Interview Analysis: Museum as Employer

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.

Within this post, I am continuing to examine the role of the Dawson City Museum as a community resource (Community Resource). In particular, I am considering its role as an employer, which was mentioned in a few interviews. Interview quotes provided below highlight the Dawson City Museum’s role as an employer and its related expansion in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the Museum stopped being a major employer in the 21st century, which can be explained through an examination of both community and policy changes. The interview data thus serves as a starting point to discuss ways the Dawson City Museum’s development was shaped through government policy and community action.

Interview Excerpts

During the 1970s through the 1990s, there were a dedicated group of about five people who worked for the Museum. As one interview participant recalled:

Those folks [were] very important for … the work of the Museum, the day-to-day job of the Museum. They were the most important crew, ultimately.


These individuals had an interest in heritage and, as such, enjoyed working at the Museum. Several were interviewed for this project and one remembered:

At the time when I started [at the Museum] I think I was making five dollars an hour. And so it wasn’t a well-paid job. People didn’t come to it because of that. They came because it was an interesting place to work and it drew other interesting people.


Through their hard work, the Museum was able to professionalize and ran an active museum program with exhibitions, collections work, research, and public programs. Different projects led to more employment for more people. As one interview participant recalled:

I would just say that it expanded. It expanded in its outreach, and expanded in its projects, and it expanded with the staff. It became one of the larger employers in the community at that time.


Similarly, another participant who worked at the Museum in the 1990s noted:

At the time that I started there, it was one of the main employers in Dawson.


Despite the significance of their work to the Museum, staff were not hired in full time permanent positions.

We were essentially employees, but we were contractors.


Since staff were tied to projects, running the Museum involved ongoing work to develop projects and get funding for them to support staffing.

And that’s the way the funding works. You have to have a new project every time. You just get people enthused and trained and actually excited about doing something and you have to come up with something new and find new people. Even then, that was a problem. You were always searching for things that fit inside what a museum is interested in doing but would bring money is into the coffers so you could keep people employed.


At the time, there were a range of project grants available related to unemployment. As one former Director from the period recalled:

As I mentioned, we would access the EI grants all the time. We also accessed all sorts of other grants about keeping people employed, or project-based, probably through MAP, which was.Museum Assistance Program, at the time, that existed… It was a time of unemployment, and governments wanting to get people working and keep them working.


Importantly, this era of employment came to an end at the close of the 20th century. Entering the 21st century, it became increasingly challenging to staff the museum. The Museum is no longer considered a major employer in the region and a consideration of community and policy changes helps explain why.


Changes in the community provide a partial explanation for why the Museum is no longer an employer as a primary role.

As noted above, from the 1970s to the 1990s, there was a core group of about five people who would work for the museum regularly on contracts associated with project or employment funding. However, a number of these individuals left Dawson in the late 1990s or early 2000. As one interview participant recalls:

At the time as well, there was this amazing group of people who had been involved with the Museum for quite a long time… So there was this corporate knowledge and energy that was there as well. Just because of happenstance, most of those people ended up getting Yukon government jobs and moving to Whitehorse kind of at the same time that [the Director] as well moved on and also at the same time that I think financial constraints came in on the Museum. 

Interview 10

While not stated in the interviews, their departure from Dawson to government jobs reflects a core issue of contract staffing in museums, which can fail to address the needs of employees as a community. Most notably, there is a lack of job security, meaning the Museum lost valuable resources when other, more secure and well paying opportunities became available. As stated in a discussion paper for the Yukon Museums Strategy in the early 2000s:

The other aspect of staffing which requires immediate attention is the so-called itinerant museum contractors who are largely responsible for the outstanding quality one can observe throughout the Yukon’s museum system. Their training, skills and commitment, coupled with the unique manner in which they work, are an outstanding example of adjusting to local circumstances without sacrificing quality and expertise.

But the message here is also loud and clear. These contract workers, despite their sustained success, are feeling abused and neglected by the government system they serve. It is our understanding that they have no secure employment contracts, receive no benefits, and are not necessarily paid in keeping with their skills and experience. The loss of these talented workers would do serious damage to the overall content and quality of Yukon’s museums, even if it were possible to replace them.

Barkley et al 2001.

The Dawson City Museum was never able to replace the people who had helped the museum thrive, maintaining corporate knowledge for over 20 years. While there are a variety of reasons they have not been replaced, looking at policy changes provides another partial explanation.


Importantly, several programs existed in the 1980s and/or 1990s, which the Museum used to employe people. These programs either no longer exist or exist in different forms.

Local Employment Opportunities Program (LEOP) + Others = Community Development Fund

The Local Employment Opportunities Program (LEOP) was announced in October 1985 with the goal to provide employment during the winter months (YLA 26.2.4). More specifically, the Minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services explained:

it is our intention that this will assist local governments, Indian Bands, registered societies, recognized non-profit institutions to undertake projects that normally would not have been undertaken due to a lack of funding. The program will fund capital projects that are labour intensive, will improve the quality of life, will be a measurable asset to the community as a whole. The program will also stimulate the economy at the local level, as one of the concrete examples of the government’s commitment to jobs for Yukon people.

YLA 26.2.7

The Dawson City Museum used LEOP in the late 1980s to develop their exhibitions. For example, in 1987 LEOP provided over 20 thousand dollars in wages for carpenters (DCM AGM 1987; See for example, YTG LEOP Program, Box 13, Dawson City Museum Archives).

LEOP was terminated in the late 1990s and the Community Development Fund (CDF) replaced it (Source). Importantly, CDF started as an amalgamation of several employment programs the Museum was once able to use. For example, the Yukon Employment Incentives Programs, through which the Museum employed someone for 16 weeks in 1990 (DCM Directors Reports 1990), was also amalgamated into CDF (YLA 27.1.57).

While the Museum has used CDF, it does not support employment at the Museum in the same way that multiple overlapping programs designed to increase employment once did.


Starting in the late 1980s, the Museum began receiving funding for a part time administrative assistant (Gorrell 1988). However, in the 1990s, the MacBribe Museum asked for increased funding for administration during the winter. Subsequent meetings led to a statement in which the Yukon Lottery Commission asserted:

operating grants to museums are the joint responsibility of the Heritage Branch of Y.T.G. and the community in which the museum is located.

Beaumont 1994

As a result, the Museum was no longer able to get wage support from lottery funding.

Federal Strategies

The Dawson City Museum began to use federal employment programs in the 1970s, starting with the Local Initiatives Program. The Program enabled the Museum to have year round employees for the first time. It also started the trend of the Museum using federal programs to subsidize employment. For example, in 1981 the Museum received a $133,000 “work grant” from the Department of Employment and Immigration’s Canada Community Services Program.

In 1985, the Government of Canada announced the Canada Job Strategy, which included a number of programs that the Museum used. For example, the Museum used the Job Development program, which provided support to make unemployed people more employable (O’Brien et al. 2005). In 1990, the Museum used Job Creation (Sec. 25) to employ someone on a photography project and for office assistance (DCM Directors Reports).

In 1996 the Government of Canada the job strategy was reformed, changing the available programs.The Youth Employment Strategy launched in 1997, including funding for student employment like Young Canada Works. The Young Canada Works program targets museums specifically and contributed a shift whereby the majority of temporary workers at the Museum became summer students.


As employee support for winter employment became less accessible, funding for student summer employment became more available and the people who had been contracted by the Museum moved away. Since then, the Museum stopped being a major employer outside the summer months.

As one participant noted there is a gap in support for the community itself to once again have a role in the Museum:

One of my big things is I think in the old days, the seniors and elders in the community had more of a role with the Museum. And now it’s so focused on providing employment for young students that we’re really missing the big important connection with the community not having support for all these people who have these wonderful stories to tell and could really contribute to the Museum’s sustainability because you get more loyalty from the community and you’d have more interesting programming.



How do government employment programs shape the work of museums? Are there alternative arrangements that could serve everyone better?


Barkley, Bill, Janes, Robert, Jensen, Marilyn, Johnston, Ingrid, Ingram, Rob, and Dobrolsky, Helene. 2001. Preliminary Observations on Yukon’s Museum Community: Discussion Paper. Strategy for Yukon Museums. Box 29a, Dawson City Museum Archives.

Beaumont, Doug. 1994, November. Letter to the Dawson City Museum. Sports and Lotteries Paper. Box 22. Dawson City Museum Archives.

Gorrell, Truska. 1988, December 14. Letter to the DCM. Lotteries Yukon. Box 15, Dawson City Museum.

O’Brien, Cathleen, Tommy, Diane, and Thomas, Bob. 2005, June. Wage Subsidies in Canada. Paper for Korean Ministry of Labour and Korea Labour Institute. Government of Canada.

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