Research Assistant Reflection: Katherine Ahlf and Dawson City as Community

My name is Katherine Ahlf, and I worked as a research assistant with the Dawson City Museum Project over the summer. 

My work was primarily focused on writing an annotated bibliography for a paper that would expand on critical events that shaped the development of Dawson City, which, in turn, affected the museum and its role in the community. I focused my timeline from the 1950s-2000 and concentrated on information related to the government and community action that led to the drastic transition of Dawson City from a ghost town to a tourist town, finding resources that helped show what life was like for the community during this time. To understand when a source was valuable for this project or not, I first needed to educate myself to create a foundational knowledge of the museum and town’s history and what parts were missing from the project’s previously completed work. 

This foundational work took some time as there is an overwhelming number of sources on some subjects, but shockingly little on others regarding Dawson City’s history and development within my planned timeline. This ebb and flow of information was particularly challenging to work with at first. In my previous academic writing experiences, there was little space for speculation. Concrete factual information was all that was permitted on relatively short timelines. However, I learned that with this kind of in-depth research project, sometimes you must start with speculation and go down a few long rabbit holes. With time and after looking in some surprising places, I found resources with the information we needed! 

What did I find?

What stands out to me the most from my research is how incredible the community involvement in the town of Dawson City has been throughout these decades of adaption and transition from the iconic Gold Rush town to what we know today. For decades, this isolated community faced dramatic population declines and economic challenges, meaning it became a ghost town. Still, there was a consistent belief that what the town could offer was special and worth fighting to preserve. 

Developing the town into what we see today took the community several failed attempts to launch the region as a tourist attraction. There were also several instances where the town continued to push on despite decisions by the territorial and federal governments that limited or isolated the town further. Eventually, Dawson City was recognized as a worthwhile investment to preserve and promote tourism by these governments. Their intervention has drastically shaped the Dawson City experienced today. However, after my summer researching these events and timelines, I know the driving force for Dawson City’s success was a community that believed their home was worth working to save despite the challenges. An excellent resource sharing more information on this is A. A. Doiron’s thesis titled “Tourism Development and the third sector: a case study on Dawson City, Yukon.” 

Hopes for the Project Moving Forward

As I end my time as a research assistant with this project, my biggest hope for the future is that the information gathered and meticulously compiled by Robin and the other researchers involved in the project is thoroughly utilized by the museum. I believe that policymakers having a clearer understanding of the organization’s previous experiences and choices can provide a lot of information that will enrich and guide the museum’s future decisions. I also hope that the work completed with this project reaches more people in the general public and helps spurn a curiosity to know more about Dawson City than just during the years of the Gold Rush.

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