Why a Museum?: Community Hub (Part six)

This post continues to consider the Dawson City Museum’s Role over time in relation to government policy and community action, focusing on the Museum’s role as a kind of community hub.

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

Community Hub

Community hubs are public spaces that offer a range of services where groups and individuals can come together. The term community hub did not arise in the research on the Dawson City Museum (DCM) and is not a term used in the policies with which the Museum interacts. However, during interviews, it became clear that the Museum has, at times, functioned as a community hub.

Historically, the DCM could not truly function as a hub because it did not have adequate housing. The Old Territorial Administration Building, which houses the Museum, turned into an ice box during the winter and had a rotting foundation until a major renovation project in 1986-1987. As a result, activities targeting the local community before the 1990s were limited and often focused on fundraising (e.g., the Annual Auction). After the renovations, the Museum became a busier place year-round and engaged in a broader range of activities that actively targeted the local community, bringing them into the space. For instance, they started a lecture series to raise community awareness of the Museum (DCM AGM Minutes April 29 1992), engaged in their first curriculum linked programs (DCM Newsletter vol. 11 no. 2), and provided space for quilters to do their work (Interviews). 

Supporting these activities, the Museum’s budget increased in the 1990s due to the availability of intersecting project and employment grants. The Museum also hired an executive Director who was mentioned in several interviews as a gregarious and outgoing person that set a positive tone at the institution. While the Museum had always attracted researchers and others with an interest in the history of the Klondike, it became even more of a hub. For example, one person who worked during the 1990s described:

The Museum seemed to be a bit of a home for all of the transplanted summer students. Some of them would come hang out there on their days off and spend time on the back deck sipping coffee and just having a home base.

Interview 10

The quote demonstrates there was a connection between the Museum’s role as a major employer and its role as a hub. The Museum became less of a gathering place in the 2000s as they were able to hire fewer staff. 

Additionally, entering the 21st century, there were simply more organizations in Dawson City around which the community and, more specifically, those with an interest in culture could gather. For example, in the 1990s the Museum was a site for those involved in the artistic community to come together as they held temporary exhibitions. However, the Dawson City Arts Society (DCAS) formed in 1998, opening the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture (KIAC) and launching its first show in 2000. KIAC became home to the ODD Gallery, Dawson City International Short Film Festival, Yukon Riverside Arts Festival, and the Youth Art Enrichment Program. The Museum continued to be involved in this artistic community in some ways, participating in their events. However, they stopped being the natural home for some of this community’s activities. 

The DCM began to have fewer local volunteers and staff. One Executive Director wrote “DCM is recognized as one of the most important heritage attractions in the community, yet we have few volunteers, locals rarely attend our special events and financial support is nil” (Pike 2007). However, the diminished role in the community was not from a lack of trying on the part of the Museum. Starting in the early 2010s, the Director began an events approach to increase the Museum’s presence in the local community, including an annual comedy show and regular movie nights. Despite providing some connection, these events and activities cost the Museum money and had limited (or no) connection to Klondike heritage. Further, they were not necessarily resulting in meaningful engagement. The Curator explained:

In the past, I would say a lot of our community programs or outreach were event based. We did things for Canada Day, for Christmas … We did Discovery Day parades, a class might want to visit, we hosted lectures, [or if] someone was having a book opening, we[‘d] invite the community to come. It was very much a more passive kind of role.

Our Canada Day barbecue is probably the closest relationship we’d have with the community …. because we were literally handing out hot dogs outside of the Museum to every person. That didn’t necessarily mean that they were coming in the Museum, or they had any connection beyond the individual giving them a hot dog. 

Interview 6

As a result, when the Director changed in 2015, he initiated a process of “finding the floor.” As will be discussed in the post on being a community resource, they shifted focus to becoming a more active member in the community rather than gathering the community in or around Museum events. 

In short, some interview participants spoke of the 1990s as a kind of golden age for the Museum with increased community engagement. A larger number of staff and volunteers were active in the Museum due, in part, to the leadership and funding available to support their work. The Museum building had recently reopened as a space that could accommodate year-round activities, meaning the DCM could serve as a kind of community hub that offered programming to locals year-round. However, the relationship with the local community changed at the end of the 1990s as the range of project or employment grants decreased and new organizations emerged around which communities of relevance to the Museum could gather. Seeing a decline in relevance to the local community, the Museum began an events approach but their events cost money and had little relevance to their mission. In 2015, management changed and decided to reorient their focus. The Museum is no longer focused on being a kind of community hub, but is working towards being more engaged in its community to become a more relevant community resource as described in the next post.

Upcoming Posts

Next week, I will finish the consideration of different roles with a post on the Museum’s role as a community resource broadly. Then, I will introduce the discussion and analysis.


Pike, Julia. 2007. Report. DCM Corporate Archives.

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