The Dawson City Museum and Parks Canada Relationship

The Dawson City Museum project asks – How has the Dawson City Museum evolved in relation to government policy and community action?  We are taking two approaches to answering the question. First, we are considering the data chronologically to discuss the evolution of the Museum over time (e.g., Dawson City’s Community Attic). Second, we have developed key themes related to policy and community (e.g., The Dawson City Museum and Indigenous Peoples). To solicit feedback, I will post a series of working papers that consider the data in these two ways – that is, chronologically and thematically. These papers will inform the final report for the Dawson City Museum and podcast miniseries.   

Providing a thematic consideration of the data, this working paper asks – How has Parks Canada’s presence in Dawson City influenced the Dawson City Museum? Importantly, the question intersects with both government policy and community action.  Parks Canada is a government agency. Its presence in Dawson and the effects of this presence result from government policy. At the same time, Parks Canada staff have become a significant part of the Dawson community, developing personal relationships with other professionals who have related interest.   

Within this paper, I provide context and discuss Parks Canada’s presence in Dawson from the 1950s to 2021. Then, I articulate five ways Parks Canada has influenced the Dawson City Museum’s development – space, finances, training and expertise, collaboration and contributions to prevailing discourses about the region. The discussion considers how Parks Canada’s influence has changed over time due to the context articulated, including reductions in its budget. Finally, I conclude the presence of Parks Canada in Dawson and the personal relationships of its staff with the Dawson City Museum and its staff have had a profound influence on the Museum’s historical development.   


In 1958, Prime Minister Diefenbaker was re-elected with a campaign that launched a northern vision. He suggested Dawson City’s development as a tourist attraction (Stuart 1990; Taylor 1990). Reflecting this vision, the Historic Sites and Monument Board (HSMB) defined the Gold Fields and related features as nationally significant in 1959, designating 17 building from 1959 to 1967. At the same time, the National Historic Sites Branch began acquiring sites in Dawson City, such as the Palace Grand Theater. However, the federal government did not yet operate a historic complex. Instead, they leased the Palace Grand Theater to what is now the Klondike Visitors Association for tourism related activity (Stuart 1990). 

In 1967, the HSMB met in Dawson City and recommended a more comprehensive approach to heritage preservation and interpretation in the area. Parks Canada then expanded its activities in Dawson, acquiring more sites. By 1972, Parks Canada had acquired 16 buildings and properties (Graham 1972). Then, in 1978 they released a master plan for the development of Klondike National Historic Sites (KNHS). These plans originally included the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB), which the Dawson City Museum occupied. However, those plans were scaled down after the budget for the KNHS was reduced in the late 1970s.  

Despite the reductions, Parks Canada implemented an active heritage preservation and interpretation program in and around Dawson City as part of the KNHS, which includes the Dawson Historical Complex, Dredge No. 4, S.S. Keno, and the former territorial courthouse. As a result, a disproportionate number of experts have lived in and visited the relatively remote Yukon city, including engineers, conservators, curators, and programmers. These professionals became part of a heritage community that developed in Dawson City as it became an active site for research and heritage interpretation. 

While Parks Canada has had a pronounced presence in Dawson since the 1970s, there have been significant changes in their work. For example, in the 1990s, cuts influenced their interpretive programming. The KNHS also experienced cuts in 2012, resulting in the loss of six full time jobs and reduced hours for an additional five positions (Davidson 2012). These reductions had a significant influence on the size and scope of the City’s heritage community.   

In short, Parks Canada operates the KNHS and, as a result, has a significant presence in Dawson. Their presence grew in the 1970s, but not to the extent originally planned due to budget reductions. Subsequent reductions have continued to reshape their role and influence. The next section examines this influence as it relates to the Dawson City Museum. Importantly, the research did not focus on the growth and development of Parks Canada in Dawson City or to the tourism industry in the region, but rather considers the effects of the national agency according to those with a relationship to the Museum.   

Parks Canada and the DCM 

Interview Participants identified five ways that Parks Canada has influenced the Dawson City Museum (DCM) – space, financially, training and expertise, collaboration and the interpretation or discourse prevalent in Dawson. To some extent, these effects are overlapping and intersecting in ways that resist categorization. They can be timeless and present across the period examined. However, changes in federal policy have affected the heritage community broadly in Dawson City and changed the relationship between heritage workers. These changes will be discussed in more detail below. Within this section, the themes are identified and exemplified.   

ThemeInterview Quote
 Space  “I know at one point the Museum was even renting some rooms from Parks during the summer when they had some extra space where the summer interpreters for the Museum could stay if Parks had any extra accommodation.” (Interview 15)  
 Financially  “We had a 1903 bird’s eye view of Dawson, a poster … the manager at Parks Canada, at the time, borrowed our original and sent it off … and said, “can you get this reproduced?” It was not the usual size for a printing press, so they had to find a printer that could accommodate that size. They paid to have; I think it was a thousand copies of the poster made up and turned them back to us to sell. I guess, maybe, because they were a government agency, they didn’t need to make money, so they gave it to the Museum” (Interview 5) 
 Training and expertise  “But I do know that we worked collaboratively with the expertise, in-house expertise at Parks Canada, which included a full-time consumer and a full curatorial staff, a historian. There were a lot of resources that we were able to connect with in that regard.” (Interview 10) 
 Collaboration  “It was a joint project between the local Parks Canada office, and the Dawson City Museum, and this was documenting and recording historic sites, and objects in the Klondike gold fields. I applied for it, and got hired and worked for the summer months” (Interview 9).  
 Discourse  “It was very much Gold Rushfocused. 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 itjust kind of gave what people wanted to see; lots of stuff in the story of the Gold Rush context.” (Interview 6) 


Parks Canada owns historic sites and other properties in Dawson City. They have leant or rented the Dawson City Museum space for short periods of time to address specific needs.  First, Parks Canada has lent the Museum with space for staff to work and provide programming. For example,

  • Until renovations in the mid 1980s, the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB) was too cold for Museum staff to use year-round. However, the Museum began hiring year-round staff starting in 1975. Parks Canada loaned offices for their work (DCM Curator Report, December 7, 1976; DCM Minutes, September 26, 1978). 
  • The Dawson City Museum closed the OTAB due to renovations in the 1980s (DCM Presidents Report November 15 1985). However, the Museum still opened with a display and interpretation in the B.Y.N (British Yukon Navigation) Ticket Office thanks to an agreement with Parks Canada (DCM Newsletter Vol. 4 No. 2). 

In both examples, space from Parks Canada allowed the Museum to function as a museum year round, helping the Museum evolve from a volunteer run summer operation.  

Second, the Dawson City Museum has one of the largest collection of artifacts in the Yukon and limited space for the collection. As such, the Museum began storing some of its collection at the Parks Canada Bear Creek location in the 1970s (Dawson City Museum Society Meeting Minutes, June 29, 1976; Curator’s Report for the Annual General Meeting, October 25, 1977) and continues to use the space today. Parks Canada has therefore enabled the Museum to maintain and grow its collection. 

Finally, and more recently, Parks Canada provided the Museum with space for staff housing (DCM ED report September 15, 2015). The Museum at times struggles to hire summer staff due in part to a housing shortage in Dawson and awareness of this shortage. For a time, the provision of housing helped address this issue.  

In short, Parks Canada is a significant property owner in Dawson. When the Museum has needed space for operations, collections, and staff, Parks Canada has filled a need. That being said, Parks Canada is currently divesting itself of these resources (Interview 6), which limits its capacity to provide this assistance moving forward. Continued ongoing support – that is, the provision of collections space – is uncertain as the terms of the agreement were unclear at the time the research was connected.   


Parks Canada’s presence in Dawson City influences the Museum in both intended and unintended ways. Most notably, Klondike National Historic Sites (KNHS) is a major attraction for tourists coming to the Yukon and Dawson City specifically, contributing to more tourist traffic in the region. At the same time, once these tourists are in Dawson City, the Museum must compete with KNHS for attention. As such, Parks Canada has a dual role – it supports the Museum as it earns revenue and also competes for those revenues.  

Historically, Parks Canada took a more direct role in supporting the Museum’s revenue generating activities. Examples include:

  • Producing a post card series and absorbing most of the cost to print 90,000 cards for the Museum to sell. 
  • Contracting the Museum for projects, which helped the Museum generate revenues to pay staff, such as the Creek Survey Project to survey locations and artifacts on Hunker and Dominion Creeks (DCM Director’s Report July 23, 1979). 
  • Including the Old Territorial Administration Building, which the Museum occupies, in the contract for exterior security in the evenings and the contract for grounds keeping.

These examples of direct financial support were primarily discussed as a role in the 1970s. More recently, Parks is discussed in terms of its indirect financial role as they encourage tourism. 

Those interviewed with a connection to the Dawson City Museum in the 21st century also mentioned Parks Canada’s direct role as competition. As a former Executive Director explained: 

Parks Canada runs the National historic sites. They sell tickets to programs they run that in some in some clear ways compete for visitors’ time with the products offered by the Dawson City Museum as a cultural heritage attraction. Whereas the Dawson City Museum needs to earn revenues from its operations, Parks Canada prices are set by a national directive that is better able to offer affordable access to its programs and resources because it has the wealth of the federal government behind it in a way that the Dawson City Museum doesn’t.

Interview 1

As an example, in 2017, KNHS offered free programming due to Parks Canada mandate to do so as part of the Canadian Centennial   

In short, Parks Canada attracts tourists to Dawson City and competes for their attention, which is a persistent role for the heritage institution over time. In addition to this indirect influence, Parks Canada has had a direct influence on the Museum’s finances. Most notable, in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Museum received help with income generation. The support was critical in establishing the Museum as a year round operation with paid staff.  

Training and Expertise 

Parks Canada’s presence in Dawson City necessitates the presence of heritage professionals to manage the Klondike National Historic Sites (KNHS). Expertise was and is, therefore, present in Yukon, which might not otherwise be available in the relatively remote area. Parks Canada staff then influence museums in Yukon formally through training and informally as relationships are formed within the heritage community.  

First, Parks Canada staff have participated in training and provided expertise of relevance to Yukon Museums broadly. For example, they have participated in the Yukon Historical and Museums Association training as experts (e.g., see the Yukon Museum and Historical Association newsletters from the 1970s). In terms of less formal collaboration, the former territorial conservator described her relationship with a Parks Canada conservator as follows:

[The Parks Canada conservator] and I didn’t necessarily work together, but we certainly knew each other, and we would consult pretty regularly. I mean, we were the only two Conservators full-time in the Yukon, so we definitely talked. 

Interview 14

Parks Canada has, therefore, supported the Yukon museum community broadly as experts within the territory. 

Second, the Dawson City Museum has benefited from the large presence of Parks Canada staff in Dawson specifically. For example, Parks Canada staff helped training Museum staff. Describing one example, a former Director wrote: 

[Employee name] has also been hired to assist with cataloguing. She is currently receiving three months training by … [the] Curator of Collections for Klondike National Historic Sites. In a cooperative venture, KNHS will provide [the employee] with on-the-job training in exchange for her “free” labor to that organization for this three month period.

Jones-Gates 1981, 8

The staff at Parks Canada also leant their expertise to the Museum in a variety of ways beyond formal training opportunities. As interview participants explained:

The Museum also did partnerships in formal and informal ways with Parks Canada. They had a fully operating and staffed curatorial lab here at the time that I started at the Museum. And so the expertise was shared back to the Museum for people like me, new in the field without formal education. I got to work directly with conservators. So that was a non-formal or informal program that the Museum was facilitating.  

Interview 10

At the same time, Parks Canada, probably, was the one group in Dawson who very happily sent any specialist who came to town, they’d send them over, “go talk to [the Director] at the museum” about whatever it was, so lots of advice, lots of sound suggestions from their staff.  

Interview 5

We relied a lot on what we considered the elite conservation or maintenance of collections. We looked to Parks Canada for expertise, and they had a big crew at one time. They had more than 60 people working in town. They had a conservator… They were very generous in supporting the Museum always.  

Interview 7

Specific examples of the support experts provided included:

  • Creating engineering and architectural studies as well as the designs for the Old Territorial Administration building (DCM AGM President’s Report November 26 1982). 
  • Serving on the Dawson City Museum board and committees (DCM Presidents Report November 15, 1985).

 In short, Parks Canada staff have become part of a heritage community in Dawson City. As such, they have formally and informally assisted the museum community broadly and the Dawson City Museum specifically due to their expertise. This form of support was most evident in the archival materials from the 1980s and interviews with people who worked with the Museum before the 2010s. While it has become less prevelant in the 21st century as will be discussed below, the support was key to the Museum’s development as a year round professional museum with trained staff.


The relationships discussed already could be categorized as collaborations (e.g., the training exchange). As noted above, the themes are not definitive due to overlap and intersections. However, collaborations warrant discussion as relationships between the institutions for mutual benefit.  There have been a variety of collaborations since the late 1970s. Examples of these partnerships include:

  • In 1995, Parks Canada began to reduce its public presentations and street theater (Swackhammer 1995). So, the Museum began to partner with Parks Canada to supply dramatic performances for their interpretive tours in Dawson (DCM Newsletter vol. 12 no. 1; see documents available in 95 seed challenge, Box 23b, Dawson City Museum Archives).
  •  The Museum partnered with Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Parks Canada on a school program titled “Secret Life of Artifacts,” which aimed to help students develop a better understanding of the role of heritage organizations (DCM Newsletter vol. 20 no. 1).
  • Parks Canada, Tr’ondëk Hwech’in, and the Museum have had joint partner pass

In short, Parks Canada is a related heritage institution in Dawson City, which provides opportunities for formal collaborations. That being said, perceptions of Parks Canada as a partner have evolved over time. These oppurtunities for partnership are most evident in the 1980s and 1990s. The examples provided above demonstrate partnerships have continued, but are often described as less significant to the Museum over time.  


As a national agency with experts in heritage resource management and interpretation, Parks Canada had a role in establishing and implementing best practices in Dawson city. Providing a tangible example, Parks Canada developed the cold storage method of artifact storage that the Dawson City Museum uses. However, there are also less tangible examples where Parks Canada’s contribution to a broader discourse have shaped the Museum’s development. Most notably, Parks Canada has had a role in establishing a discourse about Dawson City’s heritage value.

From the 1950s to the 1970, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board’s (HSMB) designations and Parks Canada’s site acquisition centered the national significance of the Klondike Gold Rush. Their presence and interpretation served to bolster a specific narrative about the region’s heritage value, which was then echoed at the Museum.  A Museum Curator discussed Dawson City Museum’s permanent exhibitions from the 1980s to 2021 disproportionately Gold Rush focused, which reflected the orientation of other attractions in and around Dawson such as those managed by Parks Canada. She states:   

It was very much Gold Rush focused. It kind of toed the party line locally of the Gold Rush experience.

Interview 6

 The idea of a perceived “party line” is important. The Dawson City Museum was conceived and exists within an environment with other heritage organizations in the community. They developed as providing complimentary activities. As one participant explained: 

Parks Canada tends to focus on the social side of the Gold Rush and the administrative side and the political situation. The Dawson Museum started off with a grand collection of things that related to mining.  

Interview 7

Notably, the quote highlights the distinct activities while also describing different aspects related to the Klondike Gold Rush.  

As part of the Lord Report in the 1980s, the Dawson Band commented on the limited inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in heritage preservation and interpretation within Dawson City due to a focus on settler history. As discussed in “The Dawson City Museum and Indigenous People,” the establishment of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin as a self governing First Nation has reshaped heritage interpretation in Dawson City. For example, after consultation with the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin Heritage Department, the Museum’s new exhibitions attempt to move away from a pre and post Gold Rush perception of history. They have instead focused on the people of the Klondike who have preserved and thrived through adaptation and change, including changes brought on by the Gold Rush that significantly changed the regions landscape.  

Parks Canada narratives also more explicitly acknowledge the historical presence of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin. However, the Gold Rush is the lens through which Dawson City history is presented. Interpretation starts with the Gold Rush. For an example, watch the promotional video below, which presents Dawson City heritage as the history of the Gold Rush. It begins with tales of the Gold Rush. The Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin are introduced around 5 minutes to discuss the impact of the Gold Rush on their life and then around 11 minutes to discuss the importance of place to traditional knowledge: 

In short, Parks Canada contributed to a discourse that defined Dawson City’s heritage value as related to the Klondike Gold Rush. Parks Canada’s presence in the 1970s helped to more firmly establish the value of the region for heritage preservation. Notably, the narrative has persisted but also evolved with the development of a self governing First Nation with its own heritage department.  As discussed in “The Dawson City Museum and Indigenous Peoples,” the presence of a heritage department and cultural center run by a self governing first nation has contributed to reshaping the Museum’s interpretation.  

Discussion: Change over time 

As noted above, the intersections with Parks Canada – space, financial, training and expertise, collaboration, and contributions to the Dawson Zeitgeist– exist to some extent across the periods examined. However, the degree to which Parks Canada supports the Museum and perceptions of this support have changed. Perhaps contributing to the shift in the Museum as a community hub in the 1990s to the Museum struggling to connect with the local community in the 21st century, the relationship began to change in the late 2000s.  Interview Participants who worked with the Museum in the 1970s to the early 2000s spoke about Parks Canada and its relationship to the Museum in overwhelmingly positive ways. Here are some examples: 

InterviewYears with the DCMQuote
 5 1972 to 1982Well, during my time there, the person in charge of Parks Canada in Dawson was amazing. Anything they could do for the Museum; they would do it. 
 7  1976 to 2000ish  They were very generous in supporting the Museum always.
 11  1988 – 1991 We also worked quite closely with Parks Canada; I think probably just informally.They helped us with almost anything we asked for, Curator- wise and artifact- wise. They would give usadvice and tell us how to deal with things if we didn’t know.

Conversely, those who worked for the Museum more recently continued to speak of individual Parks Canada staff in extremely positive ways but the agency as a partner more negatively. As one former Executive Director stated: 

There are nice people who work there but the federal government and Parks Canada locally… I would not choose to work with them any more than I had to.  

Interview 1

The perception of Parks Canada as a poor partner is driven by a few factors. For example, in one instance, the Museum’s involvement was not mentioned in reports or discussions of a collaboration. As one participant noted, 

They have a tendency to take a lot of credit for things they don’t necessarily do.  

Interview 6

Parks Canada also withdrew from a project that had already started due to a lack of approval from the superintendent. The bureaucracy needed to approve collaboration means that there is a lack of follow through on offers to help. As the former Executive Director stated: 

Our new exhibits are going up and two months ago, maybe, two different people from the Klondike National historic sites approached me. They were interesting ways in which they could help the Museum with the installation and exhibits. Then, the last conversation I had about it, there was all this difficulty with getting the new superintendent to sign off on it. 

Interview 1

Two key factors can help explain the shift in the Museum’s relationship with Parks Canada. First, it is important to recognize that the relationships, which benefited the Museum, were ultimately between people. As an interview participant explained: 

Dawson is a community and a strong community. People know each other and rely on the resources that each person has, there was a really good working relationship between anybody working in Heritage in Dawson, as well as in the territory. I don’t know that policy had any impact on that working relationship because I’m not aware of what those policies were.  

Interview 10

Considering the relationship with Parks Canada more specifically, the current Curator explained: 

Our relationship with [name] specifically, has also led to some really great benefits. We’re willing to help him whenever he needs it. He’s also being able to be more responsive in getting the OTAB sign back up, for example. He has given us reference material of all their scanned photographs that are organized by streets, DDN, Dawson Daily News optimized scans. That’s fantastic [that] we have those resources, and he’s willing to share those with us. Having that personal relationship means he’s much more responsive. Our collections, and their content, in the sense of the information and the stories we get from them, can be more comfortably shared between our organizations. That’s much more on, I would say, because of our relationship with [name].  

Interview 6

The quote demonstrates that there continue to be positive relationships with individuals within Parks Canada.

Michael Gates is, in particular, a person who was mentioned in multiple interviews. He was the curator of collections for Klondike National Historic Sites for 25 years from the late 1970s into the 21st century.  The Director from 1999-2002 observed: 

When I was there, the relationship was very good. We worked with the Parks Canada conservation people and Michael Gates, who was in charge of Parks Canada in Dawson City at the time, he and I worked closely together.  

Interview 3

Importantly, when praising the relationship with Parks Canada, Michael Gates was discussed throughout interviews as an important friend to the Museum. When he left KNHS, the Museum lost an important connection point to Parks Canada. His departure may have contributed to a loss of relationship as he believed in working toward heritage preservation broadly.  

Changes in Museum staffing also influence the relationship between the institutions. From 2007 to 2015, the director of the Dawson City Museum was discussed in some interviews as more challenging to work with than previous or subsequent directors.  Archival records also demonstrate tension between the Director and those who previously helped the Museum (e.g., Board members who had, to that point, included Parks Canada staff). In particular, her work to transition the Board from being a working board that volunteered extensively in museum operations to a governing board that was more narrowly involved in policy is potentially significant.

Cuts in Parks Canada’s budget provide a second explanation for the change. As early as the 1990s Museum staff began to notice a change in Parks Canada’s commitment to KNHS. An Executive Director observed: 

Money was being withheld from Parks Canada just as I was beginning to leave.  

Interview 8

As outlined in the context section above, there were reported reductions in the KNHS budget in the late 1970s, late 1990s, and 2012. The 2012 cuts led to staff reductions that necessarily altered the relationships between Parks Canada and other members of the heritage community. Less money for staff mean there are fewer people with the time to devote to the Museum. 


It is evident that Parks Canada has had a significant influence on the development of the Dawson City Museum from the 1970s into the early 21st century.

In order to contextualize the influence and changes in the relationship, I attempted to conduct a literature review on Parks Canada’s role and relationships within broader heritage communities. After finding very little, I asked two different RAs to research the topic. They also had limited succes. There are a lot of news articles on changes in the organization’s operations, including articles on budget cuts. However, these articles focus on the effects of these cuts to the site operations specifically rather than to the heritage community more broadly. In terms of academic writings, there are historical accounts of Parks Canada’s development, but we found little written about Parks Canada’s relationships with heritage communities.  

Stuart’s 1990 article “Recycling Used Boom Towns: Dawson and Tourism” is a notable exception. It contextualizes Park’s Canada’s important role as one actor that helped to expand Dawson City’s tourism industry. It provides an important historical context on the development of Klondike National Historic Sites and its influence on Dawson City in relation to tourism. However, this working paper is more focused on the relationship to the Museum, which has most often focused on shared heritage objectives, and is not written from the perspective of someone who has worked or is working for Parks Canada. 

The relationship between the Dawson City Museum and Parks Canada helped the Museum transition from a volunteer run summer operation for tourists into a year round Museum with trained staff concerned with professional standards. Changes in budget and staffing has reduced the significance of this relationship to the DCM’s operations. At the same time, the local heritage community grew to include the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin’s heritage department and cultural center, which has in some ways eclipsed Parks Canada’s significance as the Museum continued to develop. 

The Dawson City Museum’s experience with Parks Canada and the limited research found on Parks Canada’s relationship to heritage communities suggest the need for additional research to better understand the federal government’s role shaping community museum development through a government agency that is not explicitly connected to the federal museum policy. While changes to Parks Canada are often discussed in terms of their influence on Parks and historic sites they manage, these changes also influence the tapestry of heritage institutions in what we now call Canada.     


Davidson, Dan. 2012, May 30. “Council Reacts to the Cuts at Parks. The Klondike Sun. P3. 

Graham, R. D. 1972. Yukon Tourism 1972 Annual Report: A Review of the Yukon Travel Industry 1962-1972. 

Jones-Gates, Kathy. 1981. “Museums update: Dawson City Museum.” YHMANewsletter. 7: 7-8.   

Stuart, Richard. 1990. “Recycling Used Boom Towns: Dawson and Tourism.” The Northern Review. 6: 108-131. S

wackhammer, Mc. 1995. Letter to the Canada Employment Centre. 95 SEED Challenge. Box 23b. Dawson City Museum Archives.   

Taylor, C. J. (1990). Negotiating the Past: The Making of Canada’s National Historic Parks and Sites. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

The Dawson City Museum and Indigenous Peoples (Part Two)

Written by: Madison Francoeur

The paper is presented in two parts. Within part one, Robin outlined the Dawson City Museum’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples as presented in the data. Part two is a response written by me (a research assistant, Madison Francoeur).


I would like to address that fact that I am an outsider to this museum and to this community. I have not visited Dawson City, nor its museum. I am an arts and cultural management student studying from Treaty 6 Territory in Edmonton, Alberta. I am of Metis/settler descent, so while I am familiar with Indigenous knowledge, I am by no means an expert and nor do I wish to be perceived as such. Therefore, this paper is written from the perspective of someone looking in from the outside. 


Part One provided a comprehensive overview of the historic and current relationship between the Museum and Indigenous peoples, more specifically the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. When assessing the recent work of the Dawson City Museum, it becomes evident that much of the work that has been done is focused on building an active partnership between the Museum and the Indigenous community and that there is a clear focus on showcasing the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in as an active and thriving part of the community. 

Many of these actions align with Moved to Action: Activating UNDRIP in Canadian Museums, the Canadian Museums Association’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action #67. It is from this document, along with additional research, that I have based my understanding of what is generally accepted as best practices for museums working with Indigenous peoples and their knowledge. Within this paper, I consider the information provided in Part One about the Museum’s relationship with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in over time in relation to these standards.

What has the Museum done well?

In beginning to assess the relationship between the Museum and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, I first look towards what the Museum has done well, of which there are many successful practices that are currently in place. In particular, I will be addressing the key performance indicators and standards that are laid out in Moved to Action.

A Consideration of Key Performance Indicators

The report lists a selection of key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure a museum’s capacity to implement best practices in their organization. In the report, the KPIs are mostly assessed by what readily available on the organization’s website. Based on what I have observed, the Museum’s website is not a complete representation of the work that they have done and continue to do in regards to Indigenous collections and relationships. Because of this, I have chosen to consider the entirety of the Museum’s efforts, rather than the specifics outlined in the descriptions of the KPIs. With this in mind, amongst the KPIs, there are several where the Museum is currently exhibiting proficiency. 

Land Acknowledgement

Perhaps the simplest KPI is to include a land acknowledgement on the museum’s website. DMC’s website includes the following: 

Welcome to the Dawson City Museum

Located in Dawson, Yukon – the heart of the Klondike – on the traditional territory of Tr’ondëk Hwëchin.

This is by no means the most comprehensive land acknowledgement, but it fulfills the requirement as set out by the report. The report states that the research team did not review if land acknowledgements when done at museum events or in museum documents. 

Something of note is that best practices for land acknowledgements vary across territories and I am comparing this land acknowledgement to practices I have seen in what is colonially called Edmonton, Alberta specifically. I am not familiar with what is considered best practices in Yukon.

Indigenous-Specific Curriculum or Programming

When it comes to Indigenous-specific programming, today the DCM has integrated Indigenous knowledge throughout their spaces with exhibitions dedicated to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in integrated into their permanent exhibit. Efforts to better include content about Indigenous Peoples go back to the 1970s, as discussed in Part One, with the updated collection management practices and commissioning works. Since the 1970s, the volume of Indigenous content in the Museum space has increased (e.g., a pre Gold Rush exhibition in the early 2000s), as well as the level of consultation and collaboration in the development of exhibitions. In particular, the renewal project period of the Museum saw steps toward the inclusion of Indigenous-specific content. This includes choices like incorporating Indigenous stories throughout the exhibitions and the integration of the Han language. 

National Indigenous People’s Day Celebrations

According to the Museum’s Facebook page, in 2022 the Museum celebrated National Indigenous People’s Day at Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in a celebration that featured “kinship, live music, and presentations.” While not required by the KPI, I will also note that the Museum also celebrated National Day for Truth and Reconciliation with Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre as well. Both of these events were put on by the TH. The level to which the Museum was involved is unclear, but it appears that staff were present at both events and the Museum altered their hours to accommodate for the events. These instances demonstrate DCM’s commitment to working alongside Indigenous community partners. 

Indigenous Advisory Committee

Moved to Action includes the presence of a museum-led Indigenous Advisory Committee as a KPI. While the DMC does not have its own Indigenous Advisory Committee, according to Part One, they consulted with the TH Heritage Department in the development of new exhibitions. Further, in place of an Indigenous Advisory Committee related to collections and acquisitions, they advise donors to donate Indigenous content to the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre instead. However, it is unclear whether representatives of the TH Heritage Department or Cultural Center have any direct impact when it comes to museum policy and other areas of museum operation, which could be an area for growth. 

A Consideration of Standards

Moved to Action also includes a section titled “Standards for Museums,” a comprehensive list of 30 standard practices for “implementing UNDRIP and supporting Indigenous self-determination in museums” (Canadian Museum Association, 2022). Unlike the specific KPIs, the standards listed in the document do not include specific criteria to mean them. This leaves a bit more room for how these standards are can be interpreted in the context of DCM. Like the KPIs, DMC is demonstrating many of these standards already, or is working towards fulfilling them. Below are a selection of standards that the DCM appears to be demonstrating well, or is clearly working towards.

15) Engagement and partnership with Indigenous Nations must centre and support the needs and support the needs and interests of Indigenous communities as identified by communities, while at the same time take the onus off Indigenous partners and communities.

While this standard has been demonstrated at DCM in some way since the 1970s, relationships were often based on the needs the Museum identified (e.g., the need for better representation) and were with individual people. The relationship has seemingly improved and increased since then.  Specifically, there has been a relationship between the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department and DCM since the early years of the TH becoming a self-governing nation. Interestingly, the Cultural Center was established and developed while the Museum was having some financial difficulties and had to lay off staff. Staff with museum expertise were then able to aid in the establishment of the cultural center (Interviews). Once the Museum once again had an executive director, more formal efforts were made to develop partnerships between institutions. As stated in a Director’s report from May 2003:

As requested by the Board, I contacted [TH Government official] and scheduled a meeting with him.  [All museum staff] attended.  We explained to [him] that the Museum is interested in pursuing partnerships with the T.H.  He was very receptive to that.  We also had an opportunity to meet with the other people working in the Heritage Department. We discussed the possibility of working together on Aboriginal Day.  There also seems to be a lot of interest in working together to identify photographs.  I think that this was a good first step and that all involved felt positive about working together.

The initial meeting led to a collaboration. Under a subsequent directorship from about 2007 to 2014, efforts at fostering a relationship seems to be more limited. However, with a new director in 2015, the Museum began once again making a concerted effort as evident in interviews and archival data. For example, as outlined in Part one, in 2017 the director of the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre spoke to at the DCM’s annual general meeting to congratulate the Museum staff on their work on building a better partnership with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Center.

Over time, the relationship between the Museum and the TH has shifted from inviting local Indigenous Peoples to participate after plans are already established (as seen in the 1970s and 1990s during major changes) to inviting the First Nation to the process, which was done with the most recent renovations. These changes have been gradual, but over time has resulted in lots of significant consultation and collaboration.

I do wonder how much this relationship have taken the onus off of Indigenous partners, as required by the standard. There is the consideration that the role of consulting has been moved from individuals to the self-governing First Nation, although that does mean that the role is still placed on an Indigenous community. It would be interesting to hear the TH perspective on what taking on the onus means to them and what level of involvement is appropriate without overburdening the community.

21) Exhibits, programming, and educational material must properly cite Indigenous knowledge and recognize community knowledge. For exhibits, this must be at the same level as curatorial, programming, and interpretive staff.

This particular standard appears to be being met in a couple different ways at DCM as demonstrated in Part one. Most specifically, in the 1970s, hides that were donated to the Museum were not just achieved on their own, but instead they were accompanied by the knowledge and the process of creation that went along with those pieces. As the interviewee quoted in Part One remarked, this was “pretty forward-thinking” for the time period. This standard is also reflected through the inclusion of Han language and incorporation of Han stories throughout the exhibitions after the recent renewal project. As well, the new exhibitions focus more on topical storytelling, rather than linear, as a reflection of both Indigenous values and the Museum’s consultation with the TH Heritage Department. 

22) Ensure the proper use of terminology including names for Nations, communities, clans, families, and place names, throughout museum spaces, as well as archives and collections, as discussed in the Repatriation and Collections section. Use appropriate orthography or syllabics. 

Part One references the use of the Han language throughout the exhibition. This is a wonderful example of the above standard being demonstrated. I would be curious to see how the Han language is being represented in the Museum’s archive and collections.

30) Outside of the museum, museums should proactively support Indigenous-led cultural heritage organizations, cultural centres, and museums.

As previously mentioned, DCM has a relationship with the TH Heritage Department and the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. There is regular consultation and communication with the TH, as well there also appears to be a strong sense of community and connection.

Where could the Museum Improve?

Several of the standards included in the list are specific to repatriation practices. For the purposes of this article, I will not be addressing repatriation actions made by the Museum. Rather than discuss repatriation, for this paper it is more significant to discuss the practices that DCM has adopted for collections management in regards to their Indigenous artifacts and exhibits. 

Something of note is that DCM appears to be actively building relationships with the local Indigenous community and is taking actions that reflect their views. However, these actions and relationships often do no hit the specific bureaucratic language or requirements that are set out by Moved to Action. This is important to recognize. I do not wish to belittle the work that the Museum has done, as they are doing important and impactful work. Also, the statistics included in the report when it comes to KPIs in museums across Canada indicate that none of the KPIs are being met by a majority of institutions. There is work to be done across the country, and considering the work that DMC has done and continues to do demonstrate that the Museum has the potential to set an example for best practices when working with Indigenous peoples in a museum setting. 

There are many ways that the Museum may choose to adapt their practices when it comes to best practices working with Indigenous peoples. Not every solution will be relevant to the goals and capacity of the Museum. Based on my current knowledge of DCM and their policies, I have compiled a selection of recommendations that could be taken by DCM to further improve their ongoing practices in regards to Indigenous peoples and their knowledge and history and move the Museum towards exemplary status on the national stage.

 Free Admission

A KPI that DCM is not currently meeting (or may be meeting in practice but is not advertising or promoting) is sponsored free admission for Indigenous peoples. This KPI specifically speaks to issues around access to collections and exhibitions that are culturally significant. The task force report put out by the CMA prior to Moved to ActionTurning the Page: Foraging New Partnerships Between Museums and First Peoples, repeated mentions the importance of access to museums by Indigenous peoples. Offering free admission to Indigenous peoples ensures that there is the recommended access while allowing the museum to care for, maintain, and preserve their collections (p.20).

Providing free admission also serves to acknowledge the complex relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Museum. It encourages recognition, respect, and reconciliation. This a practice that has been adopted by several institutions, like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Royal Alberta Museum.

From my understanding, the majority of income comes from tourists and not local Indigenous people, so I believe that this would be a possibility. This KPI is only one of many and there may be more effective ways for the Museum to foster their relationship with Indigenous peoples.

Recruitment Efforts

Moved to Action speaks to Indigenous employment and leadership in several ways through its standards for museums and KPIs. One KPI calls for specifically an Indigenous curator on staff, not just Indigenous staff or partnerships. In the standards for museums, there are two that specifically reference hiring policies:

11) Develop hiring policies and practices that take Indigenous knowledge, experience, scholarship, and community relationships into account in areas of recruitment, evaluation, and compensation as essential pieces to decolonizing museum operations.

12) Incorporate into the job description relevant ways that Indigenous knowledge, skills, and perspectives are important for success in the role.

As it can be seen in Par One, there have been several opportunities for Indigenous peoples to be involved in the Museum in the past. It is evident that there have been efforts taken to have opportunities for Indigenous involvement at the Museum. However, there does not appear to be significant efforts made in regard to the long term employment of Indigenous staff to meet the above KPI and standards.

In particular, I think back to the late 1970s period and the work that was completed to develop the exhibition on Indigenous Peoples. The work that was done at this time was done with careful research and consultation that appears to reflect some best practices. However, where this project falls flat is that this work was completed by a non-Indigenous individual. This is not to discredit the work that was done, but work of such nature could have created an opportunity for an Indigenous student or museum professional. It is acknowledged that there was a desire future changes to be completed with more cooperation from the Indigenous community. This recognition is a great step, but it begs the question of if they knew they should have this cooperation and involvement from the beginning, why not push for it more?

I am curious of what actions, if any, are currently being taken to attract Indigenous community members to work for the Museum. The previous article features an interview quote discussing the fact that the Museum has had difficulties retaining Indigenous board members. I assume that these difficulties extend to staff positions. Perhaps a new strategy for recruitment should be in order. Said interviewee mentioned that they thought that local First Nations members did not see participating on the board as relevant. A new recruitment strategy could help to change the narrative surrounding involvement with the Museum and paint it in a more desirable light.

In saying this, I am also thinking of the financial constraints of the Museum. It may not be financially realistic at this time for DCM to hire another full-time curator. It is also difficult to create full-time year-round employment opportunities for specifically Indigenous staff when opportunities for that type of employment broadly are limited as is. Nevertheless, these changes to recruitment and hiring practices are important to consider, especially when considering long term relationship building with Indigenous peoples.

Opportunities for Indigenous Staff

Recruiting Indigenous staff is only the first step. It is also important to ensure that there is motivation for Indigenous staff to stay at the Museum. 

One method that maybe be employed is the access to training opportunities. This training could come in the form of professional and technical development, as recommended by the 1992 Task Force Report (p. 9). There is also financial support for training as part of the territorial museum policy. Increase in training would also prepare Indigenous staff to take on roles in leadership, another issue that should be addressed. By having more Indigenous peoples in leadership roles, this also increases their access to policy development and implementation activities. These training opportunities could be used to attract new staff, as well as support any preexisting Indigenous staff as they grow their experience and leadership skills.

Non-Indigenous Staff Training

Working towards better practices for working with Indigenous peoples is not limited to the access available to Indigenous peoples. This can also manifest through the way that the Museum trains their non-Indigenous staff to tackle Indigenous topics. 

This type of training could be seen as reflective of many of the standards from Moved to Action. Literally, it refers to the following:

27) Museum executives and board members must take a leadership role in self-educating on Indigenous matters while recognizing the limits of their contribution.

Training can also play a very important role in many, if not all of the other standards being met. It is through education that an understanding and appreciation of Indigenous peoples and their experiences and knowledge can be formed and lead to bigger and more impactful changes being made. This type of training would also serve to improve DCM’s KPIs of Indigenous-specific programming, direction, and, most significantly, relationships.

In the previous document, there is only one reference to job training in regards to working with Indigenous materials. This particular job training occurred nearly three decades ago. That being said, there may be additional professional development that was not discussed in the interviews, materials consulted, or paper written.

While it is important to have exhibits that display Indigenous history and culture in a thoughtful and respectful way, it is equally as important to ensure that said exhibits are being interpreted correctly. As an outsider, I am immediately curious about the training process that staff undergo in regard to this. It is uncertain from the information in the previous document if there is any sort of current training process for staff that specifically pertains to Indigenous history and cultural knowledge. With what appears to be a significant focus of the Museum’s content being Indigenous topics, it seems relevant and important that staff should be receiving specific training on both the material in the exhibit, as well as the general culture and values of Indigenous peoples.

This training should ideally go beyond paid staff to include board members and even volunteers. Anyone who is involved in any capacity with the Museum should be expected to have at the minimum a baseline understanding of the communities that the Museum is representing. 

What exactly this training process should look like and what should be included is a topic that should be considered with collaboration between the Museum and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Many of the recent changes at the Museum were also completed with this type of collaboration, so this does not seem like it would be difficult to achieve.

However, in a similar vein to the issues that are present when it comes to recruiting staff, there are issues with funding and time when it comes to training staff. While the territory provides funding for training, there is only so much funding available for DCM to hire permanent staff. With most staff being seasonal, there is not much time available for these training opportunities to happen in a logical way. This creates a complicated situation, as there is funding available for training, but a lack of time to do it.

Online Access to Collections and Archives

DCM has a rather impressive collection of images of the Klondike on their website. As of now, that is the extent of their online access to collections and archives. Said access is another KPI from the report. It would be exciting to see an increase in Indigenous-specific images added to the website, as there is already a president set with the Klondike photos, and to have this collection be easily accessed by the general public. Part One referenced a First Nations photo finding aid for the collections of the Museum and it would be great to see resources like this become more easily accessible and user-friendly. I am not sure how realistic it would be for the Museum to have a more extensive online archive at this time. Perhaps in the future, it would possible to have more dynamic online content accessible through the Museum’s website. For now, however, the more attainable step would be to increase and update the online image collection.

Each of these recommendations is made with the intentions of encouraging collaboration and building a stronger relationship with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. There have been many great strides made by the Museum since the 1970s and there is always room to grow and improve.


The Dawson City Museum is clearly making considerate efforts to work with the TH and to build an ongoing relationship. As previously mentioned, DCM is taking actions that many Canadian museums have yet to begin. There is a fairly impressive amount of effort being taking, particularly when considering collections management and collaboration with TH cultural centre. The suggestions I have brought forward would only help to strengthen the attitudes that already exist within the Museum and to expand the Museum’s capabilities to provide access, opportunity, and accessibility to Indigenous peoples in a way that is meaningful.

Moving forward with analyzing this dynamic relationship, it would be very interesting and useful to learn about the relationship between the Museum and the TH from the perspective of the TH, as that is a major piece of this story that appears to be missing from the information currently available. This perspective would be incredibly valuable when considering topics of recruitment efforts and training possibilities. I would also find it most interesting to hear from the TH on their perspective on what it means to take the onus off of Indigenous communities and partners and what that could look like for their relationship with DCM. 

The Dawson City Museum and Indigenous Peoples (Part One)

The Dawson City Museum project asks – How has the Dawson City Museum evolved in relation to government policy and community action? 

We are taking two approaches to answering the question. First, we are considering the data chronologically to discuss the evolution of the Museum over time (Dawson City’s Community Attic, The Importance of People, Territorial Interest and Investment, A Community Hub, Working to Connect). Second, we have developed key themes related to policy and community (Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive, Why a Museum?). To solicit feedback, I will post a series of working papers that consider the data in these two ways – that is, chronologically and thematically. These papers will inform the final report for the Dawson City Museum and podcast miniseries.   

Providing a thematic consideration of the data, this working paper asks – How has the DCM’s relationship with Indigenous peoples over time? The paper is presented in two parts. Within part one, I (Robin) have outlined the DCM’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples as presented in the data. Importantly, the research is limited as it did not involve deliberative consultation with members of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department or cultural center. The narrative reflects the perceptions of those with a direct relationship to the Dawson City Museum as museum staff or volunteers as well as the Museum’s corporate archives. The paper presents key terms, context, and an overview of the Museum’s efforts regarding relationship building with and the representation of Indigenous Peoples in the Museum space, focusing on exhibitions and collections management. 

Part two is a response written by a Research Assistant (Madison Francoeur) who researched museum best practices over time as they relate to Indigenous Peoples within what we now call Canada. In particular, she reflects on Part one in relation to  Moved to Action: Activating UNDRIP in Canadian Museums 

Key terms

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in: “are a Yukon First Nation based in Dawson City. The citizenship of roughly 1,100 includes descendants of the Hän-speaking people, who have lived along the Yukon River for millennia, and a diverse mix of families descended from Gwich’in, Northern Tutchone and other language groups” (Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in 2015).

Hän-speaking people: A linguistic group that belongs the Athapaskan language group (McFadyen Clark 2015).

Athapaskan (Also known as Dene, Athabascan, Athabaskan, or Athapascan peoples): “ a far-reaching cultural and linguistic family, stretching from the Canadian North and Alaska to the American southwest. In Canada, the Dene, which means “the people” in their language, comprise a variety of First Nations, some of which include the Denesoline (Chipewyan), Tlicho (Dogrib) and Dinjii Zhuh (Gwich’in)” (Asch 2021). 

Context: The Tr’ondek Hwech’in

In the late 1800s, an increased number of people associated with the Klondike Gold Rush began settling the Tr’ochëk (a traditional fishing camp at the junction of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers), displacing Hän speaking peoples. In response, Chief Isaac moved his people to Moosehide and sent the gänhäk (dancing stick) to relatives in Alaska. These relatives kept sacred songs and dances safe during this period of uncertainty (Council of Yukon First Nations 2023;  Tr’ondëk Heritage n.d.). In the 1950s, the population at Moosehide had declined and so the Hän people returned to the area now incorporated as Dawson City, becoming part of the community (Council of Yukon First Nations 2023). 

As explored elsewhere (Dawson City’s Community Attic), the 1950s was a period of change for Dawson City more broadly as community members began to deliberately develop and encourage a tourism industry. They formed the Klondike Tourism Bureau, which established the Dawson City Museum as a tourist site. In the 1970s, Parks Canada became more active in the region, developing the Klondike National Historic Sites as a significant attraction.  Both the Museum and Parks Canada centered stories about the Klondike Gold Rush in their interpretations. The Tr’ondek Hwech’in – that is, people of the Klondike – were largely absent and/or not centered in these interpretations. 

The lack of representation was a concern for the Dawson Band (now the self-governing Tr’ondek Hwech’in). As articulated in the 1986 Lord Report (Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management Inc 1986), their concerns related to heritage and commemoration in the region included:

  • the loss of the Hän language
  • city regulations about the facade of buildings, which did not consider Indigenous architecture and contributions
  • the lack of acknowledgement of Indigenous contributions to the Gold Rush period in Parks Canada interpretations
  • Moosehide’s lack of preservation

Considering the Museum more specifically, the Lord Report states:

Although the Dawson City Museum gives the Band copies of photographs of Moosehide, there has been relatively little contact recently. It is striking to observe the valiant efforts of a small population of Band members (about 200 in all) to preserve a culture that is anthropologically of considerable significance, without assistance from the large number of heritage professionals in Dawson, where scrupulous care is taken to preserve non-native history since 1896. The implicit question of priorities is one to which a museum policy might give some attention.

Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management Inc 1986, 58

More broadly, the Council of Yukon Indians argued throughout the 1980s that there was a lack of Indigenous involvement in museum management and Indigenous cultures should be “interpreted by Indian people – for Indian people” (Porter 1982, 25). 

The Tr’ondek Hwech’in became better positioned to address the issues identified and engage in their own interpretations as a self-governing nation in the 1990s.  In 1993, the Umbrella Final Agreement Between the Government of Canada, the Council for Yukon Indians, and the Government of Yukon was signed. During the 1990s, the Dawson Band started to be a more active participant in heritage preservation and interpretation in the region. For example, in 1996 they held a cultural day to honor the regaining of their identities. In 1998, the The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement was signed. The Final Agreement includes the directive that government would support the First Nations in catching up then keeping up to other heritage organizations. As a result, First Nation Cultural Centers became included in Yukon’s museum support program. The Tr’ondek Hwech’in now has an active heritage department and Cultural Center – that is, the  Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre.

In short, colonialism threatened the culture of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in. Chief Isaac ensured the preservation of their sacred songs and dances through relationships with other Indigenous Peoples. Colonial heritage institutions, including the Dawson City Museum and Parks Canada, neglected and marginalized the Tr’ondek Hwech’in in their interpretations of the Klondike. In the 1990s, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in became a self-governing First Nation with capacity that established a Cultural Center with the capacity to engage in its own interpretations. 

The Dawson City Museum and Indigenous Peoples 

As discussed in “Dawson City’s Community Attic,” the Dawson City Museum’s early collecting practices focused on the Gold Rush and exhibitions were not well organized. However, when the Museum hired its first year-round staff in the 1970s, they began to organize the collection and develop thematic displays (Snowalter 1975). The reorganized displays included content about Indigenous Peoples in the area, using works commissioned by the Museum as part of a research project. Additionally, a pre Gold Rush display was planned in the late 1990s for the new Lind Gallery. In both the 1970s and 1990s, the content shared the same primary limitation – that is, Indigenous Peoples were relegated to a section of the Museum and, in some ways, were depicted as part of the past

The establishment of a self-governing First Nation with a cultural center and a heritage branch influenced the relationship between the Museum and Indigenous Peoples, positioning Indigenous peoples in the region as active community members in the present and future. In addition to the existing personal relationships between staff and individuals, the Museum can now have relationships and partnerships with institutions. As a former Executive Director from the 1990s stated:

The Chief Isaac Centre was really important, then, and ultimately burned down, but the Cultural Center which was being planned and was built when I was there, became a particularly important aspect of what I would call community relations within the entire place.

Interview 8

The changed dynamic is most evident when looking at the Museum’s exhibition and collection programs. In the 1970s, the Museum had engaged with individuals to learn about and document the production of specific items for a display. The Museum now consults with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department and Cultural Center, which shaped the design and language of their new exhibitions that opened in 2021. Importantly, the influence of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in is felt throughout the exhibitions and not isolated to one display. Moreover, there have been changes to the collecting practices where the Museum can recommend people donate to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in rather than the Museum. Both the collecting and exhibition practices are discussed in more detail below.

In short, the Museum’s relationship to Indigenous Peoples has evolved. In its early history, the focus on the Gold Rush meant Indigenous Peoples were not well representated. The Museum made an effort to address the limitation in the 1970s and 1990s. However, displays continued to be isolated and Indigenous Peoples were not centered in interpretations that conceptualized history in terms of pre and post Gold Rush. Since the establishment of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in as a self-governing First Nation in the 1990s, the Museum’s interpretation, collection, and relationship with Indigenous Peoples has evolved. 

Collections Policy

After the Dawson City Museum burned down in 1960, they actively sought “relics of the Gold Rush era” (see “Dawson City’s Community Attic”). The objects primarily focused on settler history with some baskets and other works labeled as Indigenous on loan to the Museum. Work to catalogue materials in partnership with Indigenous people in the 1970s revealed most of the artifacts in the Museum relating to Indigenous Peoples did not come from the area (Robinson 1978a). The DCM, therefore, engaged in a project to pay for and document tanning as well as the creation of moccasins and a drum (Robinson 1978b). These objects became part of the collection and as discussed below, an exhibition. 

The project is notable as a collaboration with community members and a rare instance where the Museum more actively engaged in a collecting program, commissioning works. After rebuilding the collection in the 1960s, the Museum’s approach to collecting had been passive, relying on donations from community members. As an Interview Participant described:

We essentially had a passive collections approach. We weren’t actively going out and searching for artifacts for the collection, but we would get regular offerings. Primarily, we would just get stuff sent in the mail to us by long-lost relatives of somebody who had been in the gold rush.

Interview 10

Importantly, the quote describes donors as “long-lost relatives of somebody who had been in the gold rush,” which suggest an ongoing focus on settler histories and narratives. However, at times, these donations are of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in  artifacts. That being said, a significant limitation of the interviews conducted for the research project is that we did not directly and explicitly ask questions about the collection of Indigenous materials. 

Notably, the establishment of a self-governing First Nation in the 1990s led to some deliberate changes in the Museum’s collecting practices. As a former and current Director explained: 

Our relationship with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in affects our collections program. Today, when the Museum is approached by donors who have material donations to make – cultural material to donate – that are of significance to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, we recommend or suggest (I think suggest is better than recommend) that the donor consider offering their donation to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in who have a collection program but are somewhat more difficult for people who are unfamiliar with the content to discover.

Interview 1

We also shifted our accessioning policy [so] that, now, whenever we are offered anything First Nations we automatically suggest that, instead, it’s sent to Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department.

Interview 6

In addition to this change in practice, there have been oppurtunities for partnerships that enriched access to the collections of relevance to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. For example, the Museum worked with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in to create a First Nations photo finding aid of all the collections held at the Museum (DCM DA Report October 14 2004). The Dawson City Museum has also lent artifacts to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Examples include lending the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre artifacts for “Myth and Medium: Explore Athapaskan Artifacts in Their Homeland” and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in artifacts for a display in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in government building (DCM 2018 Annual Report). 

In short, interviews and archival data articulate limited information about the Museum’s collecting and collection management practices related to Indigenous Peoples. However, two important factors were highlighted. First, the Museum engaged in a research project and commissioned works of relevance in the 1970s. Second, the Museum’s current relationship with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in as a self-governing first nation influences their collecting and collection management practices. 


In addition to influencing their collection practice, the Museum’s relation to Indigenous Peoples broadly and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in specifically also influences and is demonstrated through their exhibitions. The development of exhibitions related to Indigenous Peoples can be discussed in three periods – pre-renovations, the Lind Gallery, and the renewal project

Pre-Renovation Period

In the late 1970s, the Museum wanted to develop an exhibition on Indigenous Peoples. As a first step, they used a Canada Works grant to hire someone to do research on Hän speaking peoples (DCM Minutes March 28, 1978). As she described:

They wanted research done on the First Nation and the community. I understood it to be a paper and background for an exhibit. Then after being there for a while, a couple of weeks or something, they said “oh, you know that part of the job is actually – create the exhibit.” And so that was lots of fun. 

That was a great project and it’s the first time that the Museum had actually been in contact with the First Nation, with the Dawson Band at that time. So, with no history at all, I just went down there, introduced myself and sat around in the office until the chief got sick of me and told me to go and talk to some elders. So, it was a fabulous experience. 

Interview 7

The research involved taking photos and recording conversations while hides, which were donated from Old Crow for the exhibition, were tanned and artifacts created. As another Participant noted:

[They] documented both the knowledge of and the process of creating those and purchased those things for the gallery. So, at the time, it was pretty forward-thinking.

Interview 10

Importantly, the exhibition was created based on this research and through consultation with Indigenous Peoples. As articulated in the research report:

The Dawson Indian community was consulted on the theme and the actual plans before the exhibit was built, and it is to be hoped that future changes for the better will be done with their co-operation.

Robinson 1978b

In short, the Museum developed an exhibition on Northern Athapaskan culture in 1978, using research and consultation. It depicted the movement and activities of Northern Athapaskans through the four seasons. The exhibition attempted to make connections to the Han speaking people of the Tr’ochëk more specifically, but this was difficult due to a lack of artifacts specific to the area in the Museum’s collection. Moreover, the people from the local Indigenous community consulted were not Hän. As such, they focused on the tools needed to live in the climate while also depicting Athapaskan styles of clothing and housing. The research enabled them to depict some basic techniques for hunting, fishing, tanning skins, and sewing. 

Lind Gallery Period 

In the late 1990s, the Lind family made a significant donation, commemorating John G. Lind, to the Museum for two projects – that is, a new storage facility and a new gallery space focused on the pre Gold Rush era. 

The new exhibition depicted Hän peoples’ camps. For example, the winter camp included a dog pack received from an elder and the summer camp focused on the mouth of the Klondike River as an important fishing location. There were also:

  • trade goods that were part of a pre-contact exchange system between Athapaskans and Tinglit groups from the Northwest Pacific coast. 
  • a diahorama depicting an event of significance to the creation of the Kohklux map, which allowed settlers to more effectively use transportation routes (see documents available in Dcm Archives; box 29b; news release 2002). 

The exhibition moved the Museum toward a better representation of Indigenous People. Importantly, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in contributed $5,000 to support the work done for the Lind Gallery (DCM Newsletter vol. 18 no. 2).  However, the exhibit continued to share a significant limitation with past depictions. It relegated Indigenous Peoples to the past – that is, a gallery on the pre Gold Rush period. As a result, Indigenous peoples were historicized and not well integrated into the Museum as a whole (interviews). 

Renewal project period

When the Dawson City Museum began the exhibition renewal process in 2014, it was with the realization that the existing exhibitions marginalized Indigenous Peoples. As Participants observed:

At the time, [the way] we thought of interpretation and exhibits in Museums was to separate out those stories as a First Nations narrative as opposed to a more comprehensive story of the existing narratives.

Interview 10

One of the matters of the old exhibition was that at the beginning, there was an exhibit on Athapascan lifestyles and that was sort of this marginalization. This was a marginalization of Indigenous Peoples history because it occurred in one place and then nowhere.

Interview 1

Despite the limitation, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in had not been consulted on the new exhibitions when the Director was hired in 2015. With new leadership, addressing the marginalization became a key goal for the curator and director. As the executive director described:

We knew that in the new exhibits, we wanted the exhibit to better reflect the continuity… also the primacy, the priority, and the centrality of the Indigenous Peoples of the Klondike – the Gwich’in and Hän. That was a distinctly important piece of a new inclusive exhibit that we wanted to create.

Interview 1

Consultation with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in became key to their exhibition renewal. As the former Executive Director stated:

The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, and when I say that I really mostly mean the Heritage Department which includes the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, affects our exhibitions program. Their feedback and insights and help and permission have been instrumental in creating the exhibits that we’re working on debuting now.

Interview 1

Key changes to the exhibition, addressing the lack of inclusion and feedback from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, include:

Incorporating stories about the Hän throughout the exhibitions.“The Hän have places in the exhibit that you might not expect them to. For example, on the second floor, there’s a panel about local government and that panel isn’t about Yukon Council or the City of Dawson Corporation. It is actually about the imposition of the Band Council system at Moosehide, which is the Hän village downriver a little from Dawson City. And I think it also traces from the Band Council system to the final agreement that Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in signed in 1998. So, a topic that might be an obviously white settler kind of topic has a more – it isn’t. It’s about a little bit about colonial trauma and also about Indigenous sovereignty and recognition.” (Interview 1) 
Involving the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in the design process and listening to their suggestions.   “When the designers made their first site visit to Dawson early in 2016 at the beginning of the process, we invited staff from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department to meet them as well. In that meeting, the designers wanted us to consider a non-linear exhibit design.  The curator and I who had spent years thinking of it as a linear experience were resistant to that until Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Heritage Department staff got behind the a linear exhibit design and that was, you know, that was great. Okay, cool. Absolutely.” (Interview 1) 

“The designer said – consider topical. And then when Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in staff came in and they said – topical. Topical is less threatening. It is more welcoming. Topical organization is less like school. It’s like – okay, I hear you. Great. That’s what we’ll go with. Excellent. And it was a really excellent decision.” (Interview 1) 
Using the Hän language throughout the exhibition.   For example, they could not fit in Hän, French and English in the headings for each section. So, they decided to use Hän for these elements.
 A thematic rather than chronological orientation, which moved the Museum away from a pre/post gold rush conceptualization.  Here are some images and a description from the designer.

 A focus on people and place in the main thesis.   Thesis: The people of the Klondike persevere and prosper through adaptation and change. 
The use of the first person in text as suggested when working with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.   Sorry, I cannot find a good photo of this!
 Considering Indigenous Peoples as part of the past, present and future.  “The last sentence says, “Although society is changed, our connection to the land remains, our stewardship of this place continues.” That is very important. It is not placing this collection, this idea, this people in the past, but making sure it is current.” (Curator tour)

In short, the Museum made a very deliberate attempt to address past limitations when designing their new exhibitions. Collaboration with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in was key to this change and denotes a different relationship between the Nation and Museum than seen in previous exhibition renewal attempts. 


Over time, the Dawson City Museum has engaged in formal collaborations with the Dawson First Nation (primarily in the 1990s) then the self-governing Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. These collaborations have been short term and related to mutual goals at the initiative of either group. Examples of projects in the 1990s not discussed above include:

  • The Museum collaborated with Dawson First Nation and the Yukon Historical and Museums Association on a conference about life on the River (Neufield 1995).
  • The Dawson First Nation collaborated with the Museum in 1994/95 on a job training project, which gave the Museum staff that they trained to care for the Dawson First Nation papers (DCM Newsletter vol. 12 no. 1).

These collaborations signal the emergence of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in Heritage Department and Cultural Center as an institutional actor within the Dawson City heritage community, starting in the 1990s and then becoming more established with the establishment of the self governing First Nation with its own heritage department in the 2000s. 

As the Tr’ondek Hwech’in established its heritage branch and cultural center, it benefited from the presence of museum professionals in Dawson City due to the existence of the DCM just as the Museum had benefited from the presence of Parks Canada staff while professionalizing. For example, the Museum faced financial difficulties in 2002 and the Director laid himself off. He began working for the Tr’ondek Hwech’in doing background and policy work (e.g., drafting a collections policy, mission) for the new cultural center. He also worked on a successful funding application to the Federal Museums Assistance Program for exhibition development (personal communication).

Over time, the Tr’ondek Hwech’in’s heritage department has become an established institutional actor with staff and other resources of its own. As a result, the Museum now benefits from the presence of a (relatively) well-resourced heritage department and cultural center in Dawson. They continue to engage in formal collaborations, such as the partnerships with Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Parks Canada on a school program titled “Secret Life of Artifacts” that aimed to help students develop a better understanding of the role of heritage organizations (DCM Newsletter vol. 20 no. 1). Museum staff also have personal and professional relationships with Tr’ondek Hwech’in staff as part of a broader heritage community in Dawson City, which can enrich both institutions (interviews). 


Since 2015, museum staff have engaged in a more deliberate effort to build relationships with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in. Reflecting these efforts, the director of the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre spoke at the Dawson City Museum Annual General Meeting to congratulate the Museum staff on their work on building a better partnership with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre (DCM Minutes ADM July 4, 2017). 

However, the limited direct involvement of individual Indigenous People  in museum operations as staff or volunteers was noted in multiple interview. For example, there is a lack of representation on the Museum board. One participant recalled:

Typically, it was hard. I think there was an effort to get the local First Nation members to join the Museum board. Typically, it wasn’t very successful. People would join and then not attend. I think, maybe, it just didn’t seem relevant.

Interview 9

Although the archival evidence shows instances of specific collaborations for staff training with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in at specific points of time, those working in the Museum are largely people who move to Dawson City from elsewhere. There is thus a lack of representation within the Museum staff as well. 

Importantly, the relationships with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in or Indigenous Peoples broadly was not a deliberate focus of the Dawson City Museum Project research. It emerged as an issue of importance to those interviewed as they discussed the Museum’s relationships with both the community and government policy. In relationships with community, two institutional, government actors located in Dawson City emerged as most significant to the Museum’s development – that is, Parks Canada (from the 1970s to the early 2010s) and the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (from the late 1990s to today). A significant research gap, which suggests the need for a separate research project, is on the effect of self governing First Nations with relatively well resourced cultural centers on community museums in Yukon broadly. These institutions have a strong advocacy position due to the mandate provided in the Yukon Final Agreement. As a result, they have shaped policy decisions, such as the decision to remove a standards requirement from funding in the 2010s, and seems to have strengthened the argument for increased funding to museums. Moreover, the Dawson City Museum case indicates that the presence of Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in heritage department and cultural center within the local community has helped to (re)shape museum practices. There are interesting questions about what Yukon community museums have learnt and how they have changed since the 1990s with the development of these centers that model their own practices for heritage resource management. Funding for First Nations cultural centers to catch up and keep up to settler institutions has changed the museum landscape in Yukon.


Asch, Michael I. 2021. “Dene.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed:

Council of Yukon First Nations. 2023. “Tr’ondek Hwech’in.” Accessed:

Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management Inc. with Lori Patterson Jackson and Linda R. Johnson. 1986. Yukon Museums Policy and System Plan. Volume One. 

Neufield, David. 1995. “Life on the River: A Conference in Dawson City.” YHMA Newsletter.

McFadyen Clark, Annette. 2015. “Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in (Han).” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed:

Porter, Dave. 1982. CYI Discussion Presentation. Yukon Historical and Museums Association Newsletter. 11: 22- 27. 

Robinson, Sally. c. 1978a. Letter to Jeff Huston. 3b.3.143 Han exhibit correspondence 1978. Box 1. Dawson City Museum.

Robinson, Sally. 1978b. Report to the Dawson City Museum and Historical Society on the Athapaskan Exhibit for the Dawson Museum. Unpublished manuscript. 

Snowalter, Mirian. 1975, October 31. “Dawson Museum Society Finds Escape from Hole.” Whitehorse Daily Star. p. 21. 

Tr’ondëk Heritage. “Chief Isaac.” Accessed:

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. 2015. About. Accessed:

Why a Museum?: Conclusion

The “Why a Museum?” working paper has outlined the Dawson City Museum’s (DCM) roles over time as a tourist attraction, heritage resource, year-round employer, identity builder, community hub, and a community resource more broadly in relation to government policy and community action. The findings have reflected past research with some key differences, demonstrated the significance of individuals in shaping the Museum’s work, and described an interconnected tapestry of objectives that inform and are informed by relationships with the community. As I reflected on the significance of the Museum’s roles and its relationships, four conclusions emerged that may have broader relevance to community museums as they define their purpose with support from government and community. 

First, a community museum’s role as a heritage resource working toward best practices as they evolve (e.g., developing collections policies in the 1980s or working to develop more inclusive exhibitions in the 21st century) is important to the community of people who gather around the institution with an interest in doing the work needed to be a heritage resource (e.g., research, collections care). For example, since at least the late 1970s, the Dawson City Museum has benefited from the presence of a relatively large local heritage community that supports its work. Historically, Parks Canada was an important source of support with staff serving on boards and committees. More recently, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s heritage department and cultural center were an invaluable resource as the Museum renewed the exhibitions to reflect contemporary practices related to representation. 

Second, greater inclusion in the museum support program led to greater financial support for community museums as heritage resources. Heritage resource management was considered and seen as valuable within chapter 13 of the 1993 Umbrella Final Agreement between the Government of Canada, the Council for Yukon Indians and the Government of the Yukon, which lead to the 1998 Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Final Agreement and the establishment of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in as a self governing first nation with a heritage department. The establishment of self-governing First Nations with the promise of funding to catch up and keep up to “non-Indian Heritage Resources” led to the addition of cultural centers with a strong advocacy position in the territorial funding program for community museums. Their inclusion, in addition to the advocacy of museums like the Dawson City Museum in the early 2000s, led to greater flexibility in the funding program (e.g., a shift from project to operational funding, multi-year commitments). The reality that greater inclusion strengthened in policy helped make the case for museum operational funding without an associated emphasis on economic objectives is significant. In other jurisdictions, museum communities have argued for restrictions that would protect funding for existing institutions by excluding others (e.g., Nelson 2020). 

Third, there is a tension in museum practice regarding the perceived value of the objectives pursued by staff and those valued by supporters, such as governments providing funding. At the Dawson City Museum, the tension is evident in how tourism is discussed. Since its foundation, tourism has been an accepted role for the DCM, but it is no longer cultivated in the same way it once was. Staff often prioritize other objectives in their relationships with both policy and community. As such, serving tourists is sometimes described as something the Museum does but not what staff would prefer to do. For example, in the 1990s, one director noted that “the museum finds itself acting as a regional museum aimed at attracting tourists rather than a community museum preserving and interpreting local heritage (as  they  would prefer)” (English 1997).

Despite the, at times, negative perception of tourism as a museum objective, the Dawson City Museum’s role as a tourist asset was historically key to cultivating support from both government and community.  Territorial support for Museums started as funding for tourist sites and targeted programs developed due, in part, to an accepted value of museums to tourists. An active role in tourism related activities has connected the Museum to the community and served local interest. For example, a travelling exhibition celebrating the centennial of the Gold Rush developed in the 1990s was seen as “a promotional vehicle for the community” as well as the Museum’s “contribution to the economy and cultural tourism industry in Dawson” (English 1997). 

The historical importance of the Museum’s tourism role has led me to question accepted narratives about what is valuable museum work. The Museum had a role in the development of the local tourism industry in the 1950s and 1960s, which was important to sustaining the community.  In the 1990s, the Museum was, in many ways, most actively contributing to and participating in the local tourism industry. Their activities not only served an important local need, but also led to additional funding and attention that supported other objectives. The period is referred to by some interview participants as a golden age for the Museum. While there are a variety of factors that contributed to this so-called golden age (e.g., availability of funding, availability of staff and volunteers), the Museum’s focus on tourism in its activities contributed to its successes. Within its community, the DCM’s tourism role has been incredibly important and valuable. 

Finally, a community museum’s role as an employer within a community that has significant employment needs (e.g., for winter employment) is in many ways its most important. Not only does the provision of jobs fill a community need, but it fills a vital Museum need – that is, for labour to support any of the objectives they would like to accomplish. Museums simply cannot do their work without people who are supported through flexible operating grant funding, earned revenues and (historically) project or employment grants.  Increases in Yukon’s operating grant for community museums has provided the DCM with stability and, therefore, capacity to (re)consider its role. They have been able to focus on what those working at the Museum feel is important (e.g., relationship building with the local community) rather than creating multiple intersecting projects to access grant funding. To some extent, the Museum has a continued need to articulate projects to support its operations because the territorial Special Capital Projects  Assistance Program provides the funding that supports one position. However, the need is not as great as it once was. At the same time, there are fewer direct employment grants for winter staff. As a result, the Museum is not a hub for employment in the winter as it once was. I wonder to what extent the decreased employment opportunities have contributed to a more limited presence in the community. 

While these are the conclusions that emerge as significant to me, I may be missing something important.

What do you think? What is a museum’s role? How are those roles informed by government policy and community action? Are particular roles and associated objectives in some ways more valuable than others. If so, how?


English, Elizabeth Anne. 1997. Cultural Tourism Planning: A Case Study, Dawson City, Yukon. Masters Thesis, University of Calgary.

Nelson, Robin. (2020). The museum community and community museum governance. Governance Review, 17(1), 45-66.

Why a Museum?: Additional Factors and Interconnectivity (Part nine)

This post continues to consider the Dawson City Museum’s Role over time in relation to government policy and community action, continuing the discussion with a reflection on additional factors of significance and interconnectivity.

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

Factors beyond policy and community

Within this paper and the Dawson City Museum (DCM) project more broadly, we have examined the DCM’s role and development in relationship to policy and community. Notably, these are not the only factors of importance. A consistent finding across my research is that people do the work of museums and, as a result, they have significant effects on the direction of the institution. The Dawson City Museum Project has highlighted the critical influence of a paid director / curator in determining where the Museum’s focus should be and, therefore, its role. 

The first full time, year round employee provides a key example of how one individual ultimately shapes what the Museum can accomplish. Through her work, the Museum evolved from being a volunteer run seasonal operation to year round institution with staff. She established the use of employment programs to employ people year round, including herself, and articulated the need for a variety of funding sources to support the professionalization of the Museum. Using intersecting sources of funding and earned revenue, she was able to prioritize establishing the Museum as a valuable heritage resource that adhered to the best practices of the day (or at least tried). 

The influence of an individual director and their priorities is also evident when looking at who was employed in addition to a director in the 21st century. Within their budget, the DCM can most comfortably employ two people full-time, year-round – that is, a director and one other position (Interview 1). From 2008 to 2011, the Museum employed a Program Manager who was able to seek external funding to engage in projects with the school. The position was not filled after the departure of a Program Manager in 2011. The Director then chose to prioritize collection and curation work instead of programming. Collaboration with the school became minimal. As stated in a review of the Director’s first five years (2007-2012):

Educational programming for schools has been plagued by the lack of consistent staffing.  Programs have been developed but without a program manager in place, they are being suspended.  The programs that have been developed including A Night in the Museum (sponsored by Yukon Energy) and the Museum kit “Simple Tools” (also sponsored by Yukon Energy) have been very positively received. 

Dawson City Museum Digital Files

Before departing the Museum in 2015, the Director attempted to expand the museum staff to include a curator, archivist, and interpreter, but the Museum did not have the budget to sustain the increase. When the interpreter stepped into the Director position, he made the decision to prioritize the curator who was working on an exhibit renewal, which could be supported with grants for upcoming projects, rather than the archivist.

Notably, the effect of an individual is in some ways more pronounced in the 21st century due to the shift from a board engaged in operational activities to a policy governance board. Before the change, archival data demonstrates some individual board members were extremely active in the Museum’s activities, influencing what could be accomplished and, therefore, the role of the Museum. Following the change, conflicts emerged between the board and director when board members attempted to take a more active role in the institution’s operations (e.g., manage movie nights). Additionally, as previously mentioned, from the 1970s into the 1990s, the Museum experienced some consistency in the contract staff employed for projects, which stopped when these individuals left Dawson City and/or became employed in full time positions elsewhere. 

In short, the research outlines the influence of government policy and community on the Museum’s roles, but those are not the only factors of relevance that emerged in the interviews and archival data. That being said, the factors outlined in this section may in fact relate to broader trends within the community. For example, changing the board from an operational board to a policy governance board was an initiative by the Director at the time, which reflected best practices in museum management where a policy governance board is often encouraged. However, it also reflected changing volunteer trends in the local community. With the emergence of a greater number of organizations within the arts and cultural sector in Dawson City, the pool of available volunteers with the capacity to take a more active board role is greatly diminished. 


Importantly and as emphasized in the section on community resources, the roles outlined are not always conceptualized and enacted as distinct roles. For example, some may see identity building as inherently connected to the Museum’s value as a heritage resource. Further, as a tourist asset the museum is acting as a community resource due to the importance of tourism to the local economy. Moreover, the different roles have supported each other. As discussed elsewhere, the Museum’s role as an employer was critical to supporting its establishment as an important heritage resource. While the Museum accessed employment grants and therefore made arguments about its role to government and established itself as a valuable employer in the community, employment was a means to an end rather than the core objective for the Museum. 

The Museum most actively connected itself to multiple policy objectives of importance to governments at the time in the 1990s. As a result, the Museum was a significant employer that served as a hub of activity and community. They received increased funding and attention due to intersecting programs, which enabled the Museum to engage in more activities and larger projects of long-term benefit. For example, they received a private donation that funded the construction of a more secure storage space using additional government funding. The work was further supported with gifts in kind from the community (interviews). While the initial private donation was the result of relationships developed between the family and people associated with the DCM, it is important to consider why and how these relationships formed. The 1990s were a decade of celebration for the Yukon, leading to government investment due to tourism and a desire to strengthen conceptions of Yukon identity. As explored elsewhere, the Museum was connected to this work, which helped increase their profile in the community. At the same time, the Museum accessed a variety of employment and project grants to accomplish more, which increased their profile within the local community and with visitors.

While the 1990s show the potential benefits of addressing multiple policy objectives as interconnected support enabled the Museum to fulfill a variety of roles in the community, the approach was ultimately unsustainable due to changes in the community (e.g., departure of key staff) and existing policy discussed when outlining the Museum’s role in relation to policy and community action over time (e.g., changes to direct employment funding). Further,  emphasis on specific roles or policy objectives can hinder the Museum’s ability to fill others. 

In particular, there is a perception amongst some in the museum community broadly and some people interviewed more specifically that pursuing tourism-related objectives can be detrimental to Museum roles, such as those oriented toward the local community (interviews). Conducting activities for tourists or engaging work around tourism takes staff time that is then not spent on other things associated with other roles like collections care or creating school programs. Importantly, the issue is nuanced. For example, the policy emphasis on student employment rather than winter unemployment can direct subsidized labour toward tourism as seen with costumed interpretation. As a result, year round staff spend time on recruitment, training, and the management of tourist oriented activities. However, the availability of students to engage in the front-facing work of the Museum also frees up staff time to do the less visible work of the Museum that often contributes to other objectives. As a result, depending on how the students are managed by the staff at the time and needs in a particular year, the funding for tourism related staff both contributes to and detracts from the time available for other roles.

In short, there is interconnectivity in the roles museums enact. The categories created for this working paper are in some ways artificial and imposed on the far less ordered reality of museum work. Moreover, funding and support intersects to support a broad tapestry of activities. As such, when museums work to meet one objective it can both support and detract from meeting another.

Upcoming posts

On Friday, I will be posting the final discussion piece and conclusion for this working paper. Next week, I will be changing tracks and posting regarding some other projects before returning with some more DCM stuff!

Why a Museum?: Discussion and Reflection on Past Research (Part eight)

This post continues to consider the Dawson City Museum’s Role over time in relation to government policy and community action, beginning the discussion with a reflection on past research.

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

  • Reflection on Past Research (Part eight B)


From a policy perspective, the are a multiplicity of uses for museums (Bennett 1995). The multiplicity of uses is reflected in the roles the Dawson City Museum has enacted as it accesses a variety of funding programs and other forms of support, such as those related to tourism or unemployment. The policy objectives addressed reflect the perceived needs of DCM communities, which have evolved over time and shape the role(s) seen as most significant to those involved.  

Changing and different understandings of community museum’s role are important to consider because they affect what museums can accomplish with limited resources due to what is funded or supported and where staff spends their time. Changes in how staff spend time have a significant influence on the institution’s relationship with their community. To demonstrate this connection and summarize previous posts, the table below outlines the roles, associated support mechanisms, community connections that have resulted or contributed, museum activities that resulted or reinforced, and factors that have contributed to emphasis in moments of time. 

RoleSupport MechanismsCommunity ConnectionsMuseum activitiesReasons for Emphasis
TourismFunding for tourist attractions
Marketing initiatives (e.g., Passport program)
Increased attention 
Community desire for strong tourism economy
Historically, increased summer labour force 
Summer programming (e.g., costumed interpretation)Community need
Political attention
Historical explicit emphasis: Funding availability
Contemporary implicit connection: Student employment programs 
Heritage ResourceTargeted funding
Advisory services
Technical services and support
Local heritage communityCollections management
Concern with best practices and professionalization
Exhibit renewal
Increased targeted funding and support
EmployerDirect employment fundingSeasonal unemploymentVaried (e.g., supports role as heritage resource)Funding availability
Identity BuilderFunding (and attention) for anniversaries and celebrations Connected to tourismProgramming and activities that celebrate key milestonesAnniversaries
Community hubFunding for a variety of activity and employmentObjective to raise awarenessEvents
Programs targeting locals
Goal to increase community participation
Community resourceVariousVariousPresence in the community
Staff Changing best practice
Table one: Roles in Relation to Government and Community Action

Due to the connection between what a community museum can accomplish and the funding or support received, an underlining theme of my research examining community museum policy over time has been to ask – How is support for community museums legitimized within policy discussion? There are significant similarities and difference between the Dawson City Museum’s attachment to policy and arguments examined elsewhere. The first part of the discussion will reflect on past research to consider national similarities and subnational differences in community museums’ connection to policy. Although government and community action were a research focus for the Dawson City Museum Project, they are not the only factors that emerged as important to the Museum’s role in the community. Staff and, in particular, the director were also identified as significant influences as outlined in the second part of the discussion. The third section will discuss the interconnectivity of the different roles and examined to explain how some roles may support or detract from others. Finally, the discussion will conclude with a consideration of the significance of different roles in shaping the Museum’s relationships to community. 

Reflection on Past Research

In my doctoral dissertation, I examined the role of community museums in Ontario as articulated through cultural policy, advocacy, and their governance.  The roles articulate were educational, tourism, agents of social change (identity building), and an inherent value of museums as collecting institutions (heritage resource). Further, support for community museums was seen as an important component in supporting local action. While the project had a different focus than the Dawson City Museum Project – that is, on community museums in a province broadly vs. a specific community museum in a territory – there are key similarities and differences between the Ontario and Yukon cases that provide insights and raise questions on accepted roles for community museums within government policy (I provided some initial reflections on this topic in a Keynote for the Ontario Historical Society here).

Interestingly, there is limited attention to educational objectives associated with formal education system within the Dawson City Museum’s relationship to government policy. That is not to say formal education has never been a focus for the Museum as part of its relationship to the community, but that focus is intermittent and usually limited to brief periods where someone was employed in an interpretation role full time at the Museum or funding became available outside government. Within Yukon community museum policy and related discussions considered for the DCM project, the role of museums in educating people around Yukon identity is clearly articulation, but the connection to the formal education system is not prominent. Conversely, in Ontario, there is a longstanding connection between the government education objectives and community museums. Support for community museums began in a department responsible for education and the museum community advocated for their inclusion into curriculum documents (Nelson 2021). The comparatively limited connection between museums and education policy in Yukon reflects differences in the roots and growth of the museum support programs, suggesting distinct subnational rationales for supporting community museums.

The Dawson City Museum’s connection to economic rationales reflects prominent historical policy objectives for museums at both the territorial and federal levels as well as the perceived needs of the local community. Federally, the DCM attached itself to employment objectives and programs related to unemployment from the 1970s, which expanded the work they could accomplish as a heritage resource and fulfilled a regional need for winter employment. These programs became less available in the 1990s. At the same time, the Canadian Museums Association began to administer Young Canada Works, which makes an explicit connection between museum activity and youth employment objectives. However, the shift toward student summer unemployment reinforced a focus on tourism-oriented activities. While the DCM’s contemporary work to attach itself to the tourism industry is limited, the Museum’s role as a tourist asset persists and is key to its historical relationship to both territorial government and community action. 

Ontario community museums share the historic and ongoing connection to tourism objectives in policy and a subnational department that includes tourism. However, the museum community more actively advocates for that connection to legitimize and advocate for increases in provincial support (Nelson 2021). The contemporary difference reflects, perhaps, the differences between the subnational museum associations. While the Yukon Museums and Historical Association produced reports that prompted change (e.g., the Kyte Report) and were active strong advocates for museum policy in the 20th century, interviews with staff from the Dawson City Museum and an analysis of publicly available materials suggest they are much less active advocates for museums today. Conversely, advocacy is a key activity for the much larger Ontario Museums Association, which produces materials to support arguments for community museums. The difference may also reflect Yukon government’s increases to the museum support program since the 2000s, which were seemingly based on arguments for the perceived implicit value of museums as heritage resources. These arguments were strengthened with the inclusion of First Nation Cultural Centers in the support programs. In comparison, in Ontario, First Nation Band Councils were eligible for funding for museums early in the operating grant’s creation. However, in practice, few have received these grants and the introduction of museum standards in the 1980s have functionally restricted access to the funding program (Nelson 2021). Interestingly, when standards were developed and then introduced in Yukon, the First Nation Cultural Centers successfully argued against their inclusion as requirements for funding increases. 

While the argument for museums as heritage resources in some ways seems stronger in Yukon, in other ways it does not. Declines in non-financial support that target community museums like the Dawson City Museum are similar in both Yukon and Ontario. For example, Ontario continues to have an advisory service, but the advisory service is significantly diminished without conservators and with only one advisor who primarily manages the funding program. Similarly, Yukon continues to have an advisory service, but there is no longer a designated museums advisor, and the conservator provides less direct assistance to the Museum because they now have more responsibilities. The declines in the provision of advisory services likely relate to changes in accepted government activities where these direct services are no longer seen as the purview of government. However, it may also relate to the fact that arguments for advisory services that target community museums necessarily rely on a belief in the value of heritage resources. They were established at times when the heritage resource argument was made alongside other arguments and, in particular, tourism related rationales whereby the presence of a well-run heritage resource provide a tourist attraction (Nelson 2021). Notably, when Yukon’s community museum support program was established as a heritage program with an advisor in the 1980s, the museum community made arguments for heritage value alongside statements about the already accepted tourist value of museums. 

Another key similarity in the Ontario and Yukon cases is the emphasis on community museum’s role in shaping public memory and identity. The Dawson City Museum’s role in shaping public memory and identity became most evident during the Yukon’s decade of celebration. However, the Museum has a longstanding role in contributing to a discourse that reinforced identity building around memories of the Klondike Gold Rush. Notably, as seen in the Ontario case, there is a more recent emphasis on presenting a more comprehensive public memory that acknowledges and celebrates diverse identities. In both cases, the shift is not necessarily directed by funding availability. However, there are a number of policies that have contributed to a public discourse supporting the change, such as the establishing of self-governing First Nations in Yukon and the 2015 release of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s calls to action. The shift also reflects changing conceptions of best practices in the museum community across Canada to serve their local communities more fully.

In short, the roles for the Dawson City Museum articulated above are not unique to the Museum. They reflect policy in Yukon and other jurisdictions. However, the roles are notable for the historic emphasis on economic rationales, which are central to the development of support for the Museum within governments and the community. Further, the Yukon’s willingness in the 21st century to support museums based, seemingly, on a perceived value of heritage resources is distinctive. That being said, there are factors that undermine this commitment, such as the decline in advisory support and delays in implementing renovations at the Old Territorial Administration building discussed elsewhere

Upcoming Posts

While the weekly deadlines have been great for editing and ensuring work gets done on the DCM Project, I need to take a week off because I am moving. I will start back up the week of May 22 with two posts that finish the discussion as outlined above.


Bennett, Tony. 1995. “The Multiplication of Culture’s Utility.” Critical Inquiry. 21(4): 861-889. 

Nelson, Robin. 2021. Community Museum Governance: The (Re)Definition of Sectoral Representation and Policy Instruments in Ontario. Thesis. Accessed:

Why a Museum?: Community Resource (Part seven)

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 broadly as a community resource.

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

Community Resource (Undefined)

The idea that museums are or can be a community resource intersects with the roles articulated in the previous posts but is also distinct. For example, a belief that museums are valuable heritage resources assumes a value to community based on the museum’s work with the collection, including preservation, documentation, and making the materials accessible through exhibitions. The argument for museums’ value as community resources can include this collection-based work but necessarily emphasizes communities’ ongoing relationship(s) with the collection and considers other connections that may exist.  As such, a museum as a community resource perspective involves a multiplicity of uses. As the Dawson City Museum’s curator, now Executive Director, articulated:

I value the response of our community members. I really want the Dawson City Museum to become a community resource for research, for recreation, for understanding, for whatever. I feel like that is my chief goal.

Interview 6 (emphasis added)

Importantly, she mentioned the Museum’s use for research, recreation, and understanding, but ends with “whatever.” Her whatever refers to the community’s use of the Museum in ways that may stem from its collection but also other available resources (e.g., staff expertise, space, or audience). 

To provide an example of long-time relevance, the Museum attracts a tourist audience in the summer that purchases things from their gift shop, which can be a platform for community artists to sell their work. For example, when I visited the Museum, I purchased two wonderful pieces by the photographer Priska Wettstein.

Notably, the emphasis in the gift shop has changed over time in an attempt to respond to community need. For example, at one point, the DCM had a coffee shop in an attempt to fill a need for lunch foods like soup in the south end of town. While they no longer provide food, the different uses demonstrate the use of the gift shop for the community. In addition to generating earned income for the Museum, gift shops provide a space with infrastructure and audience that can become a community resource. 

Another example of the Museum’s long-standing use as a community resource is their role in research due to the archival collection. Many community museums have archives and archival activities could be included in the Museum’s role as a heritage resource. However, the DCM has maintained their archive despite advice to focus on the artifact collection in favor of one provincial archive located in Whitehorse and more focused professionalized museum management (e.g., Berk 1984). The DCM’s archive is important to the local community, which uses the historic photographs to research architectural detail to apply for funding as part of capital projects (Interview 6). There is also the broader community of people with a connection to the Klondike who use the archival records as part of genealogical and other research (Interviews). Notably, the archive has importance to people with a longstanding and ongoing relationship with the Museum as they continue to donate and access the materials.   

Contemporary staff interviewed would like the Museum to become more of a community resource rather than focus on one specific role (e.g., education or tourism). To that end, they are:

Trying to be responsive to [the community’s] requests, and their interests, and also trying to be part of new stories developing, whether it’s in the work on Truth and Reconciliation we did or helping certain projects out around town… we want to work in the community.

Interview 6

The Director and curator at the time of the interviews were working to increase their physical presence at existing community events and fostering positive relationships with other groups, which directed staff time to building and maintaining relationships rather than planning events and programming. The Director explained:

But as an example of a shift in priorities? There we go. Fewer comedy festivals, more engaging with important stakeholders.

Interview 1

Fostering these relationships involves supporting organizations in their activities and inviting participation in the Museum’s planning work.  For example, the Museum actively engaged with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in conversations about their exhibition development and makes a concerted effort to attend events held by their cultural center. 

In short, the Museum’s role as a community resource intersects with the roles articulated above. However, it is also broader and multifaceted. It encompasses roles related to whatever the Museum has to offer of relevance to its communities, including things like space, audience, and staff expertise. In order to expand their role as a community resource, staff are focused on relationship building. Further, within their new exhibitions, they have worked to tell stories beyond the Gold Rush as part of an effort to better represent people and be “a community museum rather than just a tourist attraction” (Interview 6). 

Notably, working toward community relationships that enable the Museum to function broadly as a community resource is an ongoing process. To some extent, the relationships that exist are between individuals in the Museum and individuals in the community. An ongoing challenge for the Museum as a community resource has been creating relationships that can persist beyond the employment of specific staff members. 

Upcoming Posts

Friday’s post will introduce the four topics that I will consider in more detail to analyze the significance of the Museum’s role in relation to government policy and community action. I am hoping to also include the first section of the discussion, which compares policy examined in for this working paper to my past research in other jurisdictions.


Berk, Brenda. 1984, November. Dawson City Museum Management Plan.

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.

Why a Museum?: Identity Building (Part five)

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 in identity building. 

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

Identity Building

Museums have a role in (re)defining and reflecting identity within their communities because, as noted in Yukon’s Museum Policy, “knowing our past helps define who we are” (i). Identity is connected to collective and individual member of a past. From a policy perspective, the Museum’s role in (re)defining identity is most apparent during the 1990s when funding and attention increased as part of the decade of celebrations in the Yukon. However, to some extent, the Dawson City Museum’s role in (re)defining identity is evident from its foundation and is connected to its role as a heritage resource engaged in collecting. 

Members of the local community founded the DCM and gathered artifacts they believed were important, establishing a kind of community attic. When the Museum burnt in a fire in 1960, they contacted people with connections to the Klondike Gold Rush, seeking artifacts to rebuild the collection in time for the 1962 Gold Rush Festival. Aside from this call for donations and the 1975 purchase of the Dawson Hardware Museum, the DCM has primarily relied on a passive approach to collecting with regular donations. As one former employee described:

We essentially had a passive collections approach. We weren’t actively going out and searching for artifacts for the collection, but we would get regular offerings. Primarily, we would just get stuff sent in the mail to us by long-lost relatives of somebody who had been in the Gold Rush.

Interview 10

Using the collection received, the Museum has traditionally told stories and exhibited materials focused on the Klondike Gold Rush, reflecting a particular conception of Yukon history and identity.

The Museum’s focus on stories of the Gold Rush was amplified in the 1990s due, in part, to territorial policy. In the late 1980s, Yukon government formed the Yukon Anniversaries Commission to help celebrate upcoming milestones, such as the 100th anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Alaskan Highway, and other anniversaries related to the colonization of the north. While the commission was part of the tourism action plan, it also had the goal to increase Yukoner’s understanding of who they were. 

The DCM used available attention and funding to expand their activities related to the celebrations. For example, travelling and temporary exhibitions focused on the centennials of the Klondike Gold Rush, the Yukon Order of Pioneers, and the Yukon Territory Act. The Museum was active on the local Centennial Anniversaries Committee and argued for funding from the municipality to subsidize more student employment. These students expanded the Museum’s public offerings with costumed interpretation in Dawson City. An Executive Director from the period recalled celebrating an idea of the past that people connected to, saying:

They understood that it was a bit of a fiction, but it came with a memory, and … it came with an illusion also. The illusion of what the Klondike was, and what Dawson City implied. We, in Dawson, celebrated those illusions…

You dressed in costume from a hundred years before, you talked about events that happened a hundred years ago, you stood in front of buildings that still were operating like the post office, and other things like that. The Palace Grand is a complete fabrication, yet it’s an accurate fabrication. Things like that provided a gift to a memory, even though the memory might not be about the truth.

Interview 8

The Museum’s participation in remembering the Gold Rush led to greater attention from communities of people with familial connection to this past. Most notably, in the late 1990s the Museum received a significant financial donation from the Lind Family Foundation to commemorate John G. Lind, a successful prospector. They used the funding to expand their consideration of a pre-gold rush era with a new gallery space that included information about Athapascan lifestyles. 

In the 1970s, the Museum previously tried to improve their presentation of Indigenous histories with an exhibition they developed following a major research project where they commissioned and documented the creation of artifacts. While both projects were forward thinking for a relatively small community museum at the time, the exhibitions functionally marginalized the identities of those represented due an orientation around the Gold Rush, which relegated Indigenous Peoples to a pre–Gold Rush Era.  In 2014, the DCM launched a renewal project that resulted in new exhibitions opened in 2022. As part of the new exhibitions, they shifted focus away from the Gold Rush to the people of the Klondike. The new exhibitions no longer portray history on a timeline and instead take a thematic approach that is more inclusive of a variety of memories of the Klondike. As the Director during the period explained:

We also knew that we wanted to … include the histories of important women in the history of the Klondike as part of the exhibits. We wanted to include francophones, we wanted to include black people in the history, [Jewish People] in the history of the Klondike, [and] we wanted to include communities that aren’t Dawson City. Dawson City is the largest and has always been the largest, settled community in the Klondike, but there have been others. Some with long and distinct histories of their own … So, there were a number of axes of inclusiveness that we wanted to address in designing the new exhibition.

Interview 1

Notably, this shift toward inclusiveness does not reflect a funding emphasis. However, there are community related factors that may have contributed to this change. First, the curator and director who worked on the renewal project were both trained museum professionals with an interest in emerging best practices. The museum community in Canada has had a greater focus on inclusiveness since about 2010. Second, during previous attempts to renew the exhibitions and include Indigenous voices, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in were not yet well established as a self-governing First Nation with an active heritage department and cultural center. As such, previous efforts involved collaborating with individuals but limited ongoing or integrated consultation. As part of the renewal effort, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in were invited into the conversation and contributed to significant decisions, such as the exhibition’s orientation around themes rather than a chronology. Indigenous Peoples are included throughout the exhibitions as people of the Klondike.

In short, the DCM has a role in (re)defining identity in the Yukon due to its activities presenting memory . From its foundation until recently, the Museum centered narratives about the Klondike Gold Rush and, therefore, a colonial identity. The emphasis became more pronounced in the 1990s as part of a decade of celebrations. More recently, the Museum has shifted away from a chronological depiction that centers the Klondike Gold Rush to a thematic depiction that centers the people of the Klondike. In so doing, they hope to be more inclusive in their representation. The change reflects the shift in community museum practices across the county and a change in the Museum’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples due to the establishment of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in as a self-governing first nation with a heritage department and cultural center. 

Upcoming Post

There are two more posts on roles – community hub and undefined community resource – before I will begin providing a discussion and analysis.

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.