A Community Hub: The Dawson City Museum in the 1990s

By: Robin Nelson and Christine Leroux

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 (see: “Dawson City’s Community Attic,” “The Importance of People,” and “Territorial Interest and Investment“). Second, we have developed key themes related to policy and community (See: “Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive“). To solicit feedback, we 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 fourth 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 1990s?

After summarizing the answers and outlining our research approach, we give a short overview of the Museum’s development in the 1990s. We consider significant policies, focusing the importance of intersecting funding mechanisms and celebration funding.  Then, a section on community activity describes the significance of private donations and the continued presence of museum workers within the community. Finally, the paper concludes with a summary and research implications.  

Summary

What are some key moments, influential policies, and community activities that defined the Dawson City Museum’s development in the 1990s?

  1. Key moments: Gold was “discovered” in Yukon in 1896, leading to the Klondike Gold Rush from 1897 to 1899. The 1990s was, therefore, a decade of anniversaries in Dawson City. 
  2. Influential policies:
    • Policies discussed in previous chronologies continued to be important – that is, the Old Territorial Administration Building, relationships with federal actors, employment funding, and advisory services from Yukon government.
    • The 1990s highlight the significance of intersecting policies to hiring staff at the institution who then expanded the Museum’s offerings with more dynamic public programming.
  3. Community Activities:   
    • As seen with policies, actions discussed elsewhere continue to be significant – that is, artifact donations and the presence of skilled people within the community. 
    • The 1990s also saw significant donations that more actively shaped the work of the museum – that is, the Jones and Lind family donations.

Research Method

The working paper relies on 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 the Director for most of the 1990s and an employee who started as a summer student in 1990. Further, multiple interview participants started in the 1970s and then continued to be involved with the Museum in some form through the 1990s.

Overview

As discussed in “The Importance of People” and “Territorial Interest and Investment,” the 1970s and 1980s saw the professionalization of the Dawson City Museum (DCM). Due to employment grants, project funding, and contracts with federal agencies, a core group of people received on the job training in museum work. They were then available for contract positions at the Museum, contributing to projects that turned the DCM into a professional institution with a building ready for year-round occupancy, new exhibitions, and a documented collection. Once established as a museum following best practices, the DCM began to expand its activities. As an Interview Participant explained, the 1990s were:

a really exciting time to be at the Museum… it was a really fun place to be.

There was a lot of hope and a lot of excitement about ongoing developments and potential.

Interview 10

These developments involved expanded public programming, new collections storage, and changes to the permanent exhibition.

At the beginning of the 1990s, projects continued focusing on professionalization as the Museum worked toward accepted standards of the day. Notably, best practices continued evolving as work took place. As such, the territorial advisory services were key to the Museum’s work, helping the DCM keep pace and directing funding toward contemporary concerns. For example, the Museum followed advice and used territorial funding to purchase a computer then support staff and volunteer training on using computers for administrative tasks and collection management (Directors Report February 27, 1990; Director’s Report March 27 1990). 

The new computers helped make the archival and photo collections more accessible to visitors, which was a key goal throughout the 1990s (See “Dawson City Museum Timeline 1990s). As described in interviews:

What we were doing … was establishing the records … making [them] available, I guess I should say. Making available the material so that researchers or writers or whatnot could come, and find the material, and get the work done. 

Interview 8

During the 1990s, I was able to secure funding through several grants to continue copying, cataloging [the] historic photo collection and developing a finding aid for it. We had, I think, a combination of grants that we accessed, and in total there were probably four to five other people that were hired to work during that time on this project.

Interview 10

The collection also became more accessible through a more dynamic exhibition program. The Museum had created its first travelling exhibition in 1985 – “Klondike Youth, a Photographic Display.” In the 1990s, travelling exhibitions expanded beyond photographic materials. Most notably, “Klondike Gold” – a travelling exhibition that celebrated the anniversary of the gold rush –included a CD ROM game with films, photos, and archival records (YHMA 1994, December). 

In addition to making the collection more accessible with documentation and exhibitions, the Museum targeted the local community with public programs designed to draw them into the institution. For example, a new lecture series explicitly aimed to raise community awareness of the Museum (DCM AGM Minutes April 29 1992). Staff also began working more actively with the local school, developing their first example of curriculum linked programming (DCM Newsletter vol. 11 no. 2). Importantly, activities targeting the local community were made possible, in part, because of Old Territorial Administration Building renovations in the 1980s, which made the building more accessible year-round.

The Museum continued providing a tourist attraction in the summer and developed a more active program for these visitors as well. Live performances became a draw, such as “Discovery Claims” – a popular performance that involved multiple characters claiming to have found the first nugget (DCM Newsletter vol. 11 no. 3). In 1995, these performances expanded outside the building as the Museum partnered with Parks Canada to supply dramatic performances throughout Dawson City (DCM Newsletter vol. 12 no. 1; see documents available in 95 seed challenge, Box 23b, Dawson City Museum Archives).

Alongside an increase in public facing activities and attention, the 1990s saw significant donations that further spurred the Museum’s development. First, a donation from the Jones family led to work on the Klondike History Library and a commitment to having an archivist. Then, the DCM began construction on a new storage facility and planning for an exhibition with funding from the Lind Family Foundation.

In short, the 1990s was a period of expansion for the Dawson City Museum. The expansion can be explained, in part, with a consideration of government policy and community action in relation to the DCM’s work. As noted elsewhere (see “The Importance of People”), project and employment grants continued to be crucial. They provided the support for staff and directed the Museum’s activities toward projects that expanded its work. The 1990s are also notable because it was a period of celebration in Yukon. There was increased attention to and funding for heritage related activities. As a result, the DCM became a community hub with active programming and a feeling of hope for the future. 

Policy

From a Yukon Government perspective, the 1990s are significant for the release of the Museums Artifact Conservation Policy and the Yukon Gold Explorers Passport Program. However, neither of these were described as significant to the Dawson City Museum in the interviews conducted, or the archival documents consulted from the period.

At the federal level, there were cuts to project grants for community museums– that is the Museums Assistance Program. However, these cuts seemingly did not affect the Dawson City Museum until the end of the 1990s when they were denied a grant in the middle of a project.  

Throughout the 1990s, policies discussed elsewhere continued to be significant, including:

Employment Grants “I started working for the Museum in 1994 and was originally taken on as a Young Canada Works student. I was hired back the following summer and trained into the position of the registrar and worked for many years in that capacity – the registrar and collections manager” (Interview 10).  
Relationships with federal actors “The Museum also did partnerships in formal and informal ways with Parks Canada. They had a fully operating and staffed curatorial lab here at the time that I started at the Museum. And so, the expertise was shared back to the Museum for people like me, new in the field without formal education. I got to work directly with conservators. So that was an informal program that the Museum was facilitating” (Interview 10) 
The Old Territorial Administration Building   “All of that, the maintenance of the building, the cutting of the grass, whatever that kind of stuff, the shoveling of the sidewalks, we didn’t have to worry about that at all.” (Interview 8) 
Territorial Advisory Services “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” (Interview 10). 

While these policies were previously considered, their use in the 1990s warrant additional discussion because changes in their implementation help explain the Dawson City Museum’s development in this period. For instance, the territorial advisory services expanded to include a collection management position, leading to specific projects at the DCM. Employment policies are also notable because they intersected with project funding to enable the Museum to expand staffing and, therefore, its programming. Further, the project related funding was shaped by the decade of celebration the territory.  

There are several trends and issues that began in the 1990s, but the significance was not fully realized until later. The discussion below briefly mentions some of those items. However, others will be discussed in more detail as part of the next chronological working paper to explain change, including the finalization of the Umbrella Final Agreement Between the Government of Canada, the Council for Yukon Indians, and the Government of Yukon

Intersecting policies: Employment and Project funding

The number of employment grants used in addition to project funding to support employment costs expanded during the 1990s. Notably, in 1994/95 the Museum employed 50 people with a payroll of $344,180 (DCM Newsletter vol. 12 no. 1), which is more than the total expenses reported in 2018 (Source). A contract worker during the period remarked:

During the 1990s … it was a busy place.

Interview 9

There are a number of factors that shaped the Museum’s use of project and employment funding at the time. First, the funding available for student employment expanded. Second, there were a variety of project grants beyond the ones targeting museums, such as funding relating to celebrations and grants from Yukon Lotteries. Finally, as discussed below in a reflection on community, the presence and availability of people already in Dawson City with the training needed to do the work was crucial. 

As noted elsewhere:

The Museum began relying on student work grants in 1980 when they hired six students to clean their collections storage. These student work grants became increasingly important (see “Dawson City Museum Timeline, 1980s”).

Territorial Interest and Investment

In the 1990s, two federal programs are most significant in increasing access to student employees – that is, Summer Career Placement and Young Canada Works. While Summer Career Placement replaced an existing program, it increased the amount available and Young Canada Works offered a new stream that specifically targeted community museums. The Canadian Museums Association administered Young Canada Works for the first time in 1996 (see documents available in YCW CMA 1996, Box 23, Dawson City Museum Archives), providing the DCM with 49 work weeks for five high school students. Additional funding from Dawson City and the Summer Career Placement program enabled the Museum to employ a total of 14 students for the summer (Swackhammer 1996b).

The Museum used the student employment funding to expand public programming targeting tourists, such as costumed interpretation outside the Museum. Parks Canada had previously provided the street interpretation. However, in 1995, they began to reduce their public presentations and street theater (Swackhammer 1995). As the Director from the period recalled:

Klondike National Historic Sites, they had the history, they had the reference, they had all that kind of stuff, they had workers that were on the street, and the money. All of a sudden, they couldn’t hire those people to be face-to-face with the visitors, which was really strange.

Anyway, the Museum made arrangements, we borrowed the costumes, sometimes we even stole their plot or whatever they were doing, and we put people out on the street. 

Interview 8

When the Museum began to address the gap, the City of Dawson began providing funding from the Centennial Events Fund to offset the costs of summer student wages (DCM Newsletter vol. 12 no. 2). By 1997, the City was providing $10,000 from the fund. 

In addition to a grant from the City’s Centennial Events Fund, the Museum received support directly from Yukon Government relating to anniversary celebrations.  Notably, at the DCM’s Annual General Meeting in 1990, the Heritage Branch Director reported on cuts to the territory’s museum support program, advising the Museum seek funding from alternative sources. He also suggested the Museum develop a traveling exhibition on the Gold Rush due to the importance of the Yukon Anniversaries Commission (DCM AGM Minutes April 27, 1990). The Museum followed this recommendation, developing Klondike Gold (YLA 28.2.80).

In addition to emphasizing anniversaries to access available funding, the Museum diversified its funding sources throughout the 1990s. They used a range of project grants that targeted their work rather than museums specifically. For example, using grants from the Canadian Council of Archives, the Museum upgraded archival storage and produced an inventory (DCM Newsletter vol. 11 no. 2). Yukon’s Community Development Fund and grants from Yukon Lotteries were also important, providing key support to the DCM’s activities. 

In short, the DCM expanded and developed in the 1990s due to a variety of intersecting project and employment grants. Notably, a number of these programs became less accessible or unavailable at the end of the 1990s, which we will discuss in the next chronological consideration. Further, the availability of people with the skills to do the project work was also critical, which we discuss below.  

Yukon Collections Program 

The federal government and national trends in museum practice continued to influence the services provided to community museums through Yukon Government during the 1990s. Yukon expanded its advisory program, which include a Museums Advisor and Conservator, to help with collection management, hiring a Collections Registration Coordinator. The Coordinator then worked to standardize collection management across the territory with funding from the federal government. 

Yukon government facilitated a series of collection management projects in community museums through the 1990s:

  • First, Yukon Government received funding from the federal government for a pilot project to register and automate museum collection records in 1990 (YLA 27.2.17).
  • Then, Yukon hired a Collections Registration Coordinator to facilitate the Artifact Inventory and Cataloguing project, encouraging better documentation practices (see documents in Admin correspondence director misc. Box 17b. Dawson City Museum Archives). 
  • By the end of the 1990s, the territorial government designed a collection management database for community museums further enabling best practices related to documenting and digitizing collections (Ball 2004). 

As part of these projects, the new Coordinator provided direct assistance to community museums seeking to inventory, catalogue, and better manage their collections records in the 1990s. As one Interview Participant recalled:

I remember working with [the Coordinator] in figuring out how to implement the standard fields and how to deal with the myriad of issues that you deal with…

Interview 9

The territorial program was particularly important to the Dawson City Museum because it forced the institution to develop a more coherent system for collection management. The Museum’s collection work had primarily taken place as part of project grants through the 1980s and early 1990s without consistency in who was responsible and how the work was done. As an employee from the period described:

There had been so many people over the years… with the best of intentions coming in [and] realizing – Oh, we need some organizational structure here. Each successive person invented their own system, which then would get replaced by another system.

Interview 10

The Coordinator and the projects he facilitated helped the Museum with “untangling” (Interview 10) past systems into a more standardized practice.

In short, as described in the overview, much of the DCM’s work during the 1990s focused on making their collection more accessible through documentation. To that end, they worked with the territorial Collections Registration Coordinator to properly inventory the collection and digitize records. The work provided a better foundation for collections management moving forward with a more standardized practice.

Community

As see with policy, the community continued to influence the Museum in ways discussed in the past chronological considerations. Notably donations to the collection continued to be important. As one Interview Participant who worked during the 1990s explained:

 We weren’t actively going out and searching for artifacts for the collection, but we would get regular offerings. 

Interview 10

There are three additional factors that are important to consider in relation to the Dawson City Museum’s development. First, in addition to the ongoing donations to the collection, there were two donations that significantly shaped the Museum’s work. Second, there were people in the community with skills available to work and the Director was seen as an important member of the community. Finally, the expanded exhibition program provided the impetus for the Museum to seek out community input. 

Donations

The 1990s were a period of significant donations to the Museum. As noted above, there continued to be donated artifacts, which are an ongoing manner that community – both local and a broader community of people with an interest in the Klondike – influence the Museum. There were also two donations that had a more pronounced influence on the scope of the Museum’s work in that time – that is, the Lind family and Jones family donations. 

First, Ed and Star Jones approach the Museum to donate an extensive collection of archival material, publications, and photographs. The donation included the stipulation that the Museum to develop an appropriate history library to house the collection and employ a full-time archivist (DCM Minutes 14 January 1998). The materials were accepted and the library was dedicated in July 1998 (DCM Minutes 8 July 1998).

Second, the Lind family began talking to the Museum director about a donation to commemorate John G. Lind in 1997. The Museum used their donation to leverage additional funding to build the John G. Lind storage facility. The new space allowed for proper artifact storage with new compact shelving. The donation also provided funding for a new exhibition on the pre-gold rush period, which involved some renovations to create a an exhibition space. While both projects also involved public support, the Lind donation provided the impetus and seed money needed. 

In short, the Lind and Jones families shaped the Museum’s work with significant donations. The Lind family donation led to a storage facility and new exhibition. The Jones donation led to expanded library services and promises for future practice. While the Museum was unable to maintain a full-time archivist position, the donation shaped the Museum’s emphasis at the time. 

Membership in the Community

As stated elsewhere, people are a museums most valuable resource. During the 1990s, there were people in the community, with a relationship to community that helped the Museum’s development. When the Director began at the Museum in 1994, he asked those around him for help. He recalled:

I can remember when I got to Dawson… I had a meeting of everybody that I could gather together in the boardroom there. Essentially, I said to them, “tell me what’s going on. Tell me what needs to be done. Tell me the things that I don’t know about that need to be looked after. It’ll be my job to try to find the money, and the staff, but I don’t know the tasks that have to be fulfilled.” 

They gave me a list of stuff, and some of the things we managed to deal with, and some of the things we couldn’t.

Interview 8

The quote draws attention to the Director’s approach to managing the Museum, which relied on relationship building, and the presence of people with knowledge about what needed to be done. 

During the 1990s, the Museum continued to employ a core group of people who started on employment grants or contracts related to projects in the 1970s and 1980s. The Director at the time recalled:

Those folks [were] very important for … the work of the Museum, the day-to-day job of the Museum. They were the most important crew, ultimately… Dealing with that kind of stuff, that was beyond my capacity. My capacity was to find the money, and find the right people, and put those things together. 

Interview 8

As a museum worker, right from the very beginning, my responsibility was to find staff and to train staff. Then to hire them so that they could do the work that they were trained to do. 

Interview 8

As the quotes demonstrate, the Director saw it as his job to find money to employ people with capacity for museum work. Their continued presence in the community provided the Museum with the ability to build and expand on past work. 

The Director’s relationship to these employees as community and the Dawson community more broadly was important. As he explained: 

The Museum, and I, as a representative of the Museum, was an active member in the community.

Interview 8

Several people interviewed discussed the importance of the Executive Director to the Museum’s development in the 1990s due, in part, to this role within community. As an Interview Participant described:

The atmosphere at the Museum, especially with the Director that we had at the helm. It was a very opening, welcome, casual kind of atmosphere that worked really hard to sort of punch above its weight as far as providing a really good experience for visitors. 

The Director, as well, set the tone. He was fairly, you know, a gregarious outgoing, warm person. 

Interview 10

In short, people are crucial to museum work. The 1990s are a significant period of development for the Museum because there were people in the community who knew what needed to be done. Employment and project grants provided the funding needed to employ them. At the same time, the Executive Director listened to these people and formed relationships with members of the community more broadly. As a result, the Museum became a community hub. 

Exhibitions

During the 1990s, the Museum developed a more active exhibition program. These exhibitions were a manner that the community influenced Museum content. As a Participant explained:

But there were tons of exhibits that came on suggestion from the community. People would walk into the Museum and say, “hey, I’ve got a great idea, and I’d like to do this.”

Interview 10

The chart below highlights some examples:

Dawson City at Forty Below Zero“There was a really awesome project that they did one year where they pulled together just interested community members that wanted to tell visitors what their life was like in the winter, and they helped them take good quality photographs and they created a slideshow for the summer. And it contained sort of these iconic images of what a day in the life of a Dawsonite was like in the winter” (Interview 10). 
Klondike Gold “I was there during the time that the traveling exhibit for the centennial of the Gold Rush was coming together and that involved multiple stakeholders and partners. And it also involved a lot of community input for everything from gold miners donating gold and sharing their story about what they wanted the world to know about their experience to community members in general that had a buy-in about what narrative was going out there in the world about their town. And so there just seemed to be a lot of interplay between the community voicing their opinion and then that directing exhibits and activities within the Museum” (Interview 10).  
 Yukon Order of Pioneers The Museum developed an exhibition marking the centennial of the Yukon Order of Pioneers, which was installed around Dawson City (See documents available in YTG YOOP exhibit, Box 21a, Dawson City Museum Archives). 

The quotes demonstrate the exhibitions as a way the Museum involved the community, shaping the content. Moreover, the more active exhibition program provided the opportunity to circulate the community’s stories both within Dawson and outside the Yukon. 

Conclusions

In sum, the 1990s was a period of expansion for the Dawson City Museum, building on the foundation laid in the 1970s and 1980s. In particular, the Museum began to offer more dynamic exhibition schedule and public programs to attract both local and tourism audiences. There are a number of policies of significance to this change. However, perhaps most importantly, changes in employment funding led to more student related grants and, therefore, a larger pool of staff in the summer to development and implement public programs. There was also funding relating to celebrations, encouraging the development of exhibitions that celebrated the Yukon. The celebrations were a significant community activity during the period and the community influenced the exhibitions, contributing expertise. 

As one of the largest employers at the time and an active space, the Dawson City Museum became a kind of community hub. Notably, the project and employment funding meant the Museum was well staffed with people who had been with the Museum since the 1970s and 1980s. It could not have become a community hub without these people. Moreover, the Director emphasized listening – listening to those involved with the Museum, listening to the community. 

References

Ball, Drew. 2004. Museums Status Report. Blue Binder. Box 33. Dawson City Museum Archives.

DCM – documents from the Museum’s digitized record.

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

Swackhammer, Mac. 1996a. Final Report. Summer Students SEED 1996. Box 23. Dawson City Museum Archives.

Swackhammer, Mac. 1996b. Final Report. YCW CMA 1996. Box 23. Dawson City Museum Archives.

YHMA. 1994, December. “Summary: Yukon Museum Activities.” YHMA Newsletter: 5-6.

Research: Alberta Community Museums Policy

The Dawson City Museum Project is ongoing. I am working with two Research Assistants to analyze and interpret the data. However, the writing stage can be a bit boring sometimes…. So, I have started a new project!

Broadly, I have an interest in subnational community museum policy. I have researched New Brunswick (NB), Ontario (ON), and Yukon (YK) programs, considering intersections with federal and municipal policies. Currently, I live and work in Alberta and have easier access to archival / library materials on Albertan museums. I am excited to start using these materials to consider the similarities or differences between policies in Alberta and the other subnational governments I have studied.

Why bother?

Alberta seems to be an interesting case study because there are significant similarities and differences when compared to NB, ON, or YK. I am excited to explore why policies developed in similar and/or different ways at the subnational levels and the effects.

Similarities

Some interesting similarities

  • Both Ontario and Alberta have standards attached to funding for community museums.
  • In Alberta, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Yukon people advocated for subnational policy in the 1970s and/or 1980s in order to better access federal programs.
  • Museum associations were established or expanded during the 1970s.

Differences

The first document that I read related to Alberta community museum policy was a planning study for the provincial Reynolds-Alberta Museum. The study is interesting because of the rationale behind establishing the Museum. Essentially, existing museums, including community museums, were considered inadequate to preserve and interpret materials related to agriculture, industry, and transportation. The study states:

local and regional museums have been unable to provide adequate preservation for many large items, although some have made a valiant effort.

Alberta Culture 1983, 12

In NB, ON, and YK, observations about the low quality of local/regional museums – that is, community museums – despite the valiant efforts of those running the museums led to a more robust community museum support program at the subnational level. In Alberta, it led to a new museum with the resources to address existing limitations, which is a more centralized approach.

At the same time, Alberta has committed to an arms length funding model where museums access funds through the Alberta Museums Association rather than the provincial government, which is not a centralized approach.

I am looking forward to discovering more differences!

Questions

Do you have any experiences with Alberta Museum policy? What questions do you think I should be asking?

References

Alberta Culture. 1983. Reynolds-Alberta Museum. 

Territorial Interest and Investment: The Dawson City Museum in the 1980s

By: Robin Nelson and Christine Leroux

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, we will post a series of working papers that consider the data in these two ways – that is, chronologically (see: Dawson City’s Community Attic, The Importance of People) and thematically (see: Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive). These papers will inform the final report for the Dawson City Museum and podcast miniseries.  

Providing the third 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 1980s?

After summarizing the answers and outlining our research approach, we give a short overview of the Museum’s development in the 1980s. We consider significant policies, focusing on territorial investment in the Old Territorial Administration Building and for community museums more broadly with a brief discussion on the role of federal agencies.  Then, a section on community activity describes the significance of board and volunteer involvement before considering the Museum staff as part of the community. Finally, the paper concludes with a summary and research implications. 

Summary

What are some key moments, influential policies, and community activities that defined the Dawson City Museum’s development in the 1980s?

  1. Key moments: The Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB) renovations in 1986-1987 were a turning point for the Dawson City Museum, setting the Museum up for success with a year-round building. 
  2. Influential policies:
    • Policies discussed elsewhere continue to be significant, including the relationship with federal agencies, support for employment, and territorial support through the provision of space – the OTAB.
    • The 1980’s are notable for territorial investment with the development of a museum support program, including financial support and advisory services for community museums across the territory. Looking at the Dawson City Museum (DCM) more specifically, the territorial government also invested almost 3 million in the OTAB, which houses the Museum. 
  3. Community activities: The community became more involved with the Museum with a more active board and committee structure. At the same time, we see the Museum active in the community through people with multiple memberships – that is, roles as staff and community members. 

Research Method

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 five interviews with people who were involved with the museum as staff or volunteers in the 1980s and the territorial conservator who began in 1988. 

Overview

During the 1980s, the Dawson City Museum (DCM) continued accessing employment programs and developing stronger relationships with federal actors, such as Parks Canada. However, the decade was, in many ways, a period of change for the DCM. Yukon Government invested in extensive renovations to the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB) and developed territorial support programs targeting museums. The DCM also saw volunteers become more active through the Board and committees, working alongside staff. As a result, by the end of the 1980s, the DCM was operating as a professional museum with a governance structure, exhibitions and collection management practices that reflected museum standards at that time. 

Employees were key to the changes that occurred. As explored in “The Importance of People,” the 1980s began with the three-year Klondike Heritage Services Project, which provided funding for people who engaged in museum work like collections management and exhibition development.  Importantly, a key project goal was to provide training and develop a pool of qualified personnel from which the Museum could hire. As articulated by the director/curator in the early 1980s, they provided on the job training to:

create a nucleus of locally qualified people from which permanent staff may be hired in the near future.

Jones-Gates 1981, 7

People working in the Museum through employment grants or on contracts with Parks Canada developed skills they could then apply to different museum projects (DCM Klondike Heritage Services Report). As a result, when the director/curator left in 1982, there were still people staffing the Museum with the skills needed to continue professionalizing. The Museum was able to increase its opening hours and expand its programming to include genealogical research, historic photographic services, and film presentations (DCM AGM President’s Report November 26, 1982). 

Demonstrating the Museum’s ongoing professionalization, staff and volunteers also developed new policies and procedures as well as a formal committee structure (Ross 1983). For example, in 1982, the Museum established a collections committee for the first time (DCM Klondike Heritage Services Support). Then, they developed new aims and objectives, which prompted work to remove irrelevant objects from the collection (DCM Board minutes July 12 1983) and the development of a collections policy (Thorp 1984). 

Despite the presence of staff, policies and committees, the historic building housing the Museum – the OTAB – continued to impede professionalization due to its poor condition. However, starting with a special grant to address issues highlighted in a fire inspector’s report in 1980 (see “Government Relationships“), the territorial government began to respond to concerns about the space with a series of investments discussed in “Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive.” In 1987, the DCM reopened in the OTAB, which was ready for year-round occupancy and new exhibitions.

New territorial project grants then enabled the Museum to develop exhibitions in the renovated building. The Museum also benefited from a new operations grant and support for a year-round curator from Yukon Government, which provided some stability for the position. Moreover, Museum staff began accessing advisory services from the new territorial museums advisor and conservator as they re-established a museum in the space. 

In sum, the 1980s were a period of change for the Dawson City Museum largely due to support from the territorial government. However, the change would not have been possible without the groundwork laid by the first director/ curator who began applying for employment grants and engaging in work (e.g., fundraising, contracts with Parks Canada) to support staffing at the DCM. The work of staff and renewed interest from volunteers then allowed for the development of a professional museum. 

Policy 

To explain the development of the Dawson City Museum (DCM) in the 1980s, three policies warrant revisiting – that is, the relationships with federal actors, employment programs, and the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB). We also see the development of a territorial support program targeting museums, which intersected with federal action and broader territorial objectives. These different policies intersected and overlapped to enable the DCM to reopen as a professional institution at the end of the 1980s. 

Federal agencies

The DCM’s relationship with Parks Canada was discussed in detail in “The Importance of People” as a significant policy in the late 1970s. The relationship continued to be important in the 1980s, growing as Parks Canada staff became more involved with the Museum.  Parks Canada employees most notably helped with engineering and architectural studies for the OTAB (DCM AGM President’s Report November 26, 1982) because Parks Staff were “very keen” to see the space renovated appropriately (Interview 5). The studies helped Museum staff and volunteers (alongside Parks Canada employees) advocate for financial support from Yukon government to restore the OTAB. Parks Canada staff also served on the Dawson City Museum board and committees (DCM Presidents Report November 15 1985), continuing to lend their expertise to the Museum (Interview 11). 

Providing additional assistance, the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) became more active in Yukon in the 1980s. For example, a mobile lab visited the DCM in August 1980, providing a report that outlined security problems and deficiencies in the protection of the collection (DCM Director’s Annual Report March 4th 1981). In addition to conducting surveys, the CCI provided training, such as the “Seminar and Collections Survey for Museums and Galleries in the Yukon” in Dawson City and Whitehorse (CCI 1987, December). Notably, actors from the CCI were also important to the territorial conservator who did day to day work with museums. As she described:

They were invaluable to me. They were the best thing. I don’t know if I could have performed as much as I did without their assistance. They were my lifeline, really, because I had full access to all of their Conservators via telephone whenever I wanted, just to consult on what was happening.  

Interview 14

In short, policy supporting museums is not limited to articulated funding programs. Advisory services and informal relationships with government actors can also be crucial. In the Dawson City Museum’s case, Parks Canada and the Canadian Conservation Institute provided invaluable expertise, which guided the Museum’s work as they professionalized collection management practices and other areas of activity. 

Employment programs

Within “The Importance of People,” we considered the significance of employment programs to the DCM’s development. Work grants continued to be relevant in the 1980s with a new territorial program in addition to the federal grants. Despite the significance of these programs, issues in implementation began to emerge, which continue to be relevant today. 

First, contract staffing, which employment and project grants encourage, challenges the development of a more professional museum due to a lack of continuity. More specifically, the DCM used employment programs and project grants to address problems or gaps. For example, several projects targeted the backlog of artifacts for accessioning – that is, adding the item(s) to the Museum’s collection. However, it was more difficult to fund the ongoing work needed to avoid a backlog and consistently have good collection management practices. As a result, the Collections Committee argued a lack of continuity in staffing was a barrier to conserving and cataloguing the collection appropriately. Although short term staffing allowed projects to take place, the short-term nature contributed to discrepancies in the work completed (DCM Collections Committee Report for 1988-9).


Second, there were some challenges in hiring summer students through the grant programs due to infrastructure issues in Dawson City. The Museum began relying on student work grants in 1980 when they hired six students to clean their collections storage. These student work grants became increasingly important (see “Dawson City Museum Timeline, 1980s”) and the students contributed to the professionalization of the Museum as they participated in a variety of projects. However, for summer staff, accommodation was an issue. As articulated in a museum newsletter:

The Museum is desperately seeking accommodation (room and board, or private accommodation) for two students this summer.

DCM Newsletter Vol. 7 no. 4

In short, employment grants were crucial to the museums ongoing work. However, problems were identified that were never fully addressed. In particular, Dawson City has a housing problem where the influx of people during the summer are unable to find adequate and affordable housing. Further, employment grants encourage contract staffing, which presents a challenge to implementing consistent practices. 

Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB)

From its occupancy in 1962, the OTAB has presented both challenges and opportunities for the Dawson City Museum (See “Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive”). By the 1980s, the challenges were acute and needed to be addressed if the Museum wanted to continue in the space. For example, a report found that 26% of the foundation posts had failed and 35% had rotten to an unsalvageable level (Ross 1982). Moreover, the lack of insulation and ice in the basement meant the Museum was unable to use the space year-round. As discussed in “Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive,” the territorial government invested 2.9 million dollars into the building in the 1980s, addressing the prescient issues and allowing the Museum to continue in the OTAB. 

New Territorial Museum Policy

While an articulated policy was not in place until 1989-1990, the territorial government established a museum support program during the 1980s. First, Yukon created a Heritage Branch and grants that targeted museums. Then the territorial government employed a museums advisor who began to work with federal actors and community museums to maximize the support Yukon museums received. The period ends with the release of an articulated policy, which rationalized the support available.

Consultation on an articulated community museums policy began in 1980 after the release of the Kyte Report. The Yukon Historical and Museums Association (YHMA) commissioned the Kyte Report to provide a profile on Yukon Museums and training. It recommended the definition of a territorial policy with a comprehensive museum development program, which led to discussions between Yukon Government and the YHMA.  However, policy development was delayed while government created new Departments and Branches. Once a Heritage Branch was established, hiring a new Director (YLA 24.5.4) then Museums Advisor further delayed the process. 

Despite the delays in articulating a policy, Yukon community museums began to receive operational and maintenance funding that targeted museums in 1982-1983 when Yukon Government provided a total of 30,000 split between 6 institutions (the Dawson City Museum received the largest single amount – 9,000). In 1985, Yukon government began covering part of the cost for a director position at the two largest museums – The Dawson City Museum and the MacBride Museum. The curator subsidy was critical for long term stability. As an Interview Participant described:

It made a big difference to have core funding available for one person in the museums… It’s really necessary if you’re going to move from just a tourist operation that opens for a couple of months in the summer.

Interview 7

In addition to operational and staff support, Yukon developed several project grants (e.g., major artifact stabilization, exhibition case construction, major exhibit development, etc.). The DCM accessed these programs, which directed their work toward projects for which they could receive funding. For example, the DCM used the major exhibit development program following building renovations to re-develop their permanent exhibitions (YLA 26.3.7). 

Importantly, Yukon Government’s project funding deliberately enabled better access to cost-sharing federal programs (YHMA 1982). For example, the territorial Conservation Security grant was developed to match one from the federal Museums Assistance Program (MAP). At the time, MAP provided funding to community museums across the country, but Yukon museums were not getting equitable amounts. So, the new territorial Museums Advisor worked to improve working relationships with federal actors, touring Yukon museums with a MAP advisor and meeting with the MAP director in Dawson City (DCM 1984 Annual General Meeting Minutes). 

The federal government also provided funding that enabled the territory to expand their advisory program. For example, in 1986-1987 MAP funding allowed Yukon Heritage Branch to purchase conservation monitoring equipment for museums and an upright freezer (Heritage Branch 1988). More importantly, Yukon hired a conservator through a shared funding program (Ibid.). The conservator was invaluable to the Dawson City Museum. As one former Director described:

She would come up for a few days, or [a] week at a time, and teach the staff about … cleaning the artifacts, and care of the artifacts, and she’d come up and do stuff herself. That was really good that we had access to a Conservator, and we used her lots, especially when we got into fabrics.

Interview 11

The Department of Heritage provided the Conservator who taught our Curators, and me, a lot more about conservation plus did lots of the work and got those little things that keep track of the humidity and all that going, and looking at the records, and making sure the building was properly conditioned.

Interview 11

Notably, the conservator responded to the Museums’ needs. For example, after the building reopened in 1987, she helped with the creation of new exhibition mounts. As she described:

My understanding of my interaction with the community museums was basically to try and guide and train them in preserving their collections. In my mind that meant all aspects of the collection, and often the community museums didn’t have a lot of staff, so I would hire people to work with me, and I would go there and try and help them with any exhibits that were going on or reorganize their storage areas, create storage mounts, or clean the artifacts. Yeah, it was a lot. Yeah, the whole gamut is what I had been led to believe was my job, basically. Helping the community museums preserve their collections. 

Interview 14

As Yukon enacted a museums policy with grants and advisory services, such as a conservator, they also made steps toward the development of an articulated policy. Yukon Museums Policy and Systems Plan was circulated to museums for feedback in 1987. Importantly, the planning and policy development began in earnest during a period of planning for Yukon government. In 1986, they began Yukon 2000 – a consultation process about Yukon’s future, which led to several papers, programs, and plans. After the related consultations with museums, Yukon’s Museums Policy was released in 1989 and a draft Artifact Conservation and Security Policy began to circulate (Meehan 1989). 

In sum, Yukon Government developed programs for community museums and then a museum policy in the 1980s. It included operational and project funding as well as an advisory program with a conservator and museums advisor. These initiatives enabled the Dawson City Museum to fund projects following their major renovations, such as exhibit renewal, and helped the Museum continue professionalizing with advice from experts. The development of the museum policy institutionalized the support, which continues today. 

Community

During the 1980s, we continue to see the community contribute to the Museum through donated artefacts. While personal in nature to their donors, these items helped to create a substantial collection for the Museum, which was the largest in Yukon at the time. This collection, built primarily by the Museum’s communities, demonstrates how the Museum was valued. It indicates that the Museum is part of the community and part of the history of its inhabitants. Community also intersected with and shaped the development of the DCM through relationships as volunteers and staff acted as both of the Museum and of the community. 

Staff and Volunteers

Although there was only one full-time, year-round employee at the Museum – that is, the director / curator, there were a core group of contract staff who worked for the Museum periodically through the 1980s (See “The Importance of People”). These people were both museum staff and community members. It is thus important to consider – what is the Museum? Is the museum the collection? Is the Museum the building? Is the Museum the people who are active in the space? If museums are the relationships that enact the museum – that is, relationships between the building, collection, staff / volunteers, visitors, and community – then it is important to consider the Museum as part of the community because its staff and volunteers are also community members. They have multiple memberships in both community and the Museum.

The development of Quilted Emotions helps illustrate the museum staff and, by extension, the Museum as part of the community. After the Museum opened in 1987 following the renovations, the South Gallery was a big black box.  Wanting to put something colorful in the space while they developed permanent exhibitions, Museum staff developed a temporary quilt display. One Interview Participant recalled:

We were looking for a colorful exhibit to fill the space while we were developing a plan for the permanent exhibits.

Most of the women in town were involved in – not most of the women. I mean, there [were] I’m guessing ten, fifteen, maybe even twenty people who had done quilt squares for various quilts. And so, it was quite a large group of young women who were involved in the activity.

So, it was kind of natural to put in something that was really colorful that we could light nicely and it would make a beautiful temporary exhibit.

Interview 7

Importantly, the community involved in the creation of the quilts cannot be isolated from the community of people who enacted the Museum. Museum staff were also members of the local community. People who were involved in developing exhibitions at the Museum were also participating in the quilt creation. They could partner with the community to create an exhibition, in part, because they were also part of that community (“Quilted Emotions”). 

The quilt exhibition demonstrates staffs’ position within a local community. Importantly, staff were also members of the broader community interested in the Klondike. As explored in “The Importance of People,” youth began working at the Museum in the 1970s, continuing into the 1980s, because it was an interesting place to work. Contracts and project funding occasionally supported staff research, which contributed to the Museum’s collections and exhibition themes while keeping the contract staff engaged in work that interested them. Responding to requests, the Museum also expanded its programming to include genealogical research in the 1980s (DCM AGM President’s Report November 26, 1982). The DCM, thereby, became a hub for those interested in researching the Klondike. Staff were both attracted to the Museum and engaged others at the Museum as members of this community bound through interest rather than geography. 

The Museum content also attracted volunteers. The Museum’s first director/curator left the Museum at a time when the Board and volunteers were not as active as needed. Her departure seems to have prompted change and the development of a more active committee structure. During the 1980s, we begin to see a more involved local community through volunteerism. These local volunteers were valued as experts and consulted accordingly. As one former Director observed:

 The thing about Dawson City [is that] lots of families have been there for a very long time, and some since Gold Rush time, so they were involved in some of the decision-making of [where] this piece went or what was happening when, so that was a part of the community.

Interview 11

The local community participated on museum committees, the Board, and in the work of the institution. A Director from the period noted, there were an:

astronomical number of hours that were put in through volunteering. 

Interview 11

These volunteer hours contributed to the shape of the collections, through participation on the collections committee, and the development of exhibitions, through participation on the display committee or consultation on themes. For example, with the help of volunteers in 1982, the Museum improved the south gallery with a newspaper office, secondhand store, and a fire display. The north wing was reorganized to include an audio visuals room (DCM Klondike Heritage Services Report).  

In short, the local community actively participated in the Museum’s work. As discussed above, this local community included Parks Canada staff who sat on committees and lent their expertise. However, it also included other members of the community with expertise on the community and heritage represented in the Museum. The people who enacted the Museum as staff and volunteers were also active members of both the local Dawson community and a community of people interested in the Klondike. As such, the Museum can be discussed both in relation to community and as a member of community. 

Conclusions 

The “Importance of People” highlighted the role of staff in professionalizing the Museum, the role of Parks Canada, and the role of project funding in directing professionalization efforts. These factors continued to be important as they contributed to a foundation for change enacted in the 1980s. However, perhaps more importantly, the 1980s are a significant period of territorial investment in the Museum. Territorial support included the development of grants for museum operations, curator salaries, and specific kinds of projects. Yukon Government also developed an advisory program with a Museums Advisor and Conservator. Considering the Dawson City Museum more specifically, territorial investment into the Old Territorial Administration Building in combination with increased operational funding, support for a curator’s salary, and then a series of project grants enabled the Museum to establish itself as a professional institution with collection management practices and exhibitions reflecting the trends of the period. 

Considering the importance of territorial support during the period, it is tempting to focus on the subnational level in isolation to explain change at the Museum. However, the federal government had a key role in prompting the development of a territorial program. Most notably, territorial investment was important to enable the Museums to better access federal support. The federal government also provided the initial funding for a staff position, expanding the advisory services provided. Moreover, employment programs continued to intersect with the available project funding to provide staffing at the Museum. Policies and programs intersected to enable the Museum’s work. At the same time, greater community involvement as volunteers and through the board or committees also increased. These people provided invaluable expertise and labour.

What do you think? Is there anything else you would pull out as importance in this consideration of the DCM’s development in the 1980s?

References

CCI. 1987. Newsletter. December. 

Crook, Peg (Ed.). 1987. Newsletter. April. Yukon Historical and Museums Association. 

DCM – digitized museum records. 

Heritage Branch. Tourism. Yukon. 1988. “ From the Heritage Branch.” Newsletter 1988 – 3. Yukon Historical and Museums Association. 

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

Kyte, John E. 1980, November. Museums in Yukon: A Profile and Training Report. Prepared for Yukon Historical and Museums Association. 

Meehan, Joanne. 1989, October 26. Letter to the Museums Advisor. Museums Policy. Box 15. Dawson City Museum Archives. 

Ross, Brian. 1982, September. Letter to the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Cultural Affairs. 7.7.10; grants 1981 1982. Box 5. Dawson City Museum Archives. 

Ross, Brian. 1983. President’s / Executive Committee Report. 982-1983 Reports. Native exhibit 1984 proposal to foundations. Box 8. Dawson City Museum Archives. 

Thorp, Valerie. 1984. Collections Committee. Collections Committee 1984. Box 8. Dawson City Museum Archives.

YHMA. 1986. March, 1986. Yukon Historical & Museums Association Newsletter.

YHMA. 1982a. “YTG Heritage Branch.” Newsletter, 10: 21. 

Check out “A Walk Through Indigenous Memory”!

I am happy to host a new student project – “A Walk Through Indigenous Memory: A Student Exhibition.” Nicole Da Costa created the exhibition and wrote the description below. I am looking forward to reading more about the process in some future blog posts.

A Walk-Through Indigenous Memory: A Student Exhibit is a collaboration between MacEwan’s Indigenous Students Club (MISC) and Nicole Da Costa to showcase the names, cultural backgrounds, and notable histories of Indigenous persons from across Canada. The exhibit was displayed in the Macewan library from April 4th-8th 2022.

Guided by the central research question: “in a setting that is post-repatriation, how do we create exhibits without the use of stolen objects?” Nicole collaborated with the MISC, along with a supervisory team consisting of Dr. Robin Nelson (museum policy analyst), Dr. Cynthia Zutter (anthropologist and archaeologist), and Crystal Pennell (cooordinator of kihêw waciston Indigenous Centre).  

Guided by the MISC president’s question “who signed treaty six?”, we sought to acknowledge the fragmented and contested histories of Indigenous peoples in Amiskwaciwaskahikan, Treaty 6, and so-called Canada by highlighting the names of Indigenous peoples and their histories that traditionally have been silenced.

The MISC hand-wrote the names of over 70 Indigenous peoples along with their cultural background, and their notable histories. The histories showcased included the Chiefs who signed Treaty 6, along with roles that the MISC were proud to see held by Indigenous persons, such as lawyers, midwives, activists, veterans and politicians. The exhibit also featured names of those who endured extreme hardship, such as missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIWG) and residential school victims. Indigenous excellence is also present in the exhibit, with influencers, film makers, actors, fashion designers, and musicians included. 

Keeping with the tradition of Indigenous oral histories, MISC president Cheyenne Greyeyes sat down and recorded a re-telling of 5 histories featured in the exhibit. These include Papaschase First NationNora BernardNathalie PrambrunBuffy Sainte-Marie, and Jesse Cockney.   

Click here to see the exhibition!

The Importance of People: The Dawson City Museum in the 1970s

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 (Dawson City’s Community Attic) to discuss the evolution of the Museum over time. Second, we have developed key themes (Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive) 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 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 from the 1970s to the early 1980s?

After summarizing the answers and outlining our research approach, I give a short overview of the Museum’s development from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. I consider significant policies, focusing on employment policy and the relationship with Parks Canada. Then, a section on community activity describes the community of employees that moved to Dawson City in the 1970s and communities continued influence on the collections. Finally, the paper concludes with a summary and research implications.  

Summary

What are some key moments, influential policies, and community activities that defined the Dawson City Museum’s development from the 1970s to the early 1980s?

  1. Key moments: In 1972, the Museum’s first year-round director/curator began working as a summer employee. She then used employment programs to hire year-round staff, including herself, in 1975. The presence of staff led to a more active and professional institution that accessed a range of government programs and participated in the community. 
  2. Influential policies: Federal employment grants, such as the Local initiatives Program, were the most influential policies of the period. However, the Museum also began accessing project grants, such as those associated with the national museum policy, and developed a supportive relationship with Parks Canada. 
  3. Community activities: In the 1970s, the local community grew to include a group of young people interested in heritage who were not employed by Parks Canada. They became the backbone of the Museum’s work for the next twenty years. 

Research Methods

The working paper relies on archival research in the Dawson City Museum’s corporate archive and a document analysis, focusing on digitized minutes of Board meetings and curator/director reports. The fifteen interviews conducted for the Dawson City Museum Project included three with people who worked at the Museum in the late 1970s – that is, the curator/director and two contract workers – as well as a Parks Canada employee who worked closely with the Museum. 

Overview

The Dawson City Museum (DCM) would not be where it is today without the foundation laid in the 1970s and early 1980s when the Museum began employing year-round staff. At the beginning of the 1970s, the Museum was not very active. As one Interview Participant recalled:

There was not much of anything, other than the Museum opened in late May and closed in September.

Interview 5

However, by the early 1980s, Museum staff were actively engaged in collections management, exhibition development, and advocacy for territorial support. The change is attributable to the work of the first Museum director/curator who started as a summer employee in 1972 then began using government programs to support year-round staff, including herself. 

In 1975, the DCM used the federal Local Initiatives Program to employ people during the winter for the first time. Staff enabled the Museum to professionalize. They built a washroom, did research, and catalogued the collection. Cataloguing was particularly important because the Museum’s collection was not well documented at that time (Snowalter 1975). An Interview Participant described collection management as follows:

We kind of knew what was in the collection… People back in ‘62 had painted, I think, DM and a number of accession on an item, and they had recycled a really big old account book from one of the old businesses in town. It was leather bound and had plenty of pages. So, they just wrote down who donated, what the item was, and the date then put a number to it. That’s what we used to see what we had, but we were still getting artifacts and there was no official way of including them in the collection. Inventorying what we had was, to me, number one on the list.

Interview 5

Therefore, museum staff began establishing collection management procedures and cataloguing materials according to the best practices at the time. 

In addition to addressing issues with collection management, staff worked on the exhibitions. They organized displays into dioramas of rooms and shops, including Klondike Kate’s bedroom, a blacksmith shop, and a cabin (Rubinsky 1976). As they developed new exhibitions, they expanded into new spaces. An Interview Participant recalled:

We opened the north half of the main floor. I think it was the same year we took out the boxed-in walls barricading the second floor… [and] hiding that wonderful staircase up to the second floor. New exhibits went in both the north side and the south side, and they were more organized. There were people who had art skills, or research skills, or display skills, so we did a heck of a lot of renovation.

Interview 5

We were able to create these wonderful exhibits. I take no credit for [them], it was a group decision on what we needed, [and] what research needed to be done to create certain things. 

One of the exhibits I do remember was recreating a ton of goods, which is what was needed to climb the Chilkoot. That seemed to really impress visitors, they had no concept of what it meant to take a ton of goods over the Chilkoot. That particular exhibit was well worth it.

Interview 5

As the quotes demonstrate, the new exhibitions were well researched and aimed to be more professional. 

Despite the year-round employees and increase in activity, the Old Territorial Administration Building or OTAB, which houses the Museum, was not yet ready for year-round occupation. It was too cold. Staff worked in the City’s garage (DCM Curator’s Report 1975) and, later, a Parks Canada office (DCM Curator Report December 7, 1976). As an Interview Participant recalled:

It was pretty hard to do anything in the building in the wintertime. So, if you were doing a project, it was usually a research project or something that didn’t rely on the on the resources that were in the Museum.

Interview 7

In addition to hampering year-round work, the building’s condition limited the funding the Museum could access from federal programs targeting community museums (Rubinsky 1976). 

Money was thus a constant concern for the DCM and its new employees. As an Interview Participant observed:

It seemed that my life revolved around finding funds in any way, shape, and form.

Interview 5

As a result, the staff started an auction, which is still held annually, and developed other ways to earn money. For example, they used the Local Initiatives Program in 1976 to start Big Cabin Crafts, hiring locals to make Jubilee Dolls for the Museum’s gift shop (DCM AGM Minutes October 27, 1976).

The Museum also engaged in contracts with federal agencies. As an Interview Participants described:

The Museum did projects for other organizations – mostly government. [They did] inventories for historic sites, trips out into the backcountry and photographic and description projects – mostly to keep money flowing in.

Interview 7

Examples include a contract to coordinate the Dawson Film Find for the National Film Archives (DCM Minutes July 26, 1978) and a contract from Parks Canada for a Creek Survey Project (DCM Director’s Report July 23 1979). 

Maintaining funding levels to support staff and the increase in Museum activities was a challenge. The Director described 1980 as a year of turmoil because she attempted “to cover too many bases at once” and there was a lack of community involvement within the Museum Society (DCM Director’s Annual Report March 4th, 1981).  As she recalled:

I just went ahead 24-7 most days… [there was] constant worry of where’s the money coming from, not just to hire me, but to hire people to continue with what had been managed by these Winter Grants, and then Summer Grants. There was always in the background – what’s going to happen to the building? We fundraised, we put on steak barbecues, we started the annual Christmas Fair, Christmas Bazaar, out of which came the Museum auction

Interview 5

As the quote demonstrates, the director/curator was fundraising, applying for a range of grants to support employment, and managing contracts with federal agencies while also professionalizing the Museum and supervising staff.  At the same time, the board expected her to do bookkeeping and treasurer work for which she was not trained (See, for example, documents available in Klondike heritage services programs final report January 1982, Box 5, Dawson City Museum Archives).  As such, in 1981 she warned that she may resign, pointing to a lack of support for the job from the Board (DCM Director’s Annual Report March 4th 1981). Finally, in 1982, she resigned after being asked whether she took money from a Museum event (DCM AGM President’s Report November 26, 1982; interview).

In short, the second period examined ends with the first, but not the last, example of a director leaving the Museum due, in part, to work overload. She had done an impressive amount of work to ensure the DCM had staff who began professionalizing the institution. While the board had many suggestions, they were not yet providing the support needed. Moreover, as seen in the first period, the building continued to be a significant, ongoing concern (DCM Minutes January 25 1978). It failed a fire inspection and was unable to re-open without addressing the issues, which prompted territorial investment that will be discuss as part of the next chronological consideration. 

Policy 

There are three policies that were most important to consider during this period. First, employment programs intersected with other grants and Museum activities, enabling the DCM to professionalize. Second, new federal project grants encouraged museums to professionalize and directed activity at the DCM. Third, relationships with Parks Canada provided expertise guiding Museum staff in their efforts  

Employment Policies

Staring in 1975, the DCM began using federal employment programs to support staff. The grants were particularly important because there were no operational funding programs targeting Yukon community museums at the time. The DCM’s ongoing funding was limited to earned revenues and a $500 tourism grant. Employment programs supplemented the limited funding with support for what became the Museum’s most valuable resource – staff.

In the 1970s, baby boomers were entering the workforce, causing an increase in youth unemployment rates (Roy and Wang 2000). In some areas, de-industrialization also contributed to these high rates. The federal government responded by investing in employment with the Local Initiatives Program in 1971. While the program experienced cuts and was terminated in 1977 (Blake 1976), the federal government announced a new Employment Strategy in 1976 (Keck 1995), which led to a variety of programs like Canada Works. 

Reflecting on the importance of these employment programs, an Interview Participant recalled:

In the 1970s the federal government had Winter Works programs, LIP, Local initiative Programs, which evolved into the Winter Works Grant or the Canada Works Grant, and it was primarily to keep people working in the winter. 

I offered to put together one of the applications in ‘75. I had moved to Dawson by that point so that allowed me to stay in Dawson, and have employment through the winter, and then I could hire other people. We basically batted heads together with the Society on trying to improve the appearance of the Museum and give it a more solid standing within the community.

Interview 5

As the quote suggests, the employment programs enabled the Museum to professionalize its offerings. Most significantly, the Museum received a $133,000 “work grant” from the Department of Employment and Immigration’s Canada Community Services Program (DCM Director’s Annual Report March 4th, 1981). The grant supported the three-year Klondike Heritage Services project beginning in 1981. It enabled work on the resource center, education programs, audio-visual materials, registration and collection, photography, displays, and more (DCM Klondike Heritage Services Report). 

Importantly, federal civil servants actively supported the Museum in making applications for the work grants. As an Interview Participant recalled:

Canada Manpower in Whitehorse was instrumental in those grants being divvied out… There was one individual who was responsible for Dawson. He had come up, and invariably after the first grant we got, he would jokingly say, “now what do you want?” He’d tell me what grants were available, and he’d give me tips on what not to ask for, or what could be covered. 

Each year, it seemed that when we applied for a grant, the parameters for that grant had expanded. He was very quick to tell us, “last year you wanted to do this, that and the other, and you couldn’t. Well, this year, you can apply for that if it fits in with what you want to do.” If we submitted an application, he would phone us up and say, “yeah, I don’t think it’s going to happen if you include this or that.” Usually, by the time we had done the final draft on our application, we had covered all the bases that were asked of us. He was involved in that. I can’t take that credit.

Interview 5

In short, employment grants were available and applications for them were supported, leading to year-round staff at the DCM.  As described in the overview, having staff enabled the Museum to become more professional. For example, the DCM used Winter Work and Canada Works grants to research exhibitions (DCM Minutes March 28, 1978; Jones 1977). As one Interview Participant observed:

[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.

Interview 7

Notably, the new staff were also able to support fundraising events and apply for project grants, which further expanded the Museum’s capacity. 

Project Funding

In the early 1970s, the federal government development a national museums policy, involving support for community museums. The DCM was ineligible for support as an associate museum and other project grants because of the poor condition of the Old Territorial Administration Building, which housed the Museum (Lawrence 1978). However, they began accessing available project grants in the late 1970s, which provided direction for professionalization with support for employment tied to projects the programs encouraged. 

More specifically, in 1978, the Museum used a National Inventory Assistance Cataloguing Grant to hire staff (DCM Minutes September 26, 1978; DCM Director’s Report May 30 1978), directing work toward the collection. As an Interview Participant recalled:

The first funding that was available was for cataloging because, as I said, even at the Dawson Museum, we didn’t know where a lot of this stuff came from. Just to have photographs and descriptions just the basics without even trying to figure out where the things came from hadn’t been done to that point. So that was, again, government that said, “you have to look at your collections and figure out what you’ve got.”

Interview 7

The winter work was the core of people that were doing inventory or cataloging. Lots of cataloging, of course, because that’s where the money was from the government.

Interview 7

In short, the Museum was eligible for and able to get funding through the National Inventory Assistance program, which directed work toward collection management. However, due to an inadequate facility, the Museum was limited in the grants it could apply for. Importantly, the DCM was not alone. The Lord report observed an under use of federal funding in Yukon “largely due to inadequate staff and facilities to qualify for them” (12).  

Relationship with Parks Canada

In addition to funding through articulated policy programs, the Museum began receiving support from Parks Canada. Notably, Museum and Parks Canada employees (that is, people) developed a relationship with each other as they worked on the Dawson City Film Find in 1977. Parks Canada employees then began to support the Museum more actively in a variety of ways. An Interview Participant recalled:

During my time there, the person in charge of Parks Canada in Dawson was amazing. Anything they could do for the Museum they would do it.

Interview 5

Addressing the perennial concern – money, Parks Canada assistance directed more finances toward the Museum. As an Interview Participant stated:

Whenever we were looking at how to put more money into the museum, which would allow us to work on exhibits, research, cataloging, anything like that, Parks Canada came in

Interview 5

The financial support mentioned in the quote was indirect and not grant related. For example, Parks Canada engaged the Museum in contract work. One of the Interview Participants began working at the Museum through a contract with Parks Canada. She recalled:

I was relatively new to the community, I was looking for work, and I heard of a project that I was interested in. It was a joint project between the local Parks Canada office and the Dawson City Museum. [It] was documenting and recording historic sites and objects in the Klondike gold fields. I applied for it, got hired and worked for the summer months

Interview 9

The contracts provided the Museum with the funding to staff the project and a small profit. Further, Parks Canada collaborated to develop materials for the Museum’s gift shop, such as a post card series and a poster. 

Supporting collections management, Parks Canada began allowing the Museum to store materials at the Bear Creek Complex (this continues today). Parks Canada employees also helped provide training for those doing collections work. As stated in a newsletter: 

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

Jones-Gates 1981, 8

Eventually, Parks Canada employees would even play key roles on the Museum Board and communities, such as the collections committee established in 1982. Participation enabled them to help train and guide museum staff. Several Interview Participants noted the importance of Parks Canada experts in providing advice and expertise whenever issues emerged:

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

Interview 5

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

Interview 7

In short, through relationships with Parks Canada staff, the Museum’s staff (hired with support from employment grants, project funding, and contracts with federal agencies) were better able to professionalize – that,  engage in collections management and develop well researched exhibitions. The relationships formed in the late 1970s were thus integral to the Museum’s development moving forward. In particular, Parks Canada staff began to sit on the Museum’s board and were able to direct the Museum’s efforts through the 1980s, which (as we will discuss in the next working paper) was a decade of change through territorial investment. 

Community

While the employment programs, project grants, and Parks Canada’s assistance provided the support needed to professionalize, the professionalization would not have been possible without the people the museum employed and the impressive collection around which those people organized. 

People

During the 1970s, there was an influx of young people with an interest in heritage. Some of those people were working for Parks Canada, which was developing the Klondike National Historic Sites. Others had moved in search of adventure. The youth became integral to the Museum as volunteers and staff. As Interview Participants recalled:

Young people were discovering Dawson. By young people, I’m thinking that in the summer months, Dawson had many businesses that only opened for the summer, so they all needed staff, and people could pitch their tents across the river and come into town to work. They would have free time and some of them, well, many of them, were University students. They’d come to the Museum, and some of them would volunteer to, I don’t know, wash the floors, or do this, that and the other. As a result, wherever they were working, they would let their employee know that it was a neat place to go to the Museum.

Interview 5

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

Interview 7

The second quote highlights that youth engagement at the Museum reflected a desire to engage with such an interesting collection in an interesting place. As that Interview Participant recalled:

At the time when I started [at the Museum] I think I was making five dollars an hour. And so, it wasn’t a well-paid job. People didn’t come to it because of that. They came because it was an interesting place to work, and it drew other interesting people.

Interview 7

Despite being central to the Museum’s work, staff was not paid well or employed permanently because of limited funding. As a result, employment at the Museum was only one job. An Interview Participant recalled:

The younger kids that came in would have worked at the casino and then they would be in a restaurant or handling baggage. You could have three jobs or two jobs during the week – one in the day and one at night and a third one on the weekend – but that wasn’t my position. My position was I would get a project and follow through with that, and then I would either be working on another project or working in construction

Interview 7

Engagement with the youth that moved to Dawson is important because they became fundamental to the Museum’s work moving forward. Some of the employees who started at in the 1970s were contracted over a period of about 20 years. As Participants recalled:

At that point [that is, 1976], I think I was running the staff and the front desk stuff. But over the years I’ve had very many positions with the Museum and sometimes there were a few of us that were quite loyal and, depending on the job, one of them would be the lead and I would work for them or at another time I would be and somebody else [would] work for me on the project. It was something that we didn’t worry about too much … but just focused on getting the job done and making the Museum a great institution… We were a great bunch of loyal people for a number of years.

Interview 7

I wasn’t full time at the Museum, I had other part time work or other contract work that was augmented by work at the Museum. There was always a shifting face of staff, but generally there were a core six to eight people.

Interview 9

In short, the availability of people is necessary for museums to use project and employment grants. However, it can be challenging for museums to maximize these programs to professionalize without staff with the knowledge and experience to engage in museum work. Starting in the 1970s, the DCM began hiring people with an interest and enthusiasm for the institution. They were able to develop the skills they needed. Given the seasonal nature of employment in the region the Museum continued to benefit from their experience over a long period of time. 

Collection

Within the first chronological consideration of the data, I argued the community influenced the museum through donations to the collection. The collection continued to be a key vehicle of influence in the 1970s. As an Interview Participant recalled:

The first Museum burned and people in the community were great about saying “well, this should be in the Museum.” Now that you’re in a bigger building and there’s room for things. The connection to the community was very strong. People would come in and say, “can I see that mammoth tooth that I donated twenty years ago?” They were quite proud of the fact that they had contributed to the collection the Museum held.

Interview 7

[The] collection related more to what the community thought was important. So we got collections that related to mining. We got more personal things and a lot of that was the items that First Nations made to sell tourists… The second museum [that is – after the 1960 fire] was like a new start for the community to say “Okay, this is important. This is what we consider important”

Interview 7

Importantly, the community shaping the collection was not limited to a local community. The museum helped researchers and would occasionally receive donations through that community of people:

Most of them were quite happy, and quite often it resulted in, sometimes a donation of money, but generally if they had photographs, or diaries, or letters, or anything from that period, they would either donate them or make quality copies for us to have, with the idea that when they passed away, they’d donate the originals.

Interview 5

As a foundation for activity, the collection then influenced other areas of museum work. For instance, when the contents of a cabin were donated to the Museum, staff created a diorama of a cabin. An Interview Participant recalled:

Oh, there was Harry Leaman’s cabin. When he passed away, the contents of his cabin were donated to the Museum. In one corner, there was a re-creation of the interior of his cabin, his table, his chair, etc.

Interview 5

In short, communities notably shape the Museum’s activities through donations to the collection. 

Conclusion

Some may argue that collections are museums most valuable resources. I do not think that is true. I think its people. Without people, collections are just storages of decaying objects. People are central to all aspects of museum work. 

The 1970s saw a confluence of grants and migration that enabled the Museum staff – people – to professionalize. While the federal museum program provided some direction toward collections work, implicit museum policies were in many ways more important. In particular, employment funding allowed the Museum to hire staff who worked to implement best practices and relationships with Parks Canada provided direction to those efforts. Without staff, the Museum would have been unable to both access project funding and then do those projects. 

References

Blake, Donald. 1976. “LIP and Partisanship: An Analysis of the Local Initiatives Program.” Canadian Public Policy. Vol. 2 (2): 17-32.

Jones, Kathy. 1977, December. “Forty Mile Exhibit Report… Dawson Museum, 1977.” 3b.3.103, Box 3. DCM. 

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

Keck, Jennifer Marguerite. 1995. Making Work: Federal Job Creation Policy in the 1970s. Thesis. University of Toronto. 

Lawrence, Richard. 1978, August. “Dawson Considers Museum.” Northern Times. 

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

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. 

Interview Analysis: The Community’s Voice

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 am continuing to examine the role of the Dawson City Museum as a community resource (Community Resource, Museum as Employer). In particular, I am considering the Museum as the community’s voice – that is, a place for the community to tell stories. Becoming a place for the community to tell its own stories is also a goal for current staff, but interview data demonstrates it was a reality for the Museum in the 1990s into the early 2000s.

Examples

In the 1990s, the Museum was seen as a community hub, telling the community’s stories. As one Interview Participant described:

I would introduce it as the community’s museum, telling the community story in a grand building that has a story of its own. An immersive experience and it was a hub in many ways to the

community.

Interview 10

Community involvement led to some interesting exhibitions about the community. One Interview Participant described “Dawson at Forty Degrees Below Zero”:

There was a really awesome project that they did one year where they pulled together just interested community members that wanted to tell visitors what their life was like in the winter and they helped them take good quality photographs and they created a slideshow for the summer. And it contained sort of these iconic images of what a day in the life of a Dawsonite was like in the winter. It included things like learning how to soak a roll of toilet paper in kerosine and set it under your vehicle to warm up the oil pan.

Interview 10

“Dogs” provides another example:

There was another exhibit that asked people to bring their favorite photo of their dog in… The idea was that people could bring in their dog portraits. The exhibit took place in the courtroom. So it was a fairly small space but those walls were filled with people’s dog portraits, and it was just an ability for people to come and honor the dog, which… has played such a large role in the community, in Dawson.

Interview 10

Ideas for these temporary exhibitions or programming came from the community. As a participant recalled:

But there were tons of exhibits that came on suggestion from the community. People would walk into the museum and say, “hey, I’ve got a great idea, and I’d like to do this.”

Interview 10

Notably, the Museum also actively sought out community members’ contributions for traveling exhibition on the Gold Rush in the 1990s, circulating their stories to a broader audience.

I was there during the time that the traveling exhibit for the centennial of the Gold Rush was coming together and that involved multiple stakeholders and partners. And it also involved a lot of community input for everything from gold miners donating gold and sharing their story about what they wanted the world to know about their experience to community members in general that had a buy-in about what narrative was going out there in the world about their town. And so there just seemed to be a lot of interplay between the community voicing their opinion and then that directing exhibits and activities within the Museum.

Interview 10

In short, during the 1990s, the Museum was actively listening to and telling community stories through an active temporary and traveling exhibition program.

The Importance of Leadership

The timelines created for the project (1990s, 2000s, 2010s) and interview data suggest there has been a less dynamic temporary exhibition program since about 2006. There is no one change that explains the shift. However, some have pointed to the importance of leadership in creating the relationship needed in the community for the community to approach the museum with ideas and enthusiasm. Most notably, the Museum had a Director in the 1990s widely recognized as charismatic, drawing the community into the Museum:

So there was what feels like to me a real Heyday time, but I don’t think it was one single component that shifted that and made things a little more challenging at the Museum. But certainly would not want to understate how formative [he] was as the Executive Director of the Museum as well as that incredibly involved community member who was very good at engaging people and keeping that interest, keeping the Museum as the community’s hub.

Interview 10

Other changes that help explain the shift include a move from project based funding to more operational funding for museums at the territorial level, changes in employment considered in Museum as Employer, and the reality that the 1990s was a decade of anniversaries for the Yukon, which can contribute to more enthusiasm for heritage.

Questions

What do you think? How to museums become vehicles for the community to tell its own story?

Teaching Resource: Mini Lecture on Museum Development

I am currently re-writing a course on Museum Management at MacEwan University. As part of the course, I have created some mini lectures. When I created Museoception, I originally conceived it as a place to share teaching resources. So… I am sharing!

The history and development of museums in what we now call Canada is often misunderstood or not discussed. In this post, I am sharing a mini talk on the development of museums, which is embedded in my course. I would love to hear your thoughts – Did I miss anything you feel are important to consider?

Interview Analysis: Museum as Employer

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 am continuing to examine the role of the Dawson City Museum as a community resource (Community Resource). In particular, I am considering its role as an employer, which was mentioned in a few interviews. Interview quotes provided below highlight the Dawson City Museum’s role as an employer and its related expansion in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the Museum stopped being a major employer in the 21st century, which can be explained through an examination of both community and policy changes. The interview data thus serves as a starting point to discuss ways the Dawson City Museum’s development was shaped through government policy and community action.

Interview Excerpts

During the 1970s through the 1990s, there were a dedicated group of about five people who worked for the Museum. As one interview participant recalled:

Those folks [were] very important for … the work of the Museum, the day-to-day job of the Museum. They were the most important crew, ultimately.

Interview

These individuals had an interest in heritage and, as such, enjoyed working at the Museum. Several were interviewed for this project and one remembered:

At the time when I started [at the Museum] I think I was making five dollars an hour. And so it wasn’t a well-paid job. People didn’t come to it because of that. They came because it was an interesting place to work and it drew other interesting people.

Interview

Through their hard work, the Museum was able to professionalize and ran an active museum program with exhibitions, collections work, research, and public programs. Different projects led to more employment for more people. As one interview participant recalled:

I would just say that it expanded. It expanded in its outreach, and expanded in its projects, and it expanded with the staff. It became one of the larger employers in the community at that time.

Interview

Similarly, another participant who worked at the Museum in the 1990s noted:

At the time that I started there, it was one of the main employers in Dawson.

Interview

Despite the significance of their work to the Museum, staff were not hired in full time permanent positions.

We were essentially employees, but we were contractors.

Interview

Since staff were tied to projects, running the Museum involved ongoing work to develop projects and get funding for them to support staffing.

And that’s the way the funding works. You have to have a new project every time. You just get people enthused and trained and actually excited about doing something and you have to come up with something new and find new people. Even then, that was a problem. You were always searching for things that fit inside what a museum is interested in doing but would bring money is into the coffers so you could keep people employed.

Interview

At the time, there were a range of project grants available related to unemployment. As one former Director from the period recalled:

As I mentioned, we would access the EI grants all the time. We also accessed all sorts of other grants about keeping people employed, or project-based, probably through MAP, which was.Museum Assistance Program, at the time, that existed… It was a time of unemployment, and governments wanting to get people working and keep them working.

Interview

Importantly, this era of employment came to an end at the close of the 20th century. Entering the 21st century, it became increasingly challenging to staff the museum. The Museum is no longer considered a major employer in the region and a consideration of community and policy changes helps explain why.

Community

Changes in the community provide a partial explanation for why the Museum is no longer an employer as a primary role.

As noted above, from the 1970s to the 1990s, there was a core group of about five people who would work for the museum regularly on contracts associated with project or employment funding. However, a number of these individuals left Dawson in the late 1990s or early 2000. As one interview participant recalls:

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 that [the Director] as well moved on and also at the same time that I think financial constraints came in on the Museum. 

Interview 10

While not stated in the interviews, their departure from Dawson to government jobs reflects a core issue of contract staffing in museums, which can fail to address the needs of employees as a community. Most notably, there is a lack of job security, meaning the Museum lost valuable resources when other, more secure and well paying opportunities became available. As stated in a discussion paper for the Yukon Museums Strategy in the early 2000s:

The other aspect of staffing which requires immediate attention is the so-called itinerant museum contractors who are largely responsible for the outstanding quality one can observe throughout the Yukon’s museum system. Their training, skills and commitment, coupled with the unique manner in which they work, are an outstanding example of adjusting to local circumstances without sacrificing quality and expertise.

But the message here is also loud and clear. These contract workers, despite their sustained success, are feeling abused and neglected by the government system they serve. It is our understanding that they have no secure employment contracts, receive no benefits, and are not necessarily paid in keeping with their skills and experience. The loss of these talented workers would do serious damage to the overall content and quality of Yukon’s museums, even if it were possible to replace them.

Barkley et al 2001.

The Dawson City Museum was never able to replace the people who had helped the museum thrive, maintaining corporate knowledge for over 20 years. While there are a variety of reasons they have not been replaced, looking at policy changes provides another partial explanation.

Policy

Importantly, several programs existed in the 1980s and/or 1990s, which the Museum used to employe people. These programs either no longer exist or exist in different forms.

Local Employment Opportunities Program (LEOP) + Others = Community Development Fund

The Local Employment Opportunities Program (LEOP) was announced in October 1985 with the goal to provide employment during the winter months (YLA 26.2.4). More specifically, the Minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services explained:

it is our intention that this will assist local governments, Indian Bands, registered societies, recognized non-profit institutions to undertake projects that normally would not have been undertaken due to a lack of funding. The program will fund capital projects that are labour intensive, will improve the quality of life, will be a measurable asset to the community as a whole. The program will also stimulate the economy at the local level, as one of the concrete examples of the government’s commitment to jobs for Yukon people.

YLA 26.2.7

The Dawson City Museum used LEOP in the late 1980s to develop their exhibitions. For example, in 1987 LEOP provided over 20 thousand dollars in wages for carpenters (DCM AGM 1987; See for example, YTG LEOP Program, Box 13, Dawson City Museum Archives).

LEOP was terminated in the late 1990s and the Community Development Fund (CDF) replaced it (Source). Importantly, CDF started as an amalgamation of several employment programs the Museum was once able to use. For example, the Yukon Employment Incentives Programs, through which the Museum employed someone for 16 weeks in 1990 (DCM Directors Reports 1990), was also amalgamated into CDF (YLA 27.1.57).

While the Museum has used CDF, it does not support employment at the Museum in the same way that multiple overlapping programs designed to increase employment once did.

Lotteries

Starting in the late 1980s, the Museum began receiving funding for a part time administrative assistant (Gorrell 1988). However, in the 1990s, the MacBribe Museum asked for increased funding for administration during the winter. Subsequent meetings led to a statement in which the Yukon Lottery Commission asserted:

operating grants to museums are the joint responsibility of the Heritage Branch of Y.T.G. and the community in which the museum is located.

Beaumont 1994

As a result, the Museum was no longer able to get wage support from lottery funding.

Federal Strategies

The Dawson City Museum began to use federal employment programs in the 1970s, starting with the Local Initiatives Program. The Program enabled the Museum to have year round employees for the first time. It also started the trend of the Museum using federal programs to subsidize employment. For example, in 1981 the Museum received a $133,000 “work grant” from the Department of Employment and Immigration’s Canada Community Services Program.

In 1985, the Government of Canada announced the Canada Job Strategy, which included a number of programs that the Museum used. For example, the Museum used the Job Development program, which provided support to make unemployed people more employable (O’Brien et al. 2005). In 1990, the Museum used Job Creation (Sec. 25) to employ someone on a photography project and for office assistance (DCM Directors Reports).

In 1996 the Government of Canada the job strategy was reformed, changing the available programs.The Youth Employment Strategy launched in 1997, including funding for student employment like Young Canada Works. The Young Canada Works program targets museums specifically and contributed a shift whereby the majority of temporary workers at the Museum became summer students.

Implications

As employee support for winter employment became less accessible, funding for student summer employment became more available and the people who had been contracted by the Museum moved away. Since then, the Museum stopped being a major employer outside the summer months.

As one participant noted there is a gap in support for the community itself to once again have a role in the Museum:

One of my big things is I think in the old days, the seniors and elders in the community had more of a role with the Museum. And now it’s so focused on providing employment for young students that we’re really missing the big important connection with the community not having support for all these people who have these wonderful stories to tell and could really contribute to the Museum’s sustainability because you get more loyalty from the community and you’d have more interesting programming.

Interview

Questions

How do government employment programs shape the work of museums? Are there alternative arrangements that could serve everyone better?

References

Barkley, Bill, Janes, Robert, Jensen, Marilyn, Johnston, Ingrid, Ingram, Rob, and Dobrolsky, Helene. 2001. Preliminary Observations on Yukon’s Museum Community: Discussion Paper. Strategy for Yukon Museums. Box 29a, Dawson City Museum Archives.

Beaumont, Doug. 1994, November. Letter to the Dawson City Museum. Sports and Lotteries Paper. Box 22. Dawson City Museum Archives.

Gorrell, Truska. 1988, December 14. Letter to the DCM. Lotteries Yukon. Box 15, Dawson City Museum.

O’Brien, Cathleen, Tommy, Diane, and Thomas, Bob. 2005, June. Wage Subsidies in Canada. Paper for Korean Ministry of Labour and Korea Labour Institute. Government of Canada.

Inexpensive and Impressive but Challenging and Restrictive: A Consideration of Non-profit Museum Management in a Historic, Government-Owned Space

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.   

Providing the first thematic consideration of the data, this working paper focuses on the relationship between the Dawson City Museum and the space it occupies – that is, the Old Territorial Administration Building or the OTAB.  The OTAB is a National Historic Site and a government owned building. So, this thematic consideration relates to policy and demonstrates the role of unarticulated or implicit policies in shaping the Museum’s development. 

After summarizing the answers and outlining our research approach, I give a short overview of the Old Territorial Administration building. Then, I outline the benefits born from the Dawson City Museum’s relationship with the building and the challenges it causes. Finally, I conclude that although the OTAB is a significant form of government support, government inaction hinders the Museum’s development and necessitates ongoing advocacy, which places a significant human resource burden on the Museum. 

Summary

What is the relationship between the Dawson City Museum and the Old Territorial Administration Building?

Most simply, the Dawson City Museum has lived in the Old Territorial Administration Building since 1962. As a result, the grand and imposing space has become an integral component of the Museum’s identity, featuring prominently in marketing materials and shaping the Museum’s development. 

What effect has the relationship had on the Museum’s development?

The Yukon Government owns the OTAB, which causes benefits and challenges for the Museum. The rent for the grand, neoclassical building is relatively inexpensive and represents a significant form of support. However, Yukon Government’s reluctance to properly maintain the space creates a human resource burden for the Museum as Executive Directors manage mishaps, advocate for change, and work with the government to ensure they follow through on commitments. Moreover, Yukon Government’s reticence can hinder the Museum’s ability to seek other funding and properly care for the collection. It also represents a threat to the building itself. 

What are the policy implications?

Yukon Government’s lease agreement with the Museum is a kind of implicit cultural policy with both intended and unintended effects. The agreement supports the Museum’s development. However, the Government’s apparent reluctance to adequately maintain the space and support the Museum’s use of the space (in)actively works against the Museum’s interests. 

Research Methods

The analysis draws on research conducted for the Dawson City Museum (DCM) Project, including archival research, document analysis, and interviews with fifteen people. The former Executive Director, Alex Somerville, provided comments on a draft of this paper, which contributed to significant edits.  

Overview

The Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB) is a National Historic Site constructed in 1901 and designated in 2001. Architect Thomas Fuller designed the building to house diverse legislative and administrative activities in the new Yukon Territory. It accommodated various offices (e.g., the Mining recording office, commissioner’s office), rooms (e.g., a draughting room), and the Council chamber. By the 1920s, all federal and territorial administrative services for Yukon were consolidated into the building except for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Public School. However, when the school building burnt to the ground, it also moved into the OTAB for a short time. Despite the OTAB’s versatility, the territorial capital had moved from Dawson City to Whitehorse in 1953 and the building was empty by 1961 (Archibauld 1977).   

Like the Public School, the Dawson City Museum needed space after its building burnt down in 1960. As such, the Museum moved into the OTAB in 1962 and has remained ever since. The building benefits the Museum because it is inexpensive and impressive. However, it also restrictive and challenging, influencing the Museum’s development in both beneficial and detrimental ways. 

Benefits 

Inexpensive (Financial)

As noted in “Dawson City’s Community Attic,” the Old Territorial Administration Building (OTAB) represents a significant form of government support to the Dawson City Museum (DCM). 

The DCM originally rented the OTAB from the federal government for $5 a month during the Gold Rush Festival period in Summer 1962. Despite no longer paying rent, the Museum continued to display artifacts on the first floor of the OTAB through the 1960s and 1970s. After ownership transferred to the territorial government in the late 1970s, the Museum even expanded onto the second floor. However, in 1998, Yukon Property Management began asking for rent, which the Museum negotiated from $10,000 to $4,000 a year (DCM Minutes 14 January 1998).  

Importantly, rent has stayed $4,000 a year. It is below the Yukon government’s costs and has not increased with inflation. Moreover, Yukon Government took over responsibility for janitorial costs in 2006, increasing their commitment (DCM Minutes September 21, 2006). 

Operational and maintenance costs for the OTAB, which also now houses 1100 square feet of government offices, are now over $130,000 a year – that is, more than the Museum’s operating grant from Yukon government. See Figure One for the annual totals from 2016-2017 to 2020-2021.

2016/17145,389.68
2017/18155,124.33
2018/19158,312.30
2019/20146,716.22
2020/21137,396.12
Figure one: Operation and Maintenance Costs for the Old Territorial Administration Building

Yukon government has also made capital investments into the OTAB (though, as discussed below, these investments can be stop gap measures that do not address core issues). Most notably, in the 1980s, the OTAB underwent over 2.9 million dollars in renovations. These renovations made the building code compliant after a failed fire inspection and addressed issues with the crumbling foundation. They also made the building more usable year-round with insulation and modern washroom facilities. 

From 2016-2017 to 2020-2021 capital investments have included updates to the fire alarm system, asset management planning, and repairs (e.g., stairs, ice damage, sprinklers). These costs range from 18 thousand dollars to over a million in a year, totaling 2,052,466.11 from 2016 to 2021. However, importantly, that figure include a revitalization project started in 2020-2021, which has not been completed. A less expensive example includes $7,000 to level and repair stairs after a patron complained about the tripping hazard and wrote a letter to government (notably, this is an example of Yukon Government not acting on a known issue until there was some advocacy work).   

In short, the low rent that the Museum pays for OTAB and the investment in the space represents a kind of implicit cultural policy whereby the government provides space that supports museum operations. 

However, when accounting for the building as a form of support, it is also important to recognize that the Museum’s work supports Yukon Government. According to Yukon Government’s 2020-2021 Five-Year Capital Plan, capital investments, such as those made to OTAB, ensure Yukoners are able to live healthier, happier lives. Moreover, Yukon Government owns the OTAB and would ultimately be responsible for the building costs regardless of the Museum’s occupation.  As an occupant, the Museum has the legitimacy to advocate for maintenance and capital work to ensure the historic building’s continued operation as a publicly accessible space. The Museum’s role as advocate for the building extends nationally as well. In particular, the Museum applied for historic site designation in the early 2000s, leading to national recognition of the building’s significance.

Impressive 

The Old Territorial Administration Building is both an artifact and home to artifacts. As an artifact, it is visually impressive. An Interview Participant described the building as follows:

When it was finished in 1901, the Old Territory Administration Building was the largest building in the north. It’s 200 feet long. It’s 2 and 1/2 stories high. It’s a beautiful old wooden building. It was built to house the government of the Yukon of the late nineteenth century. We couldn’t have asked for a grander home in resplendent white neoclassical style, gently set back on dusty 5th avenue in the park-like setting. 

Interview 1

This description is significant because context influences how objects look and signify (Jones and MacLeod 2016). The OTAB – a visually impressive and imposing historic building – provides context, influencing perception in two major ways. 

First, museum architecture can contribute the experience of the transcendent because, through architecture, people can feel connected to something larger than themselves (Buggeln 2012). The observation that the OTAB’s architecture connects visitors to something larger than themselves is not new. The application to designate the OTAB as a national historic site argued the building reflects the sense of optimism that characterized the Klondike Gold Rush. It reads:

As an architectural construct, the imposing size of the (Old Territorial) Administration Building also symbolizes the sense of optimism which characterized the Klondike Gold Rush itself… Evidently, the belief in the continued prosperity of Dawson played a part in architect Thomas W. Fuller’s decision to house the mining offices in such a large facility. 

DCM 2000

The application also argues the building symbolizes the new relationship between Canada and the Yukon. It provided an air of stability and permanence to the new governance structures in the territory (Ibid). As a museum, the Dawson City Museum is thus a colonial construct within a visual representation of and connection to colonialism. The historic building connects visitors to the past and systems of continued relevance as a grand physical representation of bygone eras that are also represented inside through objects. 

Interestingly, the OTAB and its foundation reflect the Museum’s old exhibitions. The building was created to provide space for government after an influx of minors. It thereby serves as a visual representation of the Klondike Gold Rush era and the old exhibitions centered this migration event. At the same time, the building’s various uses overtime physically represent the new exhibition’s major theme – that is, the people of the Klondike survive and prosper through adaptation and change.  Through the interpretation of the space, the building can help connect visitors to these broader themes. The connection also raises a question thus far unanswered– as staff work in a physical symbol of the past, has the building itself influenced the development of the exhibition themes? 

In addition to signifying the past, the building also provides a visual representation of the Museum’s connection to a broader heritage interpretation in Dawson City. Notably, in 1978, Parks Canada recognized OTAB as a Grade One Historic Resource, which “is essential to the commemorative integrity of the Dawson Historic Complex in order to portray the gold rush and its aftermath in a coherent manner” (Thistle 2001).

Second, experiences are mediated through the architecture, which expresses a position on the function of the museum (Sweet 2007). The OTAB is a historic building that legitimizes the small nonprofit as a professional museum telling stories about that history. As the Interview Participant quoted above observed: 

            It all looks very much like a museum.

Interview

Reflecting the perception that the building looks like a museum, “Saw the building” was the second highest reason people visited the Museum identified in a 1989 visitor survey (the first was a recommendation from the visitor information center). 

Beyond looking like a museum, the space looks grand and impressive, which shapes its use. As a former Executive Director noted, 

The OTAB presents the Museum with a challenge of greatness. It is an intimidating building to fill. 

Somerville, personal communication

Another interview participant observed:

I think it’s quite a grand building, so it’s a lovely space to be in. It elevates the quality of our exhibits from them being in that space, but also, I think it makes people expect great things…

It definitely was a pleasure to work in that space and I think it improves the Museum for it. If we were just in any old building, we’d still be great, but it wouldn’t be as good.

Interview

The OTAB thereby influences how exhibits are perceived, elevating them in the eyes of visitors and challenges staff to elevate their work to meet the greatness called for in the space. For example, starting in 1975, the Museum staff began to professionalize the Museum. An Interview Participant recalled:

At one point, [the Curator] just looked around and it’s a big building with lots going on. So, she and I looked at a few books about how a museum should run, and she 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.

Interview

The participant went on to say:

            I told you we were trying hard.

interview

Their hard work involved expanding through the building into unused spaces and developing exhibition themes, which began with the observation “it’s a big building with lots going on.” As a result, the Museum evolved from more of a “curio shop” into a modern museum. The building prompts and present the opportunity for “greatness.”

Discussing the OTAB as influencing the Museum due perception raises important questions: without the grand space, would the Dawson City Museum have become the largest collection in the Yukon? How much of what has been accomplished is attributable to the grandness of the OTAB? 

In short, the OTAB is an artifact of aesthetic and historic significance, visually signifying – a museum lives here. The grand and impressive building provides the appearance of a traditional (and relatively well funded) museum. As a result, perceptions of the exhibitions and those working in the space can be elevated. 

Challenges

The ongoing issue of renovations 

When the Dawson City Museum moved into the OTAB in 1962, it needed extensive renovations, which did not happen for more than 20 years. As a result, occupying the space presented significant challenges for the museum society. Advocating for renovations became a major preoccupation of the Museum’s first Director, leading to a 2.9-million-dollar investment in the 1980s. However, the need for renovations persisted given the building’s age and adaptive use. The inability to do these renovations independently and the government’s inaction has presented a number of challenges for the DCM over time.

The OTAB provided its first challenge in 1968 when it failed a fire inspection. Importantly, those running the Museum did not perceive the building as any more dangerous than when the government used the space without addressing core issues. The treasurer argued:

Sure, this old building is a fire trap. Has been for as long as I can remember… One thing is certain that it is no more a fire hazard than it was when the government were using it, in fact less.

Shaw 1968

As a result, the inspector’s report was seen as an unreasonable obstacle for an already overburdened group of volunteers running the Museum. After describing the Museum as a team of only three people, the treasurer stated:

… it might be a good time to bunch it. Why keep batting one’s head against a wall?

Ibid

Due to a lack of support to bring the building up to code, the Museum Society was prepared to sell the collection for one dollar to Klondike National Historic Sites (Shaw 1970). However, the board changed, and the inspection seems to have been forgotten in the early 1970s. The new secretary wrote:

We have faced a problem in that some have had a desire to abandon the work rather than improve it. This has started to change now with some changes in our directors.

Snider 1972

As a result, the Museum continued to live in the OTAB without doing the much-needed renovations that it could not afford. 

In 1979, the Museum once again failed a fire inspection and was labeled a “death trap.” The inspector wrote:

To be completely honest, up until the time of the familiarization tour that you guided for the members of the Fire Department, I considered the Museum as a large “fire trap”. However, since the tour, I believe a more accurate term is a large “death trap”. These are dramatic terms, but I believe they are realistic.

Rehn 1979

As a result, the Museum was forced to remain closed until they addressed the issues and passed another inspection. However, the Museum Society did not have the funds to make the OTAB code compliant. Considering territorial ownership, they asked the Yukon Government to pay for some of the upkeep. The Territory responded with a one-time grant of $14,000, making its first capital investment into the OTAB since the Museum’s occupancy. The investment allowed the Museum to do electric work, plumbing, carpentry and fix broken windows (DCM Director’s Report for August). Importantly, the successful advocacy for funding reflected a positive relationship between the Museum’s director and the Klondike’s MLA who was a Minister within the government at the time (see “Government Relationships”). 

Despite the investment, there continued to be issues with the OTAB. For example, the basement was full of ice, making the building incredibly cold. As one interview participant remembers:

So, the two Elders or the two seniors that I told you about that were so delightful, they used to wear their idea of old-time costume, which was a long dress, frilly. They would wear long johns and whatever else they could get on underneath the dresses because it was just freezing, even in the summer.

Interview

Due to the cold, when the Museum began using employment programs to hire year-round staff in 1975, they could not work in the building. It was simply too cold during the winter. There were also critical structural issues. Most alarming, a report found 26% of the foundation posts had failed and 35% had rotten to an unsalvageable level (Ross 1982).

The Museum Society, in partnership with Parks Canada, advocated for the much-needed renovations. Fortunately, the Canada-Yukon Sub agreement on Tourism was signed in 1980 to undertake programs identified as integral to long term tourism development. The investment directed attention to the Museum’s issues and some funding, such as $125,000 for roof reconstruction (DCM President’s Report AGM 1980; YLA 25.3.38). The Museum expected to receive funding for the foundation as well but were considered ineligible (Ross 1982) so they continued to advocate. When a Minister and government officials received a tour of the building, someone leaned on a foundation post, and it fell (Interviews). The Museum then received funding for the foundation (Dawson City Museum and Historical Society 1983), which started 2.9 million dollars in renovations in the mid 1980s. 

Subsequent renovations have related to exhibit renewal. In the early 2000s, the gallery space underwent construction to install a new permanent exhibition, which required new wall openings. These renovations were delayed by Yukon Government. The Director gave the plans to and spoke with the on-site property manager in late 1999. The Manager did not provide negative feedback and agreed it was a relatively simple plan. In 2000, the Director began working with the Government Services’ technical review staff to approve the tender documents. However, after revisions responded to their feedback, they decided a professional architect was needed to produce more detailed documents. So, the Museum hired an architect, but struggled to obtain the correct drawings of the OTAB from government that were needed to start the process (Thistle 2001, May). Eventually, the documents were obtained, but these delays and the lack of clarity about the need for an architect at the beginning of the process meant the new gallery did not open until 2002. 

More recently, the Museum underwent a renewal project and installed new exhibitions. The territorial government agreed to do related renovations, such as changing the south gallery into the library, archives, and offices. They also identified a new fire panel, new sprinkler pipes and heads, as well as retro fitting the attic, crawl space, and windows as priorities (DCM ED Report Aug 21). However, most of the renovations never occurred despite the Museum installing its new exhibitions. As of March 2022, the only work that has been done was on the floors at the Museum’s insistence when the floors were exposed during the exhibit renewal. As a result, a section of the building is currently closed. 

Perhaps more importantly, the sprinkler system still has not been replaced, which is an urgent problem for the Museum’s collection and the building itself. In 2012 the OTAB’s sprinkler system began to fail (See “Fire vs. Heritage”). As stated in an interview with the former Executive Director:

In 2012 part of our fire system came apart and flooded the museum, damaging our collections. It will be ten years next year since that happened before the fire suppression system will be replaced and updated. 

Interview

As of March 2022, the system has not yet received an upgrade, putting the Museum’s collection at a significant risk. As the Executive Director observed:

In some ways, the museum’s holdings have been at risk of similar floods because we are at the mercy of the building owner. We can’t get the money to replace that system on our own. We don’t own the building. We don’t own the system.

Interview

The quote highlights the Museum’s inability to address the issue without the cooperation of Yukon Government. Unfortunately, that cooperation can be difficult to get.

In short, the Old Territorial Administration Building is a historic site and, as an old building, presents challenges for those animating the space. Despite its occupancy, the Museum is unable to address these challenges alone because of the costs and its position as a tenant. While the owner – that is, the Yukon Government – has provided significant financial investment to address some issues, this investment is only made after significant advocacy from the Museum. Moreover, the government’s involvement can delay projects and, as a result, the Museum’s collection is currently at a significant risk of water damage. The Government’s inaction actively works against the Museum’s interest. 

Restriction (No Lease)

As the renovation issues demonstrates, Yukon Government can be slow to act, and this can cause challenges for the Museum. For example, in March 2015 the Dawson City Museum’s lease expired. At the time Yukon Government was not negotiating new leases because it was conducting a review of its policies (DCM ED Report March 20, 2018). In 2018, the Museum’s Director began preparing an application for the Cultural Spaces Program to support the renewal project, working with a federal program officer. However, they were unable to apply without a 10-year lease agreement (DCM Minutes September 18, 2018).

Getting a 10-year lease agreement was difficult. Yukon Government officials were involved in meetings with the federal program officer and knew the requirements. However, during the process they suggested they could try to provide a five-year lease, which would not have met the needs for federal funding (DCM ED Report May 08). As delays continued, Yukon’s Property Management Director noted “the Executive Council decision on the Museum’s lease has not happened because the matter has been so far left off the Executive Council’s agenda” (DCM ED Report Aug. 21). 

The delays meant that the lease became “the greatest hold up on the progress of the renewal project” (DCM Minutes July 5, 2018). It prevented the museum from applying for funding in 2017-2018 (DCM 2018 Annual Report) and 2018-2019 (DCM 2019 Annual Report). In May 2019, the Museum finally signed a lease with Yukon Government and were able to apply for funding from the federal Cultural Spaces program. The funding application was successful and supported their work on the renewal project.

In short, the Museum’s lease agreement ended in March 2015. Yukon Government did not offer a new agreement until May 2019 (DCM 2019 Annual Report; DCM 2020 Annual Report). The lack of action on the part of the territorial government caused a two-year delay in the Museum’s ability to apply for federal funding. Territorial inaction has, therefore, hindered the Museum’s ability to go outside the territory for financial support. 

Conclusion

The Dawson City Museum benefits from being in the Old Territorial Administration Building because it reduces expenses and provides an imposing historic site, which arguably elevates the exhibitions and work of staff as it influences perception and presents the challenge of greatness. However, Yukon Government can be slow to act, and the building has significant deficiencies. The Museum cannot address those deficiencies alone due to ownership and costs. As a result, the Museum expends significant human resources advocating for upgrades and working to ensure renovations come to fruition. The OTAB is, therefore, both a benefit and a challenge for the Museum. 

From a policy perspective, the Yukon Government’s intention is unclear. The lease agreement benefits the Museum because OTAB is inexpensive and impressive. However, the government also hinders the Museum’s development with an apparent lack of interest, challenging and restricting the Museum in ways that undermine their own support . 

Questions

What do you think? When asking – How has a museum evolved in relation to government policy and community action? – what role do you think a building plays?

References

Archibald, Margaret E. 1977. Manuscript Report Number 217. National Historic Parks and Sites Branch, Parks Canada, Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. Accessed: http://www.parkscanadahistory.com/series/mrs/217.pdf

Buggeln, Gretchen T. 2012. “Museum Space and the Experience of the Sacred.” Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief. 8(2): 30-50. 

Dawson City Museum and Historical Society. 1983. “Dawson Museum News.” Newsletter, 13: 39-41.

Dawson City Museum. 2000. “Application, Part 1 OTAB.” In Heritage Canada – YCW, 2000. Box 27b, DCM Archives.  

Rehn, Rick. 1979, June. Letter to the Museum director. 4a.4.15: Fire inspection 1979, Box 4. Dawson City Museum Archives, Dawson City. 

Ross, Brian. 1982, September. Letter to the Deputy Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Cultural Affairs. 7.7.10; grants 1981 1982. Box 5. Dawson City Museum Archives, Dawson City.

Shaw, Geo. O. 1968, October 7 Letter to the Commissioner 1.1.38 Correspondence 1968, Box 1, Dawson City Museum Archives, Dawson City. 

Shaw, G. 1970, March 11. Letter to National Historic Sites. 1.1.43 correspondence 1970. Box 1. Dawson City Museum Archives, Dawson City.

Snider, K.C. 1972, February 21. Letter to the White Valley Historical Society. 2.2.2: Correspondence 1972. Box 1. Dawson City Museum Archives, Dawson City. 

Sweet, Jonathan. 2007. “Museum Architecture and Visitor Experience,” in Museum Marketing: Competing in the Global Marketplace, edited by Ruth Rentschler and Anne-Marie Hede, 226 – 237. Taylor & Francis Group. 

Thistle, Paul. 2001, May. Letter to Mr. Philip B. Lind. Correspondence Lind. Box28b. Dawson City Museum.

Interview Analysis: Community Resource

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 am continuing to engage with the curator interview and the question – What is the Dawson City Museum’s role? Notable, the Museum was founded as part of an effort to encourage tourism and its static exhibitions primarily appealed to tourist (As discussed in Tourism Role). The new exhibitions, which opened in 2021, reflect a desire to be more responsive to and reflective of their community, becoming a community resource beyond tourism.

Examples

As discussed elsewhere, the Dawson City Museum is a tourism attraction. For example, in an interview, the curator stated:

The Dawson City Museum at large in the community, I don’t think is really viewed right now, unfortunately, as a hub, whether it’s for events, or for research or for programs, or to come and see the exhibit. It’s very much viewed as, let’s bring visiting family or tourists to see them.

Tourism

Importantly, the Museum is undergoing change. A current objective is for the Museum to be more reflective of the community’s diverse needs.

I really want the Dawson City Museum to become a community resource for research, for recreation, for understanding, or whatever. I feel like that is my chief goal, rather than just become an attractive tourist attraction.

Interview

The new exhibitions, which opened in 2021, reflect this desire to become a community museum for the community, reflecting the community and responding to its needs. To that end, the Klondike Gold Rush is not as centered in story telling as it once was. The curator explained:

With the new exhibits going up, we definitely are making a more concerted effort to be more reflective, and maybe responsive, to our community. I want to say responsive is definitely a way where we have a lot to learn, and a lot to go to be genuinely responsive, but I mean more so to be better storytellers for Dawson City. I think, we see the importance as a small town museum to actually be that small town’s museum, to be a community museum rather than just a tourist attraction, and in doing so, wanting to tell stories beyond that Gold Rush period.

Interview

Rather than focusing on the Gold Rush, the new exhibitions center the people of the Klondike, telling a story of survival and prosperity through adaptation and change:

I think the story of the Klondike, beyond the Gold Rush, is fascinating. It is one of adaption, one of survival, and that should be appreciated as much as the Gold Rush. It’s something that I hope visitors from afar would like to learn about. And I, even more, sincerely hope that community members really want to reflect on.

Interview

Further, in their daily work, museum staff are focused on building relationships within the community in order to:

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

In short, the Museum staff is working to be seen as a community resource in addition to being a tourists destination. Importantly, the Museum has played a variety of roles within its community over time. As such, subsequent interview analysis posts will explore other roles the museum has had, which reflect both community need and government policies that have changed over time.

Questions

I always struggle with this question – When museums say their role is as a community resource, what does that mean in practice?