’s historical development – that is, exhibitions and interpretive programming stayed the same over a long period of time.

Notably, tourism is not the only role the museum served while maintaining the exhibitions and programming. In subsequent posts we will consider other roles that more directly respond to evolving community needs, such as its role as an employer.


What do you think – Is tourism a key role for museums generally or simply this Museum?

What are the policy implications of a tourism focus?

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