Dawson City, Yukon Friday, August 23, 1996


People gather at the opening of the Commisioner's Residence, a highlight of the Discovery Day festivities in Dawson City.

Feature Stories

  • Beginning 12 days of Centennial Celebrations
  • Berton House Comes Back to Life
  • Dawson Has Enough Museums, Berton Explains
  • The Prime Minister Gets a Big Dawson Welcome
  • A Busy Time Up the Creek
  • To Honour the Miner
  • YAC receives Half Million in Funding from Holland America
  • Beginning 12 days of Centennial Celebrations

    by Dan Davidson
    Sun Staff

    The 12 days of celebrations commemorating what MC Peter Menzies called "the most famous gold rush on the planet" got off to a drizzly start on the evening of August 13, with opening ceremonies outside the Klondyke Centennial Centre and an art show at the Palace Grand Theatre.

    The usual three day event has been stretched to almost two weeks in honour of the centennial and to tie into the World Goldpanning Championships, which will take place here just over a week from now. Mayor Art Webster assured the crowd that there would be something for everyone, including better weather as the week wears on.

    "I see from the number of unfamiliar faces that there are a few tourists here today, and I'm really pleased to see that, but what it means is that you're going to have to change your travel arrangements and make sure you stay here for the next twelve days, and in return we'll promise you some sunshine."

    Regional Director Linda Johnston brought greetings from the Department of Canadian Heritage. Reflecting on the cooperation that was needed for survival in the early days here, she noted that, while life was not so harsh now, "the success of any major undertaking clearly requires cooperation, dedication and the pooling of many varied and valuable resources. Canadian Heritage--Parks Canada--is proud to be a significant partner in these celebrations."

    Bill Bowie, speaking on behalf of the Klondyke Centennials Society, quipped that it was worth making a speech from the veranda just to get out of the rain. He hoped that the experiences during these days would encourage people to come back again another year, and offered hearty congratulations to the dedicated volunteers who have organized the calendar of events.

    The Klondike Visitors Association has been running the casino at Diamond Tooth Gerties for 25 years this summer, but manager Denny Kobayashi explained that the KVA has been in business, in one form or another, for 44 years.

    "(It began) with volunteers greeting visitors on the riverboats. We don't have riverboats any more, but we certainly have you here...and we thank you for joining us for this very special centennial. We remind you, as you leave a contribution in our casino, that all the profits are reinvested in the community."

    Joseph Ladue III, all the way from Platsburg, New York, was on hand to officially open the festivities. Ladue's grandfather was the man who essentially decided where Dawson City would be built, laid out the streets and provided much of the lumber for the early buildings. His grandson took pity on the damp crowd and kept his remarks to a minimum. He said he had three speeches prepared, ranging from 30 seconds to a little over an hour, but he didn't use any of them.

    Diamond Tooth Gertie (incarnated today by Patricia Dahlquist) and her girls had planned to lead a can-can line to "do the Dawson" in the street, but the rain defeated that plan. It had already driven them into the KCS Centre, sent the Red Serge horse and rider to their hitching post next door, and soaked every head save that of Dalton, the Yukon Anniversaries Commission mascot, who was smilingly unperturbed, as usual. They settled for a Klondike song instead, to add to the earlier entertainment by Peter Menzies and Sandy Pilon.

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    Berton House Comes Back to Life

    by Dan Davidson
    Sun Staff

    Like all famous sons, Pierre Berton sometimes gets a mixed reception in his home town, but you'd never have known it to hear the spontaneous applause that broke out from the crowd of some 200 people as the tall man in the dark blue blazer strode out onto the balcony of his boyhood home on the evening of August 14. As KVA manager Denny Kobayashi, put it, the crowd welcomed the Bertons, Pierre, his wife, Janet, and his sister Lucy Woodward, home.

    For the Klondike Visitors Association and the Yukon Arts Council, the opening of the Berton Family Home was a triumph. This project has been in the works since 1989, when Pierre Berton invested $50,000 in the house and donated it to the YAC to operate as a base for a new writer in residence program.

    As Pierre himself noted, this was a far cry from the $500 his father had paid for it in 1924 and even further from the $400 he'd been able to sell it for, after doubling its size, when the family moved south in 1932.

    In addition to Berton's original investment, KVA treasurer Peter Jenkins revealed that the organization has invested some $97,000 in bringing the house up to a standard that could house a visiting author.

    "But what we have is this wonderful restored home for the writer-in-residence program," said Jenkins. "Mr. Russell Smith will be the first...and he will have, unlike the Berton family, running water, a bathroom--all kinds of neat things."

    Not that there was no bathroom in the original, but as Lucy Berton Woodward told the story, it was reached by climbing down a ladder. One day, when she and Pierre were just toddlers, they were playing blind man's bluff in the kitchen when Pierre, a paper bag firmly over his head, unexpectedly joined his mother in the root cellar.

    "My mother was startled to say the least, to have a small bundle landing at her feet and me peering over the edge saying, 'Pierre all gone.'"

    Mayor Art Webster welcomed everyone to the official opening of the newest addition to the famous authors block. Robert Service's cabin is across 8th Avenue above Berton House, and Jack London's cabin is just around the corner to the south.

    "I want to thank Mr. Berton for his insistence that this be part of a writer in residence program, because it will keep not only Dawson on the map, but provide some inducement to our young people...to write more and perhaps we'll see more famous authors come from Dawson City."

    Speaking on behalf of the Yukon Arts Council, Max Fraser congratulated the KVA on a job well done and explained some of the background to the program, which was designed several years ago by a working committee of Dawson and Whitehorse residents.

    "Mr. Berton's original concept...was to bring professional Canadian writers to the north to experience a part of the country they might otherwise not experience, so their time here could infect their writing and show up as part of their literary production in the future."

    Berton has donated not only the house, but a large quantity of books for it and a further $5,000 to be seed money for next year's program. This year's inaugural writer will be in Dawson for three months.

    "The purpose," Fraser explained, "is to let them experience the north and to have a good place where they could focus and concentrate on their work. This could be the beginning of a long line of writers coming to the Yukon, learning about this place and writing some pretty neat stuff about the Yukon."

    The first writer in residence is Russell Smith, who introduced himself to warm applause and much laughter from the audience.

    "I'm the real Cheechako. I'm from Toronto and I've never been north. I used to joke...that I'd never go north of Bloor Street...or west of the the farthest subway stop...so for me this is just a huge gift. The greatest gift that you can give a writer is time, and in an era when much government funding is drying up it's the hardest thing to come by, for us. (This) gives me the opportunity to see a whole new place, plus giving me the time and tranquility to write..."

    John Gould, who has been pitching this project for a number of years, and proposed it to Berton in the first place, was a childhood school mate of the Berton children, and recalled some incidents, to the delight of the audience and the embarrassment of Pierre and Lucy.

    On one occasion John, the Berton children and some others were playing doctor on the back porch. John was the patient, stretched out on a steamer trunk.

    "They laid me out on that and pretended to operate on me. I don't know if Pierre was doing the operating...but the girls were the nurses. The next day I was sick. The day after that I was in the hospital having an operation for my appendix to be removed. I spent a month in the hospital."

    John also recalled struggling to master the sport of cricket on the lawn there: "I never did...but we had lots of fun at this cabin years and years ago."

    Lucy Woodward will be assisting the KVA by drawing up a garden plan for the landscaping as she recalls it from the early 1930s.

    "It's terribly exciting to be back here," she said. "I haven't seen the inside of this house since we left in 1932 when I was--well, I won't tell you how old I was."

    She recalled life without running water in the winter in Dawson, deliveries by the water wagon and removals by the honey wagon, but most of all she remembered the gardens.

    "That's one thing that I miss--the beautiful gardens of Dawson. They really were exceptional, and the tourists in those days, who came on the riverboats with their fur coats from California, were astounded to see the fruits, vegetables and flowers that we had around here.

    "I hope that the ghost of my mother scribbling away at the kitchen table and pounding our stories and so on, on her old Underwood typewriter, will inspire all these writers in residence to produce many great Canadian works."

    The Bertons will actually be spending four nights at the home before moving out to make way for Russell Smith, so they will be attending many of the special Discovery Days events during the rest of the week.

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    Dawson Has Enough Museums, Berton Explains

    by Dan Davidson
    Sun Staff


    Berton with book photo: What else does an author do but pose with a book? "This is the one I'm plugging right now," says Pierre Berton. Photo by David Trattles

    Pierre Berton was his usual affable and blunt public self as he approached the microphone to speak about his boyhood home. When asked by the CBC earlier on about his fondest memories of Dawson he quickly shot back: "Free pop on Discovery Day. Locally made, very sweet and very pink and we drank all we could.

    Berton said he had originally been very flattered when John Gould approached him with the idea of making a donation of his family home.

    "I was less flattered when I saw the price...However, as Robert Service said, 'A promise made is a debt unpaid, and the north has its own stern code,' so I got out my bankbook and there it was. And I'm absolutely delighted I did it.

    "The original idea was it would be a museum. That wasn't my idea. In my opinion, Dawson has enough museums, possibly one or two too many .. I ask you to examine one of the most beautiful buildings in Dawson, which is the original post office, which has been restored by Parks Canada. But under some kind of goofy rule they're not allowed to use this building as a post office...so Public Works, another section of the government, comes up and builds a rather nondescript post office down the street. So we've got two post offices--one good one which doesn't operate, and another inconsequential one which does. Only the government would do that.

    "So I thought that Dawson didn't really need another museum, and that's when I thought up the author's retreat. I know, as much as anybody, how important time is, how important it is to be alone, if you're a writer. You cannot brook interruptions. I'm not easy to live with when I'm writing, which is a lot of the time."

    He told how he had disconnected all the telephones at his home and had pretended to go to Mexico when he was writing the first draft of The National Dream.

    "I also think think it's important that this part of the country be better known. It's getting to be...and I have played some small part in that, for which I am very proud. I think that (with) the presence of professional writers becoming part of the community...soaking up some of the Canadian section of the north...(the information) will seep down. It'll get out. Writers get around; they talk, they have things to day. As a matter of fact, 'My Three Months in Dawson' is a great subject for the kind of speech they're always asking you to give free to local community associations."

    "I want to congratulate all the many people who gave their time, their effort and their funds to restore this house, to make it a working living house and part of this community. Thank you very much."

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    The Prime Minister Gets a Big Dawson Welcome

    by Dan Davidson
    Sun Staff

    Jean Chretien couldn't help but wax nostalgic on August 16, as he spoke from the verandah of the restored Commissioner's Residence in Dawson City.

    The Prime Minister recalled that it had been 28 years earlier when he had first come to Dawson City, during a trip to the Yukon that opened his eyes to the realities of the larger country. He had been handed the portfolio of Indian and Northern Affairs, which then included Parks Canada, and he really felt he didn't know anything about it. He said he began to learn about the realities of the first nations people in Canada when he met them in the Yukon.

    "This is where it started," he told an audience estimated at 2,000 people, speaking of his years in what he still feels was the most satisfying cabinet position he ever had.

    Chretien arrived shortly after 5:30 to do his part in a celebration that had begun several hours before, with music, dancing, puppetry and snacks laid out in the tents scattered about the grounds of Fort Herchmer, the former RCMP barracks located behind the Commissioner's Residence.

    The setting was that of an old country fair, complete with locals and visitors decked out in period costumes. Entertainment included a local folk trio, a French group called Apropos de Savoir Faire, the Tagish Dancers, Dancers with Latitude and a Military Band.

    While all of that was a great deal of fun, it was obvious that most people were there for the main event, the opening of the restored Commissioner's Residence and the arrival of the Right Honourable Jean Chretien, who pulled up a bit late in a horse drawn carriage.

    Chretien was not the only dignitary present for the event. With him on the platform were Government Leader John Ostashek and Commissioner Judy Gingell. Several former commissioners, including Ken McKinnon, Doug Bell and James Smith, were in the audience on the lawn, along with the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories. Pierre and Janet Berton and Lucy Berton Woodward were in the front row of chairs. along with numerous officials from the Department of Canadian Heritage and many other special guests.

    Linda Johnston, director of the Department of Canadian Heritage, estimates that some 2,000 people filled the lawn, lined the escarpment to Front Street and jammed the street itself for the event. For most it was standing room only.

    Special presentations included an opening prayer by elder Annie Henry and speeches by Mayor Art Webster, the government leader, the Commissioner and the Prime Minister.

    In his remarks Webster pointedly made reference to the need to continue to support federal parks programs in the face of cutbacks, a nod in the direction of the quiet protest of Klondike National Historic Sites employees being staged from within the audience. Nothing disruptive occurred, but the workers passed out a lot of "Save our national parks and historic signs" buttons to members of the crowd, including Member of Parliament Audrey McLaughlin, Yukon NDP leader Piers MacDonald and visiting author Pierre Berton, who was later swamped by reporters asking for his opinions on cutbacks.

    The large KNHS employees banner subsequently turned up on various parts of the grounds, where ever the Prime Minister appeared to be headed during his walkabout after the speeches, but they did not manage to get any comment from him.

    Government Leader Ostashek spoke of the central importance of Dawson City to the history of the Yukon, reminding his audience that, while tourism is on the rise, gold is still the king of the Klondike.

    Steve Taylor, chief of the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, reflected that, as wonderful as this restoration project was, it was past time that the parks service began to pay some attention to the heritage of the local first nation as well.

    The Prime Minister, still basking in the spontaneous applause that had greeted him at the entrance to the grounds and carried him to the verandah, spoke easily and with feeling about the importance of regions and their history, mixing in some personal anecdotes along the way. He recalled that it was the Gold Rush which prompted the creation of the Yukon,, the sudden federal concern with the northwest, and the final settlement of the west coast boundaries with the United States.

    There were no announcements or commitments in his remarks, but a clear sense of pride in the positive accomplishments that have been made here in Dawson.

    "Vive Dawson City. Vive le Yukon. Vive le Canada," he sang out in closing.

    Following his remarks, Commissioner Judy Gingell presented him with a laser etching on moosehide showing a picture of the residence, This is one of a very limited set of eight, according to master of ceremonies Mark Smith, executive director of the Yukon Anniversaries Commission.

    Gingell and Chretien opened the front door of the residence to declare it officially ready to receive visitors.

    Chretien's walk to his waiting vehicles, which were to speed him off to the airport, must have taken more than half and hour. The Prime Minister was besieged on all sides by well wishers and those wishing to shake his hand or get an autograph.

    One mother admonished her daughter to be careful with her signed program, so they could get it framed.

    A primary school aged lad asked Chretien for an autograph. The Prime Minister, agreed and asked the boy's name.

    "No, not my name," the lad retorted firmly. "I want yours!"

    David Trattles, a photographer with on assignment with Canadian Geographic, scored a personal goal by taking his own picture with the PM, the two of them standing side by side while Trattles held his camera at arm's length.

    "I got it," he called out in victory as he finished, waving both arms in the air in a classic pose.

    Chretien took time to notice children whenever he could, holding up the ceremony at one point to speak to a little girl. Later on, passing by a contingent of Yukon cadets, he worked his way through their ranks.

    "I guess you're not supposed to shake hands," he said. "Oh well..." and reached out to them anyway.

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    A Busy Time Up the Creek

    by Dan Davidson
    Sun Staff

    Red Serge: Cst. Cory Hoehn and Justin were one of the most popular attractions in Dawson this summer. Publicity photo Dalton on parade. Kids on parade. Chretien & Friend: Sun staffer Heather Caverhill poses with Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Photo by Rob Fitch

    The Bonanza Creek Road probably hasn't been as busy for decades--if ever--as it was on August 17. Not even during the lifting of Dredge #4, when half the town of Dawson made daily progress checks to see how the army engineers were doing, was there so much traffic. The road from the dredge on to Discovery Claim was choked with RVs, trucks, buses and other vehicles, parked on both sides of the road, in every available pull-out, struggling by in single file, or barely scraping past each others' mirrors as they came and went during the afternoon.

    But that was later. The celebrations for Discovery Day kicked off shortly after 11 am when the big parade got under way, looping from behind the fire hall on Fourth Avenue, down to Front Street, up Queen to Fifth and south to the former YTG highway yard (where someday an elementary school may be built)beside historic Fort Herchmer and opposite the Dawson City Museum.

    It was one of our longer parades, taking fully 20 minutes to pass any given point. As promised by the parade committee, there was gold in the street, gold wrapped bubble gum and chocolate coins tossed from just about every vehicle that passed by.

    There were some impressive floats this year. The entry from the Tr'ondek Hwech'in made good use of the key players from the summer theatre project. The Tr'inke Zho Daycare float was attractive. There was was even an entry from Whitehorse.

    The employees at Klondike National Historic Sites used their float to continue the low-key political protest they have been mounting all week. The float featured a false front from Ruby's House, once a famous brothel here, with slogans suggesting ways in which the Department of Canadian Heritage might exploit its resources in order to pay its own way.

    Other entries included a marching military band, the Yukon Order of Pioneers, the usual children on decorated bicycles, a gathering of Gold Rush Descendants, the local RCMP detachment, the entries from Sunday's Klondike Krunch Demolition Derby and every fire truck in Dawson.

    (Later in the day the fire department had to turn out for real to what developed as a false alarm at the Visitors Reception Centre.)

    At about the same time the Gold Fields Relay Race was getting under way out at Callison sub-division.

    People hardly had time to take in the YOOP Horticultural show before they had to begin the trek out Bonanza Road to take in the afternoon events. Hosted by Pierre Berton, these included performances by Dancers with Latitude, Apropo de Savoir Faire and the Tagish Dancers. Ian and Sally Wilson were along to give a slide talk on their new book, Gold Rush. The talk was interesting, but the slides were barely visible inside a white tent in the middle of a Klondike afternoon.

    The weather was a mixture of just about everything the Yukon can throw at you, except for snow. It was, by turns, extremely hot, chilly, calm, windy, wet and dry. At 3:30 people were stripped out of their coats and basking in the sun. By 4 o'clock they were huddled out of the rain under the canopy that had held the performers.

    At that point Berton introduced Government Leader John Ostashek, who presented Megan Gates with the personal computer she had won by collecting points in the recycling program.

    Around 4:30 Berton hosted the formal part of the evening's program, which featured several presentations on the life of Skookum Jim; a talk by Barbara Steele, of the Royal Canadian Mint, on "The Importance of Klondike Gold to Canada"; a memorial to the life and youth work of the late miner, Art Fry; a presentation by Tourism Minister Doug Phillips on the "Contribution of Mining to Tourism"; a talk by Stuart Schmidt, of the Klondike Placer Miners Association, on "Modern Day Mining"; and an explanation of the "Ton of Gold Project for 1997" by Klondyke Centennials Society president Bill Bowie.

    By 6:30 the evening barbecue, with entertainment by the band Straight, Clean and Simple, was under way on the creeks, while back in town, organizers were preparing to kick off the second night of the Klondike Country Jamboree at the Bonanza Centre Arena.

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    To Honour the Miner

    by Palma Berger
    Sun Staff

    Honour due to the miners, the mining industry, and the men who made all this possible was duly given at the original Discovery Claim on August 17, 1996; one hundred years after the original discovery of gold at this same spot that led to the Stampede and riches for some, and adventure for all.

    As Pierre Berton said in his opening remarks, "Anniversaries are to look back on the past and what it meant, and what it means for the future." The finding of gold was not what all sought or were rewarded with, he believes. "It was a chance to test yourself; a chance of finding yourself. That is what the stampede was all about."

    The festivities started early with Parks Canada presentations, slide shows, the Tagish dancers in their colourful robes, and other entertainment to set the mood for the day.

    Pierre Berton's opening remarks were followed by his acknowledging all and introducing some descendents of the various historic figures of the Gold Rush.

    He spoke of William Ogilvie to whom was entrusted the surveying and recording of the mining claims. Pierre said, "He could have made millions with as much inside knowledge as he had. But he firmly believed public civil servants should not benefit from inside knowledge. He may not have died rich, but he died a happy man."

    Clare Schenkel then spoke on Skookum Jim as a Family Man. Edith Bohmer told of Skookum Jim's legacy. This was a trust fund set up with great foresight by Skookum Jim, first for his daughter who passed away leaving no children, then to be held in trust and the interest only to be spent on needy and deserving Indians of the Territory. Hence the creation of Skookum Jim's Friendship Centre in Whitehorse. This non-profit centre is for the bettering of the physical, emotional and intellectual well-being of native people.

    Barbara Steele, as representative of the Royal Canadian Mint, spoke of the 14 carat gold coin that is minted each year to honour a milestone in Canadian history. This year it is to honour the Centennial of the Discovery of Gold in the Yukon. One of the reasons the Canadian Mint was built back in 1911, was to handle the amount of gold that came out of the Klondike.

    She presented a copy of the picture on the Klondike 14 Carat gold coin along with the real coin, both mounted inside a frame, to Edith Bohmer. Edith gladly accepted this as their ancestors stood on this very ground 100 years ago to discover the first gold.

    Ms. Steele gave credit to Sally Robinson and Mac Swackhammer of the Dawson Museum and to Paula Hassard of Parks Canada for their input in creating the design of the coin.

    Dianne Toth, daughter of the late Art Fry stood up as representative of the Fry family to speak of their father, Art Fry, who had become owner of Discovery Claim and who gave this land to the City of Dawson. At one stage Art had given 1/2 interest in this claim to the Y.O.O.P.s. But the Pioneers were good enough to return their interest so that the whole of the claim could be given to the City. Art, always supported by Margie, his wife of sixty years, had given much time to helping the youth of Dawson. His proudest moment came when a Dawson boxer he trained was chosen to represent Canada in the Commonwealth Games in Australia, and Art accompanied him.

    Dianne Toth and Margie Fry then unveiled a dredge bucket bearing a plaque honouring Art Fry's dedication to the Youth of Dawson. Stuart Schmidt as President of the Klondike Placer Miners' Association spoke of the Importance of Historic and Present Day Mining. He brought appreciative laughter from the audience as he recalled the old debate about who actually picked up the first piece of gold by quoting his mother as saying it was neither of the two men, it was the women who found the first gold.

    He then drew back the veil from another dredge bucket to reveal the plaque that read, "Honour the Miner".

    Pierre Berton recalled the many French names associated with the Klondike's history, not least of which was Madame Tremblay whom he had known as a child. He introduced Helene St. Onge of the L'Association Franco-Yukonaise who dedicated the last of the three dredges to the "Importance of French Miners". Joe Ladue III made a presentation to the Klondyke Centennial Society.

    The speeches by Bill Bowie, President of the Klondyke Centennial Society, the Honourable John Ostashek, Government leader and closing remarks of Pierre Berton were followed by an evening of good food and fellowship.

    As Barbara Steele noted in her earlier speech she had never seen such community spirit and good fellowship. The feeling of community spirit was there, but one also wondered what other spirits may be looking down from those same hills that witnessed so much beginning one hundred years ago.

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    YAC receives Half Million in Funding from Holland America

    by Dan Davidson
    Sun Staff

    The Yukon Anniversaries Commission received a considerable boost to its fortunes and promotional abilities on August 17 when the Holland America Line Family of Companies announced the details of its five year commitment to the Gold Rush Centennials campaign.

    Al Parrish was on hand to reveal the details of the $502,000 funding package to a gathering of tourism leaders, anniversary planners and media in the dining room at the Westmark Dawson. Parrish cited the Yukon as a steadily growing market and indicated that his company's overall traffic is up.

    Holland America has been making an annual decision to spend $40,000 in the Yukon for some years now, but this decision substantially increases that amount and locks it in for the entire period. The monies are to be dispersed to not-for-profit societies and registered charities upon application to the Community Advisory Board which is chaired by former Yukon Commissioner Doug Bell.

    The Anniversaries Commission is also able to take this money and set up a partnership with the Klondike Visitors Association and the Klondyke Centennials Society to cover the cost of a media contractor to help promote all endorsed events in the Dawson area. YAC is now adding $10,000 to that partnership and may add another $5,000 in September.

    In addition to this activity at the heart of Gold Rush country, an additional $10,000 is now available to extend media assistance to other Yukon communities, in the form of press releases, promotional writing or article style coverage.

    The commission's newsletter will now increase publication from 6 to 8 times yearly and boost its circulation from 2,400 to 80,000. The $10,000 being dedicated to this publication by YAC has encouraged the Yukon News to chip in as a "Proud Supporter" with a $7,000 commitment of staff time, layout charges and colour printing for the newsletter.

    Further, Pat Reese, who publishes the community information booklets for each area in the Yukon, has donated his distribution charges from sales of the centennial banners, so that each community can now have its own page for a Klondike Gold Rush Centennial calendar of events.

    A final $20,000 a year is still available from the YAC for disbursement to endorsed events on a per-application basis, with a ceiling of $3,500 per application per year.

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