Why a Museum?: Year-Round Employer (Part four)

This post continues to consider the Dawson City Museum’s Role over time in relation to government policy and community action, focusing on one of the Museum’s most important roles within its community – that is, as an employer.

Why a Museum: The Dawson City Museum’s Role (Part one)

Year-Round Employer

The development of direct employment programs at the federal and territorial levels enabled the Dawson City Museum to establish itself as a year-round employer in Dawson City, fulfilling an important need for winter jobs. As mentioned when discussing the Museum’s role as a heritage resource, the employment programs were connected to the Museum’s capacity to professionalize and establish itself as a museum engaged in collecting practices and exhibition. These grants also enabled deeper connections with the community as more people became involved in the museum as both staff and volunteers.

During the 1970s, the Government of Canada began direct employment programs to create jobs that better communities. These jobs helped keep people in the workforce and thereby preserve employability. For example, from 1971 to 1977 the Local Initiatives Program (LIP) funded jobs for unemployed people in winter months to create facilities or services that benefited the community more broadly. The Dawson City Museum used LIP for the Big Cabin Crafts project, which involved hiring people in the Winter to make dolls that were then sold in the Museum’s gift shop during the summer tourist season to help support Museum operations.

Canada Works succeeded LIP in 1977 with the objective to create employment opportunities for unemployed people that would use their skills to better their community. The DCM was able to access this new grant, helping to address unemployment concerns in Dawson City. The chart below from Roy and Wong (2000, 15) shows the variety of job creation programs available:

The Dawson City Museum Director worked closely with the office responsible for these programs to keep abreast of changes. They were able to receive these grants because their projects provided a community benefit while employing people in a region with a dearth of employment opportunities in winter months. A director in the late 1980s noted, the federal grants officer taught her the value of keeping people tied to the workplace. Recalling a conversation, she had asked:

“why are they giving money to people that get EI, or are eligible for EI, or that aren’t quite eligible but work?” 

[The grant officer] talked to me about the importance of keeping people employed. The thing with social assistance is they’re not tied to the workforce. You keep people tied to the workforce; you continue them working. I learned about that kind of stuff.

Interview 11

The Dawson City Museum actively used the direct employment grants for winter employment in combination with a variety of project grants to support operations into the 1990s. The number of people employed by the Dawson City Museum increased dramatically and far exceeded any contemporary work of the Museum. For example, 1994/95 the Museum employed 50 people with a payroll of $344,180, which is more than the total expenses reported in 2018 (DCM Newsletter vol. 12 no. 1; Source). A person who worked with the Museum from the 1970s to the 2000s explained:

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.

Interview 9

Notably, the Museum was able to expand their activities due to intersecting programs from both the federal and territorial government. When discussing employment objectives, it is important to also consider Yukon’s Community Development Fund (CDF), which launched in 1989 to replace the Local Employment Opportunities Program.  The CDF had the objective to “improve job opportunities in communities” (Minister of Economic Development 1989). The DCM used CDF for projects like the development of a guide for mining records in 1990s (DCM Newsletter February 1993). 

Despite the ongoing availability of CDF, the 1990s saw a gradual reduction in the number of federal employment grants available for winter unemployment. Student employment programs became a key and explicit component of Canadian museum policy with the introduction of Young Canada Works in Heritage in 1996 as well as programs for archives and libraries that the Museum could access.  While these programs have enabled the Museum to offer programming to tourists during the summer, they do not have the same effect in terms of addressing an employment need for the community. Since the early 2000s, the Museum has reported difficulty in filling the summer positions that are available due to several community factors. The size of the transient summer labour force in Dawson City broadly has declined, which is a problem for recruitment and retention in institutions across Dawson, due to a loss of a tent city and the growing awareness of housing problems in the area. As a result, the Museum has cut positions and manages with far fewer summer students than it once did.  

The DCM’s ability to use multiple employment grants in conjunction with project grants to fulfill perceived need in the community for winter jobs was also tied to the availability and capacity of labour. As employment programs became available in the 1970s, there was an influx of younger people who came to Dawson City. As one person remembered:

A lot of people had moved in the seventies and were looking around for something fun and exciting to do and be involved in. The Museum is a huge structure, and the collection was just amazingly interesting. So, it was a natural draw for those people. They were keen to be involved.

Interview 7

Some of these people became long term employees who worked for the Museum on a contract basis for up to twenty years. For example, one person described working as a carpenter in the summer and then on museum projects during the winter, which trained them in museum work. These contracted staff expanded what the Museum could accomplish as they developed necessary skills over time. Some would even write or contribute to the development of grant applications, which would then support their own employment. A director who started in the late 1990s explained:

…they were year-round residents, so they knew the history, and they were involved. They had been doing lots of contract work for the Heritage organizations in Dawson City, and elsewhere in the Yukon too. They were experienced people who we could just call them up, and they could come in the next day and sit down and talk about what needed to be done, and we could contract them to work. We could supply them work in the winter.

Interview 3

As the direct employment grants became less available, there was also a shift in the availability of trained labour for the Museum. Core contract staff left Dawson City and found permanent positions elsewhere in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

In short, the Dawson City Museum had an important role addressing seasonal unemployment in the community due to the availability of grants. The availability of grants led to the availability of trained individuals who could then engage in projects for the Museum and even contribute to grant writing for their work. However, many of those who worked with the Museum on contracts possible through these employment and other project grants eventually left Dawson.  At the same time, federal direct employment programs began focusing on funding student summer employment instead. These student employees expanded the Museum’s tourism programming during summer months but did and do not fulfill a community need for more jobs at that time considering Dawson City already has an increase in employment during the summer. Today, the Museum provides employment to two to three year-round employees, using territorial funding for community museums, and a couple summer students through employment programs. The Museum’s role fulfilling a community need for employment contract employment in the winter is thus reduced.

Upcoming Posts

Next week, the posts will focus on the Museum’s role in identity building and as a kind of community hub.


Roy, Arun S. and Wong, Ging. 2000. “Direct Job Creation Programs: Evaluation Lessons on Cost-Effectiveness.” Canadian Public Policy 26(2): 157 – 169. 

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