Amongst those who work and volunteer in museums, there is often an understanding that there is some inherent value in collecting and preserving heritage. While that value may be connected to other roles (e.g., education), collecting practice are often described as valuable without explicit reference to other aims or activities (e.g., the development of a dedicated teaching collection) that would achieve those objects. Similarly, exhibitions can and do connect museums to other roles (e.g., identity building), but for many museum people displaying artifacts is seen as a core museum function that does not necessarily need justification. A belief in the value of these museum practices suggests museums have implicit value as heritage resources.
From its inception, the Dawson City Museum has been a kind of community attic that stored local treasures and displayed them to visitors. Through the collection, the community formed a relationship with the Museum. They donated artifacts and, as a result, “[The] collection related more to what the community thought was important” (Interview 7). The Museum’s collection of both artifacts and archival material has created a focal point for the development of a community of people around the Museum who were and are interested in the history of Klondike. This community began to grow in the 1970s when policy mechanisms emerged to support the Museum as a heritage resource with a valuable collection
Prior to the 1970s, the Dawson City Museum’s collection was not well documented, and the Museum was run part time by volunteers. The DCM became a year-round employer in 1975 due to new federal employment funding and the availability of personnel with an interest in history and heritage (discussed in the section on the Museum as employer). One person recalled,
I was working in the community, but I had a history degree. I had heard that there was a job opening at the Dawson Museum, so I went in to apply. They had already filled the position, but on the way out of the door, I had my hand on the doorknob and I turned back and said, “oh, by the way, I have a history degree.” And they said, “Come on back in. We’ll find a place for you.”
At the time, I thought I better stay here because I don’t think any other place else in Canada would hire you if you told them you had a history degree. So, it was a great opportunity for me.
The individuals hired through the 1970s and 1980s worked to professionalize the institution because they saw value in the Museum as a museum. The new staff were concerned with developing a collection management procedure and following best practices. They began to do research and organize the materials into exhibitions with themes, making dioramas of rooms and shops (Rubinsky 1976).
The grants used to fund the staff often had objectives outside of heritage (e.g., addressing unemployment), but they were mobilized to fulfill objectives around the professionalization of the Museum. One person recalled:
[The Director] got some grants that ran a couple of years and hired nineteen people. We set up, essentially, a modern museum like the staffing structure. That was really the beginning of pulling the Museum out of a curio shop into a museum with policies and procedures and an idea of what the correct way to go about things were.
The quoted text may refer to the $133,000 “work grant” received from the Department of Employment and Immigration’s Canada Community Services Program to support the three-year Klondike Heritage Services project beginning in 1981 (DCM Director’s Annual Report March 4th, 1981). The Project involved work on a resource center, education programs, audio-visual materials, registration and collection, photography, displays, and more (DCM Klondike Heritage Services Report).
As the Museum developed capacity to hire year-round staff through work and project grants in the 1970s and 1980s, Parks Canada staff were becoming a larger part of the Dawson City community. They began to participate on the DCM’s Board and committees, helping to guide the Museum’s development. Additionally, as specialists came to Dawson City for work with Parks Canada, they were often introduced to the Museum’s staff to provide suggestions. As one person recalled:
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.
Due to federal policy, the Museum, therefore, benefited from the development of a broader Dawson City heritage community that believed in the value of preservation, collection, and interpretation.
On the one hand, staff became more focused on professionalization and the Museum’s role as a heritage resource as part of this larger heritage community from the 1970s, enabling the Museum to begin adhering to some best practices for community museums. However, at the same time, the use of project linked funding to employ people on contracts into the 1990s also hindered the professionalization and sustainable development of the Museum. The short-term nature of the funding, which was often connected to a range of funding objectives including and beyond the perceived value of heritage, contributed to discrepancies in the work completed. The reliance on project grants enabled, but were also a barrier to conserving or cataloguing the collection appropriately (DCM Collections Committee Report for 1988-9). As a Canadian Conservation Institute report argued:
lt is imperative that key staff be hired on full time status … without key, full time staff, the Museum’s operational profile will fall to levels which will question its ability to continue to operate as a museum.
(p. 22 qtd in DCM Director Curator Report June 19 2002)
The limited number of full-time, year-round permanent staff at the time related to issues in funding specific to community museums as heritage resources.
From the 1970s, when the Museum began hiring staff and the heritage community in Dawson City began to grow, funding for community museums also became available from the federal government. However, the DCM did not meet minimum requirements for some of the support available due to the poor condition of its physical space – that is, the Old Territorial Administration Building (Rubinsky 1976; For more information see Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive). They were only able to use one source of project-based funding from this new federal policy – that is, the National Inventory Assistance Cataloguing Grant to hire staff for work on the collection (DCM Minutes September 26, 1978; DCM Director’s Report May 30 1978).
The Dawson City Museum was not alone in its limited ability to access funding targeting museums from the federal government. Community museums in Yukon made a limited use of the various grants “largely due to inadequate staff and facilities to qualify for them” (Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management Inc. 1986, 12). To help redress this issue and provide Yukon Museums with better access to federal programs, the Yukon Government hired a Museum Advisor in the 1980s. Then, they developed funding programs specific to community museums, including project funding that enabled access to cost sharing federal grants. Other forms of territorial support included an operational grant, a grant to subsidize a curator, and a provincial conservator who offered free conservation services. These support mechanisms aimed to support museums as valuable heritage resources. The first purpose articulated in the Museum Policy, which eventually articulated the rationale for these programs, is to “protect and preserve the Yukon’s historic resources” (1).
The support available to Yukon community museums from the territorial government has evolved and changed since the 1980s. The changes often reflect an increased focus on developing professionalized heritage resources. For example, in the 1990s Yukon introduced a Collection Registration Coordinator who helped museums with their collections work, and eventually developed a territory wide collection database.
The inclusion of First Nation’s Cultural Centers in the funding programs and as part of a Museum Strategy in the early 2000s more firmly positioned support for museums as a heritage policy with a focus on heritage for its own sake. The inclusion fulfilled a commitment in the Umbrella Final Agreement with Yukon First Nations, which includes a chapter on Heritage. One of the stated objectives in the Agreement is to “to promote public awareness, appreciation and understanding of all aspects of culture and heritage in the Yukon and, in particular, to respect and foster the culture and heritage of Yukon Indian People” (121). The agreement goes on to promise resources for the development of Indigenous heritage resource management and a continued equitable distribution.
As cultural centers became integrated into the existing community museum support program in the 2000s, the territorial granting program shifted away from providing multiple project grants toward larger operating grants with a multi-year commitment further. While total funding to the Dawson City Museum did not increase significantly at first due to the Museum’s prolific use of project funding, the increased operational funding enabled the Museum to fund two core positions more securely. The operational program for community museums and First Nation Cultural Centers then increased in 2003/04 and 2007/08. A three year staged increase began in 2015.
Although the increased funding and multiyear commitments show an renewed commitment to museums as valuable heritage institutions from a policy perspective, there were also corresponding declines in the advisory and technical services available to community museums at the national and territorial levels. For example, in the early 2000s, the territorial Museum Advisor gradually became less available to the Dawson City Museum and the position was eventually eliminated. The conservator position continued, but their responsibilities increased meaning the help available to individual institutions like the Dawson City Museum decreased. Due to Harper Era cuts in the 2010s, the availability of Parks Canada staff to provide support as part of the heritage community also declined (The relationship with Parks Canada will be discussed in more detail as part of a future working paper).
Alongside the decline in Parks Canada’s presence, the 21st century saw growth in Dawson City’s heritage community. The Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin became established as a self-governing First Nation with a heritage department and cultural center. The Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin has provided key non-financial support to the Dawson City Museum, such as the provision of translation services for their exhibition renewal.
In short, from a policy perspective a perceived value of museums and support for heritage became more relevant in the 1980s when the Yukon Government developed a support program that targeted community museums as community museums. The territory’s financial commitment to supporting heritage increased in the 21st century following the Umbrella Final Agreement with Yukon First Nations and the inclusion of cultural centres in the existing support program. From a community perspective, the Museum’s role as a valued heritage resource was present from its inception. While community members started the Museum with tourism in mind, it became a kind of community attic. The perceived value of heritage became more prominent in the late 1970s with an influx of people due to Parks Canada’s expansion and the availability of employment grants that enabled the Museum to employ and train people with an interest in professionalizing the institution. There have been more recent changes to the local heritage community with a decline in Parks Canada’s presence and an increased Indigenous presence with the establishment of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin as a self governing First Nation.
Currently, I am reflecting on the ways these changes shape the kind of heritage work that is conducted and therefore valued due to the distinct expertise accessible to the Museum. I do not have a clear argument, but think this is an important consideration. For example, historically, support for the Museum’s role as a heritage resource often meant a focus on collections based work, such as collecting, documentation, and conservation. More recently, it has involved supporting basic operations and the development of exhibitions with new narratives. The Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin provided funding to help support a pre-Gold Rush exhibition in the early 2000s, which expanded the heritage considered in the Museum. From 2014 to 2021, Museum staff worked on developing and implementing plans for renewed exhibitions, which led to a focus on the stories that objects can tell and the narratives that develop. Suggestions that arose in consultation with the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin were key to a shift from a timeline approach to a thematic one in the design. While past exhibition work aimed to learn from Indigenous Peoples about objects (e.g., commissioning people to create objects and documenting the process), the more recent example reflects an attempt to learn from Indigenous Peoples about how stories should be told.
In other words, the focus on the Museum’s role as a heritage resource has shifted from emphasizing objects to considering narrative. I am wondering: to what extent does this reflect changes in how museums broadly perceive their role as heritage resources? Relatedly, to what extent does it reflect the concerns of museum staff? To what extent does this reflect changes in policy and community described?
Friday’s post will compliment this one, discussing the Museum’s role as an employer. These roles are complimentary because, without staff, museums do not generally have the capacity to focus on their role as a heritage resource.
Lord Cultural Resources Planning & Management Inc. with Lori Patterson Jackson and Linda R. Johnson. 1986. Yukon Museums Policy and System Plan. Volume One.
Rubinsky. 1976, June 9. “Renovated this Winter: Museum Reopens June 21 Officially. Whitehorse Daily Star.p. 22.
Snowalter, Mirian. 1975, October 31. “Dawson Museum Society Finds Escape from Hole.” Whitehorse Daily Star.p. 21.
The Dawson City Museum’s earliest role was to be a site for tourists. In the 1950s, community members were working to develop and expand a tourism industry, which became central to the local and territorial economy. Then, the DCM benefited from the development of government policy to encourage tourism. As a result, the Museum’s role as a site for tourists is in some ways the most firmly established.
In the 1950s, the local community was experiencing economic hardship because Yukon’s capital moved from Dawson City to Whitehorse and large-scale mining was declining. At the same time, there was increased public interest in the north and a romanticized version of the Klondike Gold Rush. Community members organized to capitalize on this interest, forming the Klondike Tourism Bureau (now the Klondike Visitors Association or KVA). The KVA created the Dawson City Museum as a tourist attraction (To learn more about this period see Dawson City’s Community Attic).
The DCM became a separate incorporated non-profit due to the availability of a federal program for museums in the Yukon. As a separate entity, the Museum could cash a check for $500 from the federal government and, when the federal funding ceased, receive a territorial grant as a tourist site. Even though the Museum was officially its own entity, people were still members of both the KVA and Museum, which further emphasizes the DCM’s origins as a tourist attraction in the community. Lotz (1964, 128) wrote:
Two organizations in the city cater to tourists – The Klondike Visitors Association, which ran a campground in 1963, has put signs on the old buildings, and runs the Palace Grand shows, and the Dawson City Museum and Historical Society, which focuses its attention on building up and running the museum in the old Administration Building. Some individuals in Dawson are members of both organizations…
While less pronounced than it was in the 1960s, there have continued to be people with dual membership with the Museum and more explicitly tourist organizations. For example, at the time of the on-site research for the DCM Project, the Museum’s Executive Director was a member of the KVA’s board, showing ongoing dual membership between the Museum and the more explicitly tourist focused KVA.
Community members have also continued defining the Museum as an attraction. For example, in 2002, the DCM experienced a funding crisis and reached out to the local community, asking businesses to write letters to government advocating for more support. These letters emphasized the Museum position as a tourist attraction as one of their roles (see Box 29b in the DCM Corporate archives or the post Archival Research: Community Mobilized). For example, Bombay Peggy’s wrote, “As a business involved in tourism, we view the Dawson City Museum as a key attraction…” The Dawson City Chamber of Commerce wrote, “The Dawson Museum is recognized as one of the primary heritage attractions in the Yukon.”
The Dawson City Museum’s role as a primary attraction is reflected in their front facing activities from their inception to today. Like many community museums in what we now call Canada, the DCM has more regular opening hours and offers more programming in the summer when the number of tourists in Dawson City increases. To that end, the Museum generally has more staffing during the summer months and, prior to 1975, the summer was the only time the DCM had paid staff.
The number of summer staff and the breadth of their activities increased in the 1990s following a rise in summer student employment programs. These programs, including the now well-known Young Canada Works in Heritage, functionally (re)enforced an orientation of activities and staff time toward tourism simply because museums can provide more active programming with increased staff (Interviews). That being said, the number of students the Museum could hire decreased in the 21st century due to issues with the funding programs available, a lack of supervisory capacity, and barriers to hiring, such as a lack of available housing (For example, see Reduced Student Positions).
Student employment programs are not the only government policies that have contributed to the orientation toward tourism. There are also strong connections between tourism and Yukon’s Museum Policy, developed in the 1980s. Policy discussion began after the release of the Kyte Report, which states:
Few Canadian Community Museums are as closely tied to the Tourist Industry as those located in Yukon. With visitors to the area outnumbering residents by, at least, ten to one, museum activities are chiefly tourist motivated, frequently at the expense of other museum responsibilities. Of the nearly 300,000 visitors entering Yukon annually it can be reliably assessed that up to 25% spend some time in one or more of the community museums during their travels. Though accurate attendance figures are generally unavailable there is supporting evidence that Whitehorse, Burwash, and Dawson are the principal points of museum contact in the Territory. During 1979 an aggregate total in excess of 50,000 visitors is estimated to have entered these three institutions.
Kyte 1980, 4
Reflecting this connection to tourism, the stated purpose of the museum policy is, in part, to “provide the means by which museums can increase their appeal to tourists” (1). While policy development explicitly began in the early 1980s in response to calls from the museum community, which commissioned the Kyte Report, and as part of the establishment of a heritage branch, the document was only released after a commitment in the 1989 Yukon Tourism Action Plan. Further, responsibility for the Policy and its associated programs have fallen within a department that includes tourism and is often perceived as more tourist focused (Interviews).
Looking at government action specific to the DCM, the Museum’s perceived role as a tourist site may also have contributed to successes and failures in securing funding for renovations to the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB) (See Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive for a more detailed consideration of the OTAB in relation to the Museum). Until significant renovations in 1986-1987, the OTAB was, quite literally, an ice box that was inhabitable during the winter. They could only operate during the summer tourism season. Despite owning the building, the territorial government did not prioritize repairs and updates until a failed fire inspection.
There was more attention to the Museum’s issues with the space as part of discussions regarding funding for the Canada – Yukon Tourism agreement. However, in the end, the DCM did not receive funding through the agreement. So the tourist role is not generally accredited for the successful advocacy. Success is attributed to an accident where a piece of the foundation was knocked down in front of the Minister, demonstrating the building’s unsafe conditions due to the rotting foundation (Interviews). However, it is important to note tourism related policies and initiatives contributed to greater attention to the Dawson City Museum and its housing needs by members of government at the time. Delays in the contemporary renovation, such as, repairs to the sprinkler system and the creation of offices on the main floor that would make staff more accessible to the community, may reflect the lack of connection between the needs for these renovations and the Museum’s role as a tourist attraction (vs. heritage or community resource as explored in future posts), which multiple research participants suggested is of greater concern for the territorial government.
In short, from 1954 until about 1975 the DCM was primarily a tourist destination that stored objects for people to see from late May to September. This role was established through community action and encouraged through government policy, such as a grant for tourist sites. The Museum’s tourism role has continued over time and within the community it continues to be an important tourism destination with summer programming targeting that audience. However, from the 1970s, other roles emerged and began to receive more attention. Further, due to the challenges of hiring summer students (e.g., lack of housing), the number of students providing programming has declined from over 15 in the 1990s to 2 or 3 students.
Importantly, the Museum’s role as a tourist site is, in many ways, not a role that the Museum’s management deliberately continue to cultivate. It is inherent to the nature of their operations (e.g., increased staffing and hours in summer). However, as explored in upcoming posts on different roles, the current Executive Director is most concerned with the DCM’s role as community resource. Interestingly, at different points of time, the tourism role is described as both existing in tension with and as part of the Museum’s relationship to the local community. The discussion will explore these ideas further, considering the ways tourism supports and is part of other roles, but can also become a barrier to those roles.
Next week, I will continue to explore the Museum’s roles, looking at its role as a heritage resource with perceived implicit value and as an employer.
Kyte, John E. 1980, November. Museums in Yukon: A Profile and Training Report. Prepared for Yukon Historical and Museums Association.
Lotz, Jim R. 1964. “The Dawson Area: A Regional Monograph No. 2.” In Yukon Research Project Series, Northern Co-ordination and Research Centre, Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, Ottawa 4, Ontario.
The Dawson City Museum project asks – How has the Dawson City Museum (DCM) 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. Second, we have developed key themes related to policy and community. 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 the second thematic consideration of the data, this working paper focuses on the question – what is the role of the DCM over time? The question speaks directly to the main research question because the Museum’s role is shaped and shapes government policy. It is also defined through community action and its relationship to the community.
To answer the question, I outline six overlapping and intersecting roles for the DCM – tourist asset, heritage resource, employer, identity builder, community hub, and community resource. The discussion considers these roles in relation to past research, factors other than policy and community, their interconnectivity, and their relative importance to the Museum’s relationship to community. I conclude that while the DCM has had many roles related to policy attachment and addressing perceived community needs, it is in a period of transition and (re)definition with a focus on its potential as a community resource. There are several important questions that the Museum may want to consider as it focuses on the future.
Roles for the DCM
Museums are versatile institutions that are mobilized and legitimized in a variety of ways through government policies and programs. They are also used differently depending on their communities’ needs and relationship to the institution. Like many community museums, the Dawson City Museum does not have one singular role. Instead, different roles become evident when examining its relationship to policy and community from the 1950s to 2021. The most prominent roles articulated include tourist asset, heritage resource, employer, identity builder, community hub, and community resource.
While these roles are in many ways intersecting and overlapping, they were most popular at specific periods of time due to their relationship to specific government policies or community actions. Most notably, community members working to develop tourism in the region established the DCM as a tourist asset in the 1950s, which also reflects the Museum’s relationship to emerging territorial policy in the 1960s and 1970s. As policies specific to community museums emerged federally in the 1970s and territorially in the 1980s, the DCM developed and established itself as a heritage resource engaged in collections care.
The heritage resource role coincided with an increase in the size of Dawson City’s heritage community due to an influx in young workers with an interest in the region’s history, such as Parks Canada employees. Taking advantage of the available labour and funding opportunities for seasonal employment, the DCM established itself as a key employer. At the peak of its role as a year round employer, the Museum also received an influx of funding and attention related to its role in identity building, which is in some ways an important component of its recent exhibit renewal despite a lack of focus on this objective in support programs. While the exhibition renewal (2014-2021) involved significant project-based funding, the number of individual project related grants needed to support the Museum’s work has decline and contributed to a focus on fewer (though in some ways larger) projects that facilitate connections within the community.
The Museum’s connection to community also seemed to decrease with a decline in the number of year round employees. At the turn of the century, the departure of key individuals from the area and a shift in the available programs towards summer rather than winter unemployment led to a significant decline in the employment role. Attempting to both raise funds and increase its profile within the community, the DCM began focusing on events that would bring the community together and, at times, into Museum spaces but these events did not address the institution’s heritage related mission. As a result, a change in leadership led to a change in direction to focus on the relationship to and in community rather than than Museum’s role as host to community. Importantly, the attempt to (re)focus on becoming a community resource broadly is not a new role for the Museum and is an idea that in some ways encompasses the other roles mentioned, which have responded to community need at specific points of time.
Since this working paper is rather long, I am going to post in multiple parts. On Friday, I will post on the Museum’s role as a Tourist Asset. Next week, there will be a post on the Museum’s role as a heritage resource and another on its role as an employer. As the content is posted, I will add an index here:
I have not posted very much on this blog since about this time last year for a few reasons.
Mainly, 2022-2023 has been incredibly busy for me in other ways. At work, I took on some responsibilities that made it more difficult to spend time on research. In my personal life, major changes have meant I am less able to simply work more hours during evenings and weekends to do research, which is often the reality and expectation in academia. I am five months pregnant. To be frank, that means I have been really tired all the time, feel sick, and have other priorities (finding a place to live was a joy…).
That is not to say I have not been doing anything on the Dawson City Museum (DCM) Project or research more broadly!
Working with Others
I began working with more Research Assistants (RAs), giving them agency in the research analysis and output creation. Katherine Ahlf’s reflection provides a very early and simple example. This has worked really well in some cases because it highlights perspectives other than my own. However, it hasn’t always worked out or resulted in something that I will share and involves working with other students’ schedules, meaning writing can be more time consuming.
You will see results from the RAs’ work soon as part of planned posts for Spring/Summer 2023 described below. For example, I am working with one RA on an analysis of the Dawson City Museum’s work both about and with Indigenous Peoples as a two-part thematic paper. Part one, which I wrote, outlines the Museum’s work over time based on the interview and archival data. Part two, which the RA is working on, considers the Museum’s work in relation to the Canadian Museums Association’s (CMA) more recent report Moved to Action.Finalizing part two has been really time consuming. The RA’s original draft was written based on her extensive research about best practices, but the CMA released Moved to Action the week she sent me the first draft. So, she re-wrote the paper, which took some time! Part two is still not ready for release yet because she is integrating feedback I provided. Then we would like to get feedback from Museum staff.
I am also working with an RA on the long-promised podcast miniseries about the project. As a professor in arts and cultural management with a focus on museums and cultural policy, I wanted these to be useful for students. So, I asked RAs to take time and think about the best ways to make episodes from some of my posts, such as the chronological papers. We are currently recording these episodes!
In addition to working with others on deliverables for the DCM Project, I have been engaged in some thinking work. When starting the working papers, I started with the chronological papers that were fairly easy to write due to the timelines I had created during the archival data analysis state. The first thematic paper, which looked at the Museum in relation to the Old Territorial Administration Building, in some ways wrote itself. The conclusions were very clear in the data, and I had started to think about the provision of space as a kind of museum policy in past research.
Other themes, such as the paper on the Museum’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples mentioned above, have been more complicated to address. In some cases, like the analysis of Parks Canada’s role in the Museum’s development, the difficulty is due to a lack of existing research to consider in my analysis and address gaps in my knowledge. In others, like the analysis of the Museum’s role in the community over time, I could write a book. The challenge becomes distilling the information into a readable length. Despite my efforts, the paper on the Museum’s role is still rather long for a working paper, but I will start to post it in parts next week.
In addition to the working papers, I have been doing and thinking about academic publishing. I wrote a chapter for a book on museum finances about the role of policy attachment. The DCM provided a wonderful case study because, until significant increases and the addition of multiyear agreements to the territorial operational grant, the Museum relied heavily on multiple overlapping and intersecting project grants with different policy objectives to do their work. Writing the chapter on policy attachment has prompted a re-evaluation of how I think about community museums’ roles in their communities. Often, there is a stigmatization of or a disdain for museums’ role(s) in tourism (and other economic objectives), which is portrayed as different from community museums’ roles in their community and less valuable than roles like preservation. However, in this case, attachment to economic goals like tourism and employment increased the Museum’s presence and role in the community, which originally founded the Museum explicitly to be a tourist resource.
I would like to address some of these themes in future articles and thematic papers, but all the ideas are overlapping and complicated. It is hard to narrow things down to 6000 words! I also want the thematic episodes of the podcast series to be useful for the Museum. My plan on how best to do this has changed as my ideas evolve and the Executive Director that I worked with for the first year of the project (and am friends with) left the Museum. So, some papers and thematic episodes will be more delayed as I redevelop my ideas, seek feedback from the Museum, and talk with the new Executive Director about what she would find useful.
Plan Going Forward
In addition to everything above, I also have not posted as much due to work on other projects. With the help of research assistants, I thought I could multi-task and I did… sometimes and to varying degrees of success. While not everything has worked out, I do have ideas to share.
I would like to get as much as possible for the DCM Project finalized before taking a break from research in mid-July (to have a baby). In hopes that writing it down and making a commitment will make it so, here is my plan:
I am going to start posting twice a week – Wednesdays and Fridays. Upcoming posts will include:
A reflection on my attempt to engage in some arts funding research and why it did not work as well.
A reflection on how the process of blogging has changed my research
Thematic papers for the DCM Project on:
The DCM’s role over time (written and to be posted in parts)
The relationship between the Museum and Indigenous Peoples (in draft)
The relationship between the DCM and Parks Canada (currently, a very drafty draft)
The issue of employment (… this one is all in my head, but it really wants out!)
Podcast miniseries timeline episodes (in production)
My name is Katherine Ahlf, and I worked as a research assistant with the Dawson City Museum Project over the summer.
My work was primarily focused on writing an annotated bibliography for a paper that would expand on critical events that shaped the development of Dawson City, which, in turn, affected the museum and its role in the community. I focused my timeline from the 1950s-2000 and concentrated on information related to the government and community action that led to the drastic transition of Dawson City from a ghost town to a tourist town, finding resources that helped show what life was like for the community during this time. To understand when a source was valuable for this project or not, I first needed to educate myself to create a foundational knowledge of the museum and town’s history and what parts were missing from the project’s previously completed work.
This foundational work took some time as there is an overwhelming number of sources on some subjects, but shockingly little on others regarding Dawson City’s history and development within my planned timeline. This ebb and flow of information was particularly challenging to work with at first. In my previous academic writing experiences, there was little space for speculation. Concrete factual information was all that was permitted on relatively short timelines. However, I learned that with this kind of in-depth research project, sometimes you must start with speculation and go down a few long rabbit holes. With time and after looking in some surprising places, I found resources with the information we needed!
What did I find?
What stands out to me the most from my research is how incredible the community involvement in the town of Dawson City has been throughout these decades of adaption and transition from the iconic Gold Rush town to what we know today. For decades, this isolated community faced dramatic population declines and economic challenges, meaning it became a ghost town. Still, there was a consistent belief that what the town could offer was special and worth fighting to preserve.
Developing the town into what we see today took the community several failed attempts to launch the region as a tourist attraction. There were also several instances where the town continued to push on despite decisions by the territorial and federal governments that limited or isolated the town further. Eventually, Dawson City was recognized as a worthwhile investment to preserve and promote tourism by these governments. Their intervention has drastically shaped the Dawson City experienced today. However, after my summer researching these events and timelines, I know the driving force for Dawson City’s success was a community that believed their home was worth working to save despite the challenges. An excellent resource sharing more information on this is A. A. Doiron’s thesis titled “Tourism Development and the third sector: a case study on Dawson City, Yukon.”
Hopes for the Project Moving Forward
As I end my time as a research assistant with this project, my biggest hope for the future is that the information gathered and meticulously compiled by Robin and the other researchers involved in the project is thoroughly utilized by the museum. I believe that policymakers having a clearer understanding of the organization’s previous experiences and choices can provide a lot of information that will enrich and guide the museum’s future decisions. I also hope that the work completed with this project reaches more people in the general public and helps spurn a curiosity to know more about Dawson City than just during the years of the Gold Rush.
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. Second, we have developed key themes related to policy and community. 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. Past Papers include:
Providing the fifth and final chronological consideration of the data, this working paper asks – What are some key moments, influential policies, and community activities that defined the Dawson City Museum’s development in the 21st century?
After summarizing the answers and outlining our research approach, I give a short overview of the Museum’s development in the 21st century. The overview outlines a significant change from the 1990s when the Museum was a community hub to the 21st century when successive Directors have struggled to connect with the local community. I consider significant policies, focusing on the decline in support for the Museum despite an increase in operational funding and support for an ongoing renewal project. Then, a section on community activity describes the significance of the establishment of other nonprofits and the departure of key people from Dawson City. The paper concludes the period is defined by a struggle to connect with the local community given limited resources and related inconsistencies despite significant investment in expansion or renewal projects due to a persistent need for increased support to operational costs like salaries.
What are some key moments, influential policies, and community activities that defined the Dawson City Museum’s development in the 21st century?
The Museum experienced financial difficulty in the early 2000s and had to lay off staff.
The Director changed in 2002, 2007, and 2015, contributing to inconsistencies in operations.
There were significant expansion or renewal projects during the period. Thanks to support from the Lind family and project grants, the Museum opened the Lind Gallery and new storage facilities in the early 2000s. In 2021, the Museum reopened with renewed exhibitions.
Policies considered in previous chronological considerations continued to be influential. In particular, the territorial museum policy, project grants from both the federal and territorial levels, student employment funding, relationships with federal actors, and the use of the Old Territorial Administration Building have ongoing significance.
The 21st century is also notable for the policies and programs which are no longer significant to the Museum’s operations, such as employment funding related to unemployment.
In 1998 the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in negotiated its land claim and self-governing agreement. As a self-governing First Nation, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in became more active in heritage management. As a result, the Dawson City Museum’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples evolved during the 21st century.
Reliance on project funding in the 1990s encouraged a growth model despite a lack of support for ongoing operations, contributing to financial difficulties in the 21st century.
Several people who had worked on contracts for the Museum from the 1970s or 1980s into the 1990s left Dawson City.
There were new organizations established in Dawson City, redirecting some volunteer labor.
The working paper relies on the research conducted as part of the Dawson City Museum Project, including archival research and a document analysis of digitized records. Interviews with fifteen people included interviews with two directors, a curator, and student employee who worked in the period examined as well as a board member and volunteer.
Two RAs – Christine Leroux and Katherine Ahlf – provided valuable feedback on the paper.
As discussed in “A Community Hub,” the 1990s was a decade of increased funding for the Dawson City Museum related to territorially significant centennials (e.g., the Klondike Gold Rush) and a variety of employment programs. As an active institution and major employer with an engaging and well-liked Director, the Dawson City Museum became a community hub. However, the role was unsustainable.
The 21st century has involved significant changes for the Museum. On the one hand, the period starts with an expansion and ends with new permanent exhibitions, demonstrating growth as a professional institution. On the other, financial and staffing challenges once again began to define work, contributing to inconsistencies in both the Museum’s operations and relationship building within the community. As a result, the Dawson City Museum became an institution struggling, but consistently working toward connecting with its community.
Financial difficulties re-emerged for the Museum in the early 2000s when they failed to receive a grant partway through a project. As a result, the Director / Curator was laid off for 20 weeks and the Museum was forced to borrow money through a personal line of credit on at least two occasions (DCM AGM June 6, 2002; See documents available in O&M correspondence, 29b, Dawson City Museum Archives). As the Director from the period described:
We didn’t get the grant, and that put us in a very tight operating funding position. We ran out of money, and that’s why I had to lay myself off, so I could keep at least one other staff member full-time in the building over the winter.
Despite the financial challenges, Museum staff at the time ensured the Museum continued to grow and develop. They applied to designate the Old Territorial Administration Building a national historic site and the bid was successful. They also opened a new storage facility and the Lind Gallery focused on pre-Gold Rush history (DCM Newsletter vol. 18 no. 2). Further, the Museum Director spearheaded an advocacy campaign for increased operational funding starting in 2002 (See documents available in O&M Correspondence, Box 29b, Dawson City Museum Archives). Importantly, the Dawson City business community wrote letters in support of the Museum’s ask, showing ongoing community support for the institution in a time of crisis (See “Community Mobilized“).
Responding to calls from the DCM and a consultation for a Museums Strategy, the territorial government eventually increased operational support to community museums, which shifted funding from project grants, and implemented multi-year agreements. Articulating a need for the change, the Director who worked at the Museum in 2001-2002 noted,
There’s a need for multi-year funding… that’s why I had to lay myself off. I couldn’t plan for a year because I had to rely on incoming project grant money, and if I didn’t get that grant money, we couldn’t operate.
The operational funding increase and multi-year agreements helped provide the consistency the Dawson City Museum needed to fund staff from year to year, addressing the perennial question of how the Director would get paid.
Despite having the funding for a director position from 2003 onward, the Museum continued to shift away from its role as a community hub. In 2007, the 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.
Notably, the Museum’s role as a community hub in the 1990s intersected with its role as a major employer (see “A Community Hub”). There was a core group of staff who worked at the Museum on contracts from the 1970s, providing consistency. These individuals left Dawson City and/or found permanent positions elsewhere at the end of the 1990s or beginning of the 2000s, which coincided with the decline in project and employments grants the Museum had used to fund their work.
The loss of these key individuals highlighted the need for permanent staff to provide consistency and ongoing labour at the Museum. As articulated in a Canadian Conservation Institute report on the Dawson City Museum’s performance:
lt is imperative that key staff be hired on full time status … without key, full time staff, the Museum’s operational profile will fall to levels which will question its ability to continue to operate as a museum.
p. 22 qtd in DCM Director Curator Report June 19 2002
Despite the recommendation and the aforementioned increase in operational funding, there has been insufficient funding for key staff, leading to inconsistencies in operation. For example, the Museum experienced significant backlogs in registration with the departure of the collection manager in the early 2000s (DCM Report to Board for June 19 to July 22 2003). While there has been a Curator engaged in collection management since 2014, the 2000s and early 2010s involved a series of projects to address a backlog followed by a period without staff dedicated to the collection, leading to more backlogs (See “Dawson City Museum, 2000s” and “Dawson City Museum, 2010s”).
The inconsistencies are due to different staffing priorities as directors utilize their limited budget and project grant availability. Within this period, the Museum has typically had one year-round, full-time position in addition to the Director with some attempts to hire a third employee. However, the operating budget cannot accommodate a third permanent and full-time employee over the long term. As a former Director noted:
When I took over in 2015, the Museum had three permanent, year-round, full-time staff. That number is – it was then and is today – frankly more than the Museum can comfortably afford.
The Director quoted then prioritized the curator position over an archivist position when he had to let someone go. The previous Director had briefly prioritized programming with the creation of a Program Co-Ordinator position in 2008, which led to more activities focused on local audiences such “A Night at the Museum” and other programs for school children (DCM Annual Report 2008). These school programs were necessarily suspended when the program manager left (DCM Annual Report 2011-12). The Director then prioritized curation due to a planned exhibition renewal project. The Curator, who started in 2014, had to manage the aforementioned backlog of donated artifacts because collection management had not been prioritized with a Program Co-ordinator as the second full-time position. She described the situation as follows:
When I first arrived, there was a backlog of donations that hadn’t been processed… [Also] a lot of items within our database hadn’t been touched in a while and by that, I mean – had not been seen. So, we did not know if it existed because we [could not] find it.
The changing staff thereby presented a challenge to the growth and development of the Museum with inconsistencies in the museum functions accomplished.
In addition to prioritizing different staff positions over time, the Directors have taken different approaches to engaging with the local community. Starting in the early 2010s, one director began an events approach, aiming to increase the Museum’s presence by hosting activities for the local community. For example, they began an annual comedy show and movie nights for locals. Despite providing some connection to the local community, these events and activities cost the Museum money and had limited (or no) connection to Klondike heritage. As such, when the Director changed in 2015, he initiated a process of “finding the floor.” As he explained:
The phrase I use with the curator, and its sort of a guiding philosophy of mine, is finding the floor. When I started in 2015, one of my first tasks was to pull off a Comedy Festival that was partly, substantially funded by Lotteries Yukon that ended up costing $50,000. It was not very successful. It was a great event… and a lot of people liked it a lot, but the $50,000 event only raised, including Yukon Government funding, $40,000. So, the museum literally paid $10,000 to treat paying clients to a comedy show. And if we want to spend ten grand out of our pocket to show people a good time, I think we can do better than that.
Rather than focus on creating events for the community to increase the Museum’s presence, the new Director redirected efforts toward increasing the Museum’s physical presence at existing community events and fostering positive relationships with other groups. As a former board member noted:
And the Museum has tried to just be partnering with other groups too I notice. They may be just sitting as part of another group or being in the parade or something like that. Those are just small things, but they give the Museum a presence.
For example, they expanded participation in activities hosted by others within the community, such as the Walk for Truth and Reconciliation (DCM 2018 Annual Report). Museum Staff also began to more actively consult and develop a relationship with the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in. Consultation on the Museum’s Exhibit Renewal Project, which started in 2014, provides a key example of the shift from inviting community to events to actively engaging in relationship building with community. As the Executive Director explained:
When I took over in 2015, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in had not been approached about our plans. The Museum was planning this huge major renewal. Our curator had started in 2014 … and so halfway through the three-year exhibit development process, Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in had not been approached.
The curator and I spent too much time handwringing about that. How could we have gotten this far, and no one’s been contacted? How can we go to them now, at this stage? Eventually we got over ourselves and did and it went really well. But as an example of a shift in priorities? There we go. Fewer comedy festivals, more engaging with important stakeholders.
The Curator similarly describes a more community-oriented approach to the Museum’s work post 2015:
We want to work in the community… [and] have community relationships. I think it’s changed a lot. Our past director, maybe, wasn’t as open to making those connections. I would say, [the current Director] definitely is.
The Curator’s reflection highlights the Director’s role in fostering these relationships. The Director from 2007 to 2015 was not as friendly and open to relationship building as the Director who took over in 2015. As an Interview Participant remarked:
We felt somewhat disrespected and lost a little bit of interest in the Museum. We’ve been more than happy with having [the Director and Curator from 2015] working there now because they are just amazing.
In short, staff is key to Museum operations and shape what the museum is able to accomplish. After a decade of growth and increased community engagement with the Museum, the 21st saw the DCM struggle to connect with the local community. The difficulties relate to financial challenges and staffing changes, which led to inconsistencies in the Museum’s operations. However, a shift from an events approach to a more community focused orientation has begun to redress the issue. The Museum staff hope to continue engaging with the community, using their new exhibitions as a starting point.
As noted above, the Museum began work on a major exhibit Renewal Project in 2014, using funding from the Community Development Fund (DCM 2016 Annual Report) and the government of Canada. The exhibits opened in 2021 and represent a significant change for the institution. As explained by the Executive Director at the time:
We wanted the Museum to tell a more focused story… The thesis of the new exhibitions is the people of the Klondike persevere and prosper through adaptation and change.
And we wanted it to be more inclusive… We knew that in the new exhibits, we wanted the exhibit to better reflect the continuity… 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.
Similarly, the Curator discussed the new exhibitions as a shift in the Museum’s activities to better reflect and respond to the community. She noted:
With the new exhibits going up, we definitely are making a more concerted effort to be more reflective, and maybe responsive, to our community…
When I think about the current exhibitions, I think, what we’d really wanted them to be is reflective of our community. That sounds really general, and not specific. The voice that speaks in it, we wanted to be a voice of the Klondike.
I visited the Museum in November 2021 after the exhibitions opened and, as such, their re-opening is the chronological end to the research. The exhibitions have clearly provided a more inclusive foundation for the Museum’s operations, shifting the focus from Gold Rush history to the community itself. However, at the time, it was still unclear what the Museum’s plans were moving forward.
In the 21st century, we continue to see the influence of established policies, including student employment programs, the use of the Old Territorial Administration Building, partnerships with federal and other actors, and the territorial support program targeting museums.
Although there is some continuity, there were changes in how programs operate with a decreased emphasis on supporting museums. For example, in “A Community Hub,” we discussed the $10,000 Municipal grant received to subsidize student employment at the Museum. However, without support from the anniversary funding the territory provided in the 1990s, the municipality was unable to sustain funding to the Dawson City Museum. Other notable challenges include barriers or reductions to student employment, the development of a territorial museum strategy, some decline in the Museum’s relationships with Parks Canada, and a reduction in services from the territorial advisory service.
As seen since the 1970s, the Dawson City Museum used short term grants for staffing. However, in the past, there were a variety of programs accessed, such as those connected to unemployment. In the 21st century, the Museum has relied primarily on student and/or youth positions. In particular, the Museum accessed the Human Resources Development Canada’s (HRDC) Summer Career Placement Programme, Canada Summer Jobs, and Young Canada Works (YCW) students through the Canadian Heritage Foundation, the Canadian Library Association, the Canadian Museums Association, and the Canadian Council of Archives.
These programs are incredibly significant to the Museum’s operation because of their influence on the human resource capacity of the institution. As a Curator explained:
When I have someone in the archives, especially in the summer because of the amount of research we get from visitors, let alone, maybe local requests, to have someone to be able to respond, and help our visitors is very important. If [the Director] and I have to do that, it really takes away from something else, particularly, when we talk about being involved in community activities and events. So, the Truth and Reconciliation, we were able to do that because there was someone in the library helping our everyday visitors with their research. The YCW funding is very important in that sense.
Similarly, a student employee from the period described the summer program:
Because of the Young Canada Works granting when I was there, they had a lot of historical Interpreters available, and that meant that they had quite a robust programming schedule that did run on repeat during the day.
Notably, the student and youth programs provided fewer work hours in the 21st century than the 1990s. For example, during the 1990s, the Dawson City Museum received funding for five students for eleven weeks from one program. However, in 2000, the Museum received funding for five students for only ten weeks from that program (Thistle 2000). Then, in 2003, there were additional cuts to the funded summer student employees from all sources, reducing the number of positions, number of hours and number of weeks funded (DCM Newsletter vol. 19 no. 1). The reduced hours and weeks then contributed to students leaving partway through the summer, further undermining the program’s effectiveness (Pike 2003).
In addition to declines in funding amounts, the Museum has experienced significant difficulties hiring summer staff due to fewer applicants and applicants turning down interviews (DCM ED Report May 16, 2017). As a former Executive Director described:
There used to be a larger force of transient summer staff and that transient summer labor force has shrunk. It has caused recruitment and retention problems at a number of businesses in Dawson. The Museum among them. As it’s become more difficult to recruit and fill our summer staffing positions, the Museum responded chiefly by cutting the positions, by managing to do more with fewer students.
According to the Executive Director quoted the shrinking number of students relates to the loss of a tent city, growing awareness of the housing shortage in Dawson City, and growing competition for wages as other provinces increase their minimums. Discussing the housing shortage, a former YCW student noted:
There [were] definitely a lot of housing shortages, and we knew coming in that it could be a real challenge… I used to guide canoe trips, so I had come well prepared for this, and me and my partner actually just slept in a tent the whole summer. We were in west Dawson in a campground that had no running water, and that was fine for us, but definitely not for most people.
Additional issues with student employment funding program shifted how the Museum interacted with audiences. In 2007, the Museum received late notice for student employees. So, students stopped providing guided tours of the exhibitions and developed a self-guided booklet instead. The students also developed new performances, which became key summer activities. They conceived and wrote the Miner’s Meeting where an audience member was accused of something, and the audience voted on their guilt (DCM Final Report Summer 2007). By 2011, the students were providing three short skits for audiences and giving a pre-written guided tour of the train shelter, which was also developed by a summer student (Interview 1).
In short, employment programs continue to be important and shape what the Museum can accomplish. The Museum now manages with far fewer students, changing what can be offered during the summer and reducing its role as a community hub for the transient summer population. While only addressed briefly herein, student / youth employment programs are discussed in more detail in other posts (see for example: Reduced Student Positions or Students and Employment).
There continued to be significant partnerships with government actors. For example, Parks Canada provided the Museum with space for staff housing, addressing a significant problem in the Museum’s use of student employment programs – that is, the aforementioned challenge of finding them places to live (DCM ED report September 15, 2015). We also see new partnerships with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in. For example, 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).
Relationships with both the Tr’ondek Hwech’in and Parks Canada change during this period. Notably, the Museum has focused on strengthening its relationship with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in, but its relationship with Parks Canada became more tenuous as the federal government implemented cuts to its Dawson City program. These cuts undermined the presence of a robust heritage community that the Museum had relied on and participated in since the late 1970s. Both relationships will be discussed in more detail in their own thematic papers.
Territorial Museums Policy and Programs
Although the territorial government has not re-articulated a policy for community museums, they have implemented significant changes in the 21st century. Most notably, they developed a Museum Strategy and redefined the granting programs. Some of these changes, such as a shift from project to operational funding, involved consultations and official announcements. Other changes, such as the elimination of a Museum Advisor position, involved shifts in practice that are not reflected in the articulated museums policy or strategy. From the Dawson City Museum’s perspective, these changes have had both positive and negative effects.
Part one: A shift from project funding to operational funding
In 2000, the Minister for Tourism articulated an intent to develop a Museum Strategy based on consultation (Source). The Territory hired consultants who released a discussion paper (DCM Newsletter vol. 17 no. 3) then a draft Museum Strategy Report in 2002 – Strategy for Maintaining Yukon’s Museums (see documents available in Strategy for Yukon museums, Box 29a, Dawson City Museum Archives). Yukon formed an advisory committee to draft a strategy from the Report (YHMA 2002, Summer), demonstrating a commitment to consultation.
The Strategy outlined desired results and guiding principles for the territory’s approach to supporting museums. Most importantly, it explicitly expanded museums’ definition to include First Nations Cultural Centers, which began to receive funding under the museum granting program. The document also called for increased funding for community museums and greater flexibility in that funding.
At the time, museums received money through both an operational grant and project grants, but the number of programs for projects was relatively high. As a result, a large percentage of the funding available was tied to new activities and expansion rather than ongoing operations like costs for permanent staff. For example, in 2002-2003, the Dawson City Museum received seven grants from Yukon’s Heritage Branch. Six of those grants were tied to projects, including gift shop development and a walking tour booklet. Although the operational grant was only 23,500, the Museum received an additional 85,000 for the projects As an Executive Director noted:
The problem with the territorial government when I got there was – there was way too much project money because all museum people were doing was being grant jockeys.
In addition to being more limited than project funding, the operational grant application was annual and not part of a multi-year agreement. As a former Director noted,
There’s a need for multi-year funding. We need to understand exactly how much operational funding [there is] – that’s why I had to lay myself off. I couldn’t plan for a year because I had to rely on incoming project grant money, and if I didn’t get that grant money, we couldn’t operate.
Moreover, the grant program involved a significant administrative burden due to intersecting government policies. In particular, in 2001, the Finance Administration Act led to a new accountability regime for the Community Museum Operations and Maintenance program, causing delays in receiving funding (See documents available in O&M correspondence, 29b, Dawson City Museum Archives). These accountability measures created additional labour for those receiving the funding. As a former Director explained:
I ended up standing at my xerox machine photocopying my check stubs for the territorial government. It was that kind of thing.
While not an explicit museum policy, the Finance Administration Act shaped museum policy in practice. It contributed to complaints about the funding program’s administrative burden and inflexibility for a relatively small amount of funding.
Yukon Government responded to the call for increased flexibility and long-term stability in funding with an increase in the operating grant and multi-year funding agreements (Taylor 2003). The overall increase to the Dawson City Museum was moderate because there was a corresponding decrease in the project funding. For example, in 2004-2005, the Museum received an 80,000 operating grant and 37,500 in project funding from the Heritage Branch, which is only a 9,000 increase from 2002-2003. However, the change was important because, as discussed above, it provided sustained funding for a director position at the Museum and decreased the human resource cost for the Museum when applying for grants.
Part two: A growth in funding and flexibility
After the release of the Strategy the government’s museum support program continued to evolve in practice. In 2006, the Minister of Tourism and Culture announced 200,000 in new funding to museums (DCM Newsletter vol. 22 no. 2), which led to operational grant increases endorsed by a Museums Advisory Committee. The Dawson City Museum remained in the highest category with a 20,000 increase for a total operating grant of 100,000. Yukon also increased the flexibility of its project grants, consolidating programs for exhibits, conservation and security, as well as artifact inventory and cataloguing into one special project grant category.
Notably, increases in operational funding and greater flexibility in the programs targeting museums did not completely address the issue of how to pay staff. The use of the Heritage Branch’s project grant – the Special Projects and Capital Assistance Program (SPCAP) – is shaped by the availability of staff to supervise and implement projects. As a former Director explained:
It’s also only possible for our staff to oversee so many SPCAP projects. If we wanted to use two programs to purchase specialized equipment, that wouldn’t take a lot in the way of management resources. But some projects that we’ve undertaken (like large-scale inventories or donor records reconciliations) in the past couple of years, you can only do one of those at a time.
We don’t have the personnel to do it… Our ability to take advantage of a more generous special project grant program, like SPCAP, is limited by the time that our permanent staff have to manage the project.
Though promoted as flexible, like many project grants the SPCAP funds could not be used to pay permanent staff salaries. As explained in an interview:
I kept being told that SPCAP funds couldn’t be used to pay staff wages. And I was like – where in the program guidelines does it say that? And it doesn’t. But I kept being told this.
The Museum was told to use contractors instead, which is expensive. Especially in a rural community in the Yukon.
Moreover, the reliance on project funding contributes to the inconsistency in museum operations due to uncertainty. As one director wrote:
Planning from one year to the next is difficult as we never know if the funds are going to come through.
As such, changes in the granting program have been positive. However, the continued need to justify projects for part of the annual funding remains a hurdle for the institution.
Part three: Standardization?
The program came under review again in the 2010s, starting with a request in 2013 from a Museums Roundtable – that is, a gathering of Yukon community museums – for standards. The request prompted the release of the Funding Allocation for Yukon Museums and First Nation Cultural/Heritage Centres Options Paper (Cole 2013). The paper presented three possible options to improve the existing program – a modified status quo, investment based on standards/merit, or a redistribution of existing funds.
The government considered a combination of the modified status quo and investment based on standards. While the modified status quo recommended increasing funding to both the DCM and MacBride Museum, in 2015, the Territory made a separate higher tier for the MacBride Museum (DCM 2016 Annual Report). They also (Cambio 2015):
considered a new hybrid funding model that would tie some funding to standards.
committed to a two staged increase to operational funding of 10% a year for two years.
proposed a 10% increase in the third year dependent on standards adherence and taken from the Special Projects Capital Assistance Program funding.
Due to concerns from the First Nations’ Cultural Centres, the hybrid model for funding was reassessed during the 2016 Roundtable. As a result, the third-year funding increase was no longer tied to meeting standards (Cambio 2016).
It is important to note, the standards were not implemented in large part due to the inclusion of the First Nation Cultural Centers in the grant program in the early 2000s. Their inclusion reflected the Umbrella Final Agreement Chapter 13, which noted Yukon First Nations would be provided with an equitable division of program resources for heritage. The agreement does not tie these resources to standards achievement. As a former Director described:
When the staff at Tourism and Culture started talking about tying to standards compliance, there were First Nations who reject that that premise. Their funding was tied to their umbrella final agreement, and it was not acceptable for staff at Tourism and Culture to decide that it was also going to be tied to standards that they decide to impose on their clients. Since then, it’s kind of been dead in the water.
Part four: Museum Advisory Service
As previously discussed, Yukon Government’s museum program includes an advisory service. The availability of advice and assistance through the museum advisory program changed both without few articulated rationales. Notably, the Museum Advisor became increasingly unavailable to museums in the early 2000s. Illustrating the change in a 2001 report to the board, the Director wrote:
We are still waiting to hear about the success of the exhibit grant and the security grant. Just before the long weekend, I called [Museum Advisor] about this and he said we would know by early the following week. As is becoming common, I didn’t hear anything. So, I followed up with another call and he gave me the same promises, but nothing has been received yet. I will continue to pester him until we know.
DCM Report to Board for July 23 to August 26 2001
The Museum Advisor position was eventually eliminated. While there continues to be a conservator, the Museum’s use of the conservator has also declined. More recently, the Curator described the work of the territorial conservator:
We do have links with the territorial Conservator, but her tasks are more limited in nature. Obviously, she doesn’t have the resources, in the sense of time, to address a lot of our problems.
The conservator became less available due to an increase in the number of organizations seeking help and the territorial agencies (see Providing Help or Being Helpful?). Moreover, the Museums and Heritage Unit merged, resulting in challenges as staff had limited time to do everything (Hemmera 2019).
In short, the basic tenants of the territory’s museum support program – that is, operational and project grants – have remained. However, the program underwent several important changes that influenced the Dawson City Museum’s development in the 21st century. There was a shift towards more flexibility in funding as project funding was reallocated to operational funding, leading to increases and multiyear agreements. The project grants were consolidated into one purportedly more flexible project grant, which continues to have significant limitations in how it can be used to pay staff. Finally, there was an effort to implement standards tied to funding, but the effort was thwarted by the First Nations Cultural Centers, which were added to the support program following their inclusion in the museum support program. Finally, the advisory service has become less useful for the Museum.
Old Territorial Administration Building
There are a number of factors related to the OTAB that significantly influenced the Museum’s work during this period. One example is the pipes for the fire suppressant system, which burst in 2012 and caused damage to the collection. The landlord – that is, the territorial government – still has not replaced the system a decade later placing the collection and the building itself at risk. Please see “Territorial Interest and Investment” for more information.
The DCM has experienced some challenges to engaging with the local community since its financial difficulties in the early 2000s. As outlined above, different directors have taken different approaches to addressing the issue. Attempts have included holding and participating in events as discussed above, but also some more creative solutions, such as making mannequins of local residents in order to use in the exhibitions (Source). The Museum continued to have some temporary exhibitions, which at times invited community participation. However, these efforts to foster community relationships have had varying success. The lack of money for adequate staff and reduced advisory services from the territory provide a partial explanation for the shift from being a community hub in the 1990s to struggling to connect with the community in the 21st century. Two changes in the community add to the explain the explanation – that is, changes in what people and organizations are part of the community.
People in Dawson
Within “Territorial Interest and Investment,” we discussed museum staff as both staff and community members. Their dual membership meant the museum was well integrated in the community. In the 1990s, there were several contract staff who had worked at the Museum and had been part of the community since the 1970s or 1980s. The Director for most of the 1990s was also described in several interviews as an active member of the community. However, in the 21st century, the distinction between museum staff and community member became more distinct.
Due in part to reduced funding, the Museum stopped being a major employer in the region. The individuals hired on contracts since the 1970s and 1980s left Dawson, becoming less available. Importantly, these people often filled out or helped develop grant application to fund their own jobs. Further, they helped the director at the time with their institutional knowledge. As Interview Participants described:
At the time as well, there was this amazing group of people who had been involved with the Museum for quite a long time… So, there was this corporate knowledge and energy that was there as well. Just because of happenstance, most of those people ended up getting Yukon government jobs and moving to Whitehorse kind of at the same time.
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.
These people had been important to both consistency and ongoing relationships with community members. Without their ongoing contribution to institutional knowledge, the Museum’s operations became more inconsistent. Further, they had been community members. New employees were less established within the community and did not have the same relationships.
Demonstrating the importance of consistency in staffing to community relationships, the shift from an events approach to a focus on fostering relationships discussed has only been possible due to consistency in the two full-time, year-round staff positions from 2015 to 2021. The curator described:
With [the Director], and I … we have the benefit of our institutional memory, which … was lacking because of the transience of other staff. Maybe the director was here quite a bit, but every year everything was being re-learned and re-taught. Now we’ve learned and we’ve hopefully internalized what we learned. [We] can continue to grow from that, take in other people’s opinions, follow trends locally, or even nationally, and kind of adapt our practice to it. In terms of the mentality that we want to work in the community, that we have community relationships.
As the Curator’s quote suggests, long term stability in staffing seems to be central to the Museum’s engagement with the local community, helping to explain the successes seen in the 1990s and the struggle to connect with the community in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
In short, the Museum lost consistency, knowledge, and relationships with the departure of community members from Dawson City who had worked for the Museum on contracts. Further contributing to a change, the heritage community in Dawson became less robust when Parks Canada experienced cuts in 2012. The Museum had relied on this community for knowledge and expertise and their departure undermined the Museum’s ability to access expertise through relationships with community members. Who is in the community has an influence on how the Museum does and can operate. Notably for the Museum’s future, the Executive Director from 2015 – 2022 recently left, but stayed in the community. It is unclear what the effect of this change will be.
Organizations in Dawson
The establishment of new organizations in Dawson City had both positive and negative effects on the Museum. Most notably, the Dawson City Arts Society (DCAS) formed in 1998. They obtained and renovated historic building, opening the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture (KIAC) and launching its first show in 2000 (Klondike Institute of Art & Culture 2021). KIAC became home to the ODD Gallery, Dawson City International Short Film Festival, Yukon Riverside Arts Festival, and the Youth Art Enrichment Program.
On the one hand, the new organization is a valuable partner for the Museum. For example, in 2006 the Museum partnered with KIAC and Musicfest on an application from the federal Cultural Investment Fund to redesign their websites. Moreover, the organization is important to Dawson City, providing a home for the artistic community. As an Executive Director observed:
Ever since the year 2000, when the Dawson Arts Society opened the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, I think there’s been less and less collaboration with artists in Dawson. The artists in Dawson flock to, they crystallized around, are more involved with, and active in the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture unsurprisingly.
Rather than hosting regular art exhibitions in the courthouse, the Museum began supporting and participating in events. For example, the Klondike Institute of Arts & Culture (KIAC) began the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival in 2000 with the Museum participating as a stop. As a result, human resources are diverted from the Museum. As a former employee noted:
There were a lot of people who were also involved with the Arts Community. A lot of the people who worked very hard to establish the Dawson City Art Society and the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture had been either employees or on the board of the Museum and worked very hard in that capacity.
In short, the Museum relied on the community for some labour and activities. With the development of the Dawson Arts Society, the attention of individuals who previously organized around the Museum to host temporary exhibitions and foster artistic creation was diverted toward an organization more focused on their needs. The Dawson City Museum gained a valuable community partner but also lost some community participation and attention.
Due to the availability of funding for projects and the devotion of staff, the Dawson City Museum continued to grow and develop in the 21st century. The period starts with the opening of a new storage space and gallery. It ends with the opening of new permanent exhibitions. However, the period has also involved significant challenges and the Museum is no longer the community hub it once was. There are a variety of intersecting explanations for the change, including:
The loss of a director who was well liked and integrated in the community. Then, inconsistencies in operations due to the changing priorities of subsequent directors.
The loss of contract workers who had provided consistency in operations since the 1970s and had helped with applications for funding to support their work.
The ongoing need to access project funding to sustain even basic museum activities like collections management. The project funding had encouraged a growth in operations despite insufficient operational support.
The development of new organizations in Dawson City, which may have redirected labour and attention from the Museum.
Insufficient operational funding to sustain staffing levels.
A decline in funding sources, such as the funding available for anniversary celebrations that had helped the municipality subsidize employment at the institution. There were also changes in the availability or accessibility of particular employment programs, contributing to a reliance on student / youth labour, which increases human resources during the tourism season.
Reductions in advisory services and expertise available to the Museum from both the territorial government and Parks Canada.
Notably, the current museum team has been praised for the work to rebuild and foster relationships with the community. Further, a decline in its role as a community hub has not negated the institution’s importance within the community. The Dawson City Museum continues to be recognized as an important heritage site and tourist attraction.
What do you think? Are there issues I should be paying more attention to? Do my explanations for change make sense?
Cambio. 2015, October. Yukon Museums & Cultural Centres Roundtable.
Cambio. 2016, November. Yukon Museums & Cultural Centres Roundtable.
Catherine C. Cole & Associates. 2014. Funding Allocation for Yukon Museums and First Nation Cultural/Heritage Centres Options Paper. Cultural Services, Department of Tourism and Culture, Yukon Government.
As part of the Dawson City Museum Project,I conducted fifteen interviews with people associated with the institution historically and today. Most of the transcripts have been approved. So, my Research Assistant and I are analyzing them now. The Interview Analysis series considers this analysis and the insights people have provided.
Within this post, I consider commentary on the Yukon Government’s advisory services for museum collections. I argue there has been a shift from a service seen as helpful to a service that provides help, which is not necessarily responsive to the Dawson City Museum’s needs.
As described in Territorial Interest and Investment, Yukon Government started an advisory service for community museums in the 1980s with a museums advisor and a conservator position. Interview Participants who worked at the Dawson City Museum in the 1980s and 1990s described these individuals as both helpful and responsive to the Museum’s needs.
Here are some examples:
The conservators were fabulous people. They had a series of them. They were just so supportive and excited about the collections, and happy to come in and spend long periods of time working on the collections.
As somebody who was starting on as a registrar or collections manager, most of my training related to managing the records came from the Museums’ Unit and all of my training and expertise related to how to care for that collection came from the conservator.
They spent a lot of time, if it wasn’t in person – and I don’t know how many weeks per year we had full access to them in person – but they were both always at the end of the phone which they still are. So I was in conversation with those people as a resource on a weekly basis to do my job.
[It] was really good that we had access to a Conservator, and we used her lots, especially when we got into fabrics…I just remember her coming up, and like I said, with textiles in particular, because I had no idea that you had to put stuff in to puff out the sleeves or the cotton would all collapse. Things like that.
As these quotes demonstrate, conversations about the Museums Unit and, in particular, the conservator position were overwhelmingly positive when talking to people who worked for the Dawson City Museum in the 1980s and 1990s.
As described in Declining Role of the Museum Advisor, the Museum Advisor became less available to the Dawson City Museum by the end of the 1990s. In the 2000s, the position was eliminated. However, the advisory service still exists and there is a conservator position. The Dawson City Museum continues to benefit from the conservator position and staff value the assistance provided for collection management. However, they begin to describe the advisory services as providing help rather than being helpful in a responsive way.
An Interview Participant working in the 2010s and 2020s described the relationship differently than those above. While grateful for the conservator’s assistance and advice, she noted:
It’s a bit frustrating because they’re coming from a well-staffed, well-funded unit, and their suggestions become a bit tone-deaf in understaffed, under- resourced museums, particularly tone deaf when they know the funding they’ve given us is very much. We can’t do the re-org they’re suggesting if we’re also working on a temporary exhibit, or there’s only two of us here and one of us has to do this or that. The luxury that they have with resources in terms of money, people, time in their own unit is not reflected in the community museums, and often they seem to forget that.
When they do come up, they’re very focused on a small task, that is absolutely needed, but maybe isn’t the most effective for a museum with this size of collection, with this many responsibilities.
The priorities of the staff within the Heritage and Museum’s unit then shape museum activities in ways that do not always align with museum staff’s priorities. Describing the implementation of the new collection management software, the curator notes it was a good idea, but at the same time it was not responsive to the Museum’s need. She stated:
With the database specifically, it’s absolutely something we want. It took a lot of time on my behalf to prepare that stuff for them, so a lot of time out of our available resources. It was not something we were necessarily compensated for, not that we were looking for that, but it seems very much like a YG project that they wanted to achieve.
We benefited from it, without a doubt, but it has also created a number of problems that has almost nullified, sometimes, the inventory we did. We’ve lost a lot of pictures, pictures are being switched over, the numbers have been switched over, there’s a lot of reconciliation that needs to happen through that. There’s obviously the learning curve of adapting to a new database, and it was just before our new exhibits. Trying to find the locations for certain things have changed, and the new database was introduced when we were moving items as well. It was really not the best timing.
She went on to say:
It comes back more to the feeling that they want to do certain things, and we are asked to participate as opposed to being responsive to the things that we really need.
In other words, the Museums Unit provides help in ways that impose obligation on the Museum’s time rather than respond to the Museum’s needs to extend its capacity. Providing another example of a failure to address Museum needs, the Participant described visits from the territorial conservator as follows.
And say we have a territorial conservator visit, they may focus on cleaning one statue, because they’re very focused on it, and that’s fantastic because we could not have done otherwise, but we really need, I don’t know, the 50 other things [to have] a light dusting or something like that. This is not a specific example, it’s just more of a general example about the focus that they offer [it] isn’t necessarily as useful as a more general support could be.
In short, the Museum’s Unit has shifted from a service that is helpful and responsive to one that provides help, which is not necessarily responsive to museum needs and can impose obligations that challenge the human resource capacity.
The shift toward bring helpful to providing help is an example of policy change in practice that does not reflect an explicit or articulated change. Interview Participants identified a number of factors that contributed to the change:
An increase in the number of museums and cultural centers receiving assistance.
These unarticulated changes are significant because they alter how the Dawson City Museum staff experience policy. Rather than relying on the advisory service to extend their resources and knowledge, the service begins to extract a more pronounced human resource cost, which influences what the Museum can accomplish and when.
What do you think? Have I understood the significance of the described changes?
Chris Gunter and I recently published a piece on the Heritage Minutes titled “Producing the Past: The Changing Protagonist of Canadian Heritage.” Here is a summary:
The Canadian private sector contributes to the heritage commemoration landscape by working with the government and accessing support programs. Arguably, one of the most impactful contemporary examples of the private sector’s heritage commemoration involvement are the Heritage Minutes (Minutes), which are sixty-second videos depicting historical narratives of events and people from Canadian history. Given their notoriety, the production and story selections for each Minute raises questions about the Canadian heritage landscape: who and what is represented or missing, and what are the implications? By examining these questions, this article aims to hold these Minutes—financed and authorized by government—to account and to understand what themes and messages these vignettes aim to impart on and authorize as ‘commemorative worthy’ to the Canadian public. This article focuses on examining the Minutes and documenting their thematic trends with a specific emphasis on identifying how marginalized groups are represented in the Minutes.
It is available here. If you do not have access and would like to read it, please let me know. I am happy to email a copy.
In past posts, I discussed student employment programs from the perspective of the Dawson City Museum (e.g., Reduced Student Positions). Within this post, I consider my own experiences as a student employee as well as the student perspectives expressed interviews and archival material for the Dawson City Museum Project.
As someone who benefited from student employment policies, my perception is biased. I have had both positive and negative experiences with Young Canada Works, which are important to acknowledge. Notably, these experiences reflect student perspectives articulated in the material analyzed for the Dawson City Museum (DCM) project.
Working in collections management at the Moncton Museum (now Resurgo Place) through the Young Canada Works program was one of my favorite jobs. I was trained in collection management by a wonderful supervisor. She helped me develop the skills I needed to do my job, trusted me to do the work, and reminded me to enjoy interacting with the artifacts. It was a great summer that led to my enrollment in a Museum Studies Minor. In some ways it is responsible for my current career.
Despite my positive experience and my gratitude for the employment program, I have had more negative experiences working as a Young Canada Works (YCW) student.
For one job, I was hired to manage a historic site where my supervisor worked at a different location. He gave me complete freedom with little supervision aside from occasional meetings. Everything worked out …. but it was hard. I was not qualified for the job I was hired to do and was not given appropriate training. I had to manage to employees, which I had never done before. We offered tours and public programming while also serving tea and snacks in a small cafe. I had never provided a museum tour before, developed public programs, or managed a cafe. Although I could ask for help when needed, the impetus was on me to reach out. I am extremely grateful for the experience because I learnt so much, but I was not set up for success.
For another job, my supervisor did a lot of problematic things. For example, she told me the reason I was successfully managing a project was because I sounded like an attractive young woman on the phone. She made a series of racists and sexist comments, creating a toxic work environment. Feeling helpless, I reached out to the Board. From my perspective, they did nothing and I felt unheard. Next, I reached out to the organization running the grant to let them know what was going on. I also clearly outlined the issues in the reports I was asked to submit to the granting organization. They continued to fund my position the next year.
In short, I have had amazing experiences with student summer jobs funded through programs like Young Canada Works. However, the number of negative experiences out number the positive. In both negative examples, there were issues with how the positions were managed. I am learning that this is not an unusual experience.
DCM Project Examples
As noted above, I have seen some of my experiences with student employment programs reflected in the archival and interview data for the DCM project.
Like me, several people attributed their current careers to their experiences as Young Canada Works students with the Dawson City Museum. For example, one Interview Participant noted:
In addition to introducing them to the realm of heritage, student positions at the DCM have provided valuable learning opportunities in a supportive team environment. In their final reports, students wrote:
“Wonderful people and dynamic learning environment” (2008).
“I really enjoyed my job as the Education Program Coordinator at the museum. I think the summer staff was great and everybody worked really well as a team” (2006).
“Everyone was more than wonderful to work with” (2003).
Student experiences at the DCM were not universally positive. In particular, a feeling of overwhelm and frustration about a lack of appropriate training or supervision is mentioned in several reports. Here are some excerpts from a guide and the program coordinator in 1994, which was a particularly challenging year:
I often discuss student employment policies as implicit cultural policies with advantages and disadvantages for museums. They are also valuable policies for the students gaining employment and experiences. However, museums have limited human resource capacity. Student both extend this capacity and have a human resource cost. Where organizations do no properly plan for training and supervision, they risk failing to meet policy goals related to student training and experience.
The limitation highlights an issue with using students to address gaps in human resource capacity – existing human resource capacity is needed. As such, some organizations will benefit disproportionately from the funding.
Do you have experience as a student employee or employer? How do the positives and negatives outlined compare to your experiences?
I am struggling to articulate the significance of these negatives and positives – do you see something that I missed?