by Dan Davidson
On August 16 the community of Dawson will be invited to view the results of an eight year project to restore portions of the Commissioner's Residence, that impressive Front Street edifice which once housed Ottawa's chief Yukon mandarin.
The building is still in the process of being restored to the glory with which it shone during the tenure of George and Martha Black, who held forth there from 1912-1916, bringing to a close its 16-year history as the official residence.
When the plan to renovate the building was finally approved in the late 1980s, one of the exacting tasks facing the Department of Canadian Heritage was creating the illusion that the viewing rooms had not been through years of seasonal temperature stresses and the 1979 flood.
Introducing the museum lecture called "Raising the Dead", local historian and Parks curator Michael Gates showed his audience slides of rooms heavily damaged by the metre of water that washed through the building. Wiping away all traces of this damage to the building is a story in itself. Gates was there to introduce the man who masterminded the restoration of the furniture.
Rick Lair is the furniture conservator for the Prairie and Northern Region Division of Parks Canada. With a background in restorations that extends all the way east to the Nova Scotia Museum, the Winnipeg based Lair was well prepared to begin the task of looking after the furnishings which survived from the Black period.
Conservation, Lair told his audience, is a field where perfection cannot be the goal of the craftsperson. Instead the conservator must safeguard "the value of the historic integrity of a piece." The goal is to stabilize the piece, not improve it. Where the artifact has been damaged, the goal of restorative conservation is to return it to a time when it looked used but good.
In other words, you replace what you must and keep what you can. The threadbare seat covers are replaced with identical or similar patterns; collapsed chair cushions are resuspended; damaged legs are repaired; joints are tightened and furniture reassembled. But the nicks and scratches that came from regular use are left in place.
Using a detailed slide history of five pieces from the many that still exist from the Black era (Parks estimates it has access to 70% of the period furniture), Lair took his attentive audience through the process of reconstruction, showing the original damaged pieces, some of the choices that had to be made along the way and the final piece in restored condition.
As an added bonus to the lecture, some of the items used in the show were actually on display in the museum lobby, where the audience could get a good close look after Lair's talk.
With its $1 million dollar price tag and eight year timeline, the restoration of the old Commissioner's Residence in Dawson City is probably the last of the great restoration projects that will be done here. In these days of restraints and cut-backs, it's unlikely that anything this massive (save for the Keno stabilization, which is already in progress) will be undertaken here in the next decade.
by Dan Davidson
While one might have expected that Commissioner Judy Gingell would have been the star of the day at her first Commissioner's Tea it seems instead that the focus in most minds, including her own, was on the Commissioner's Residence itself, due to be reopened to public display on August 16 after an 8 year restoration project.
As Orest Kruhlak, the Regional Executive Director for the Pacific and Yukon Region of the Department of Canadian Heritage, noted in his remarks, the annual tea enjoyed "a magnificent day, (and) a gorgeous setting...I'm sure the minister... would wish she were here...
"The work that has been done by Parks Canada in restoring the residence and the contents of the residence is truly a joy," Kruhlak continued, "and I think when you get the opportunity to see their efforts you will be, like myself, very appreciative of the wonderful people we have working at Parks Canada in the Department of Canadian Heritage."
Kruhlak was speaking near the end of an afternoon which saw hundreds of people filling the lawn and verandah at the residence to enjoy the tea, which was jointly hosted by Klondike National Historic Sites and the IODE.
As IODE member Joyce Caley explained to the crowd, "Co-hosting (this tea)is a natural union of Parks and the IODE."
The Dawson chapter of the organization, which began life as the Imperial order of the Daughters of the Empire, was begun here by Martha Black in 1913, when she was the wife of Commissioner George Black and lived in the residence. It is the Blacks' period of residency which is being commemorated in the restoration project and Martha was particularly fond of garden parties on the spacious lawns.
Imperialism may be out of fashion and the empire may be long gone, but the IODE lingers on as a group of women united to do good deeds for people in a lot of places.
Commissioner Gingell was equally enthusiastic about the residence. In her brief greeting she informed her guests about plans for the building.
"There's going to be an opening of the Commissioner's Residence here on August 16. It looks like its going to be a real exciting day and we're going to have a lot of guests from all over the place attending with us. I can't give out too many secrets. You'll just have to be her on the 16th and enjoy that day."
The Commissioner was dressed in garb symbolic of her First Nations heritage. Her red jacket was made of material similar to that used in trading blankets among the Tlingit people. On the back was emblazoned a black raven, the symbol of her clan.
Her special guests at the Tea included Mr. and Mrs. Yukon, the Tates of Haines Junction; Miss Sourdough Rendezvous, Angeline Joe; Yukon Government Leader John Ostashek; Premier Don Morin from the NWT; Grand Chief Harry Allen of the Council for Yukon First Nations, Tr'on dek Hwech'in Chief Steve Taylor; and Colonel LeBlanc of the Canadian Forces.
In spite of all the gentry the most popular guest at the party was still Constable Cory Hoehn, mounted on a horse supplied by Greg Skuce.
Entertainment for the afternoon included a recitation of "The Spell of the Yukon" by Tom Byrne, vocal solos by Harmony Hunter and Skye Felker and three selections from the Robert Service School choir.
by Dan Davidson
Cultural symbolism was a major component of this year's Commissioner's Ball, celebrating the Year of Discovery, the first in a trilogy of Gold Rush anniversary years.
"This is the year of Discovery," declaimed MC Denny Kobayashi. "It is truly an exciting time for our community. There are many stories that we're going to have the opportunity to tell this year and next year, during the year of transportation -- to tell the world.
"We are on the threshold of what we believe to be one of the most exciting times for Dawson City. Certainly one of the most exciting times for the Klondike. It will put us on the map. Most of you people here have been a part of that. Some of you, your ancestors have been a part of that. It's our pleasure, on behalf of KVA, to welcome you back to where the Yukon's roots are, to thank you for coming."
Several cultures were represented during the evening, beginning with the table settings, an innovative design featuring small rubber boots stuffed with foliage of the sort that is found along the creeks this time of the year.
An immigrant culture proudly led the Commissioner's party into the dining area at the Palace Grand Theatre, in the person of local piper Bill Jackson.
"This is real good," said Commissioner Judy Gingell, during her remarks. "This is what you call a cultural exchange, being piped in. I'd like to compliment the women who are out tonight. I've never seen such beautiful gowns. The men also look very handsome."
Gingell then went on to explain the significance of her own attire, the first of many such outfits she hopes to wear during her five year stint as Commissioner.
"It's really important that we can go back and still reach out to all of our artists out there to help us design our wardrobe," she said. "Since I have been in this position I have been very proud to see such excellent talents as we have among first nations people."
The design for her gown came to her one night in her sleep after days of trying to search out the most appropriate apparel for this annual fete. After poring over many catalogs and design books, she found herself in a quandary.
"I just can't," she said dryly, "seem to find a traditional garment that a first nation (person) would have worn back in 1898 -- a ball gown." The audience laughed in appreciation.
Instead she came up with something different, and then assembled a cadre of relatives and friends to help her put it together just in time for the ball, the finishing touches having been completed at midnight on Friday.
The top portion of the dress is of moosehide. The leather work and the beading were done by Gingell's mother, Annie Smith, who is now well into her seventies. Other beadwork was by elder Irene Smith. The dress bears a crow design on the right in honour of her clan. while on the left is a wolf based on a design commissioned by her ancestor Skookum Jim, one of the co-discoverers of the original Klondike find.
"What I tried to do in the design here is to bring back some of the culture and the designs that our people had long ago," Gingell explained.
The skirt of the dress is surrounded by bead designs of fireweed, done by Dianne Smith. The boots were given to her when she retired as the leader of the Council for Yukon First Nations, and were made by Old Crow resident Hannah Netro. The belt is fashioned with a bone belt, with a crow design carved in. Blue fringes on the outfit symbolize the creeks, where the gold was found.
"You will also see some beaded gold nuggets -- I wish I had the real thing."
Beaver fur trim around the top of the dress completes the symbolic outfit.
While there were a few empty seats at this year's Ball, there shouldn't have been. The committee actually oversold the building, packing 161 tickets into a space that could have held 160. Chair Lambert Curzon figured that some people must have decided to skip the meal and head for Gerties early.
If they did, they missed a fine meal, catered by Downtown Hotel. With free Gertie's tickets as part of the $75 admission fee, many people did take the opportunity after the dinner and speeches to catch the lively 10:30 show and try their hand at the gaming tables and slot machines.
The dance band later on was Yukon Jack, Commissioner Gingell's own choice.
"I don't think anyone will be going home from this event disappointed," Curzon said. "Today an elderly couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary came to us and wanted to know, if possible, they could celebrate their anniversary at this special occasion. So we added 8 places.
"It was a very nice treat to have Bill Jackson here playing the bagpipes. Then we had Glen Stevenson, the pianist at the palace Grand this summer, to lend a little ambiance. Then Mrs. Davidson's choir girls were selling the fluted glasses in period costume and a couple of paperboys out front -- also in costume -- were distributing the Guide to the Gold Fields paper to the crowd."
The usual crowd of spectators across the street had a lot to see as the ball goers strolled down the street or pulled up by horse and carriage.
In a tent at the side of the palace Grand, local photographer Clair Dragoman was busy producing sepia-tone Polaroid momentos, courtesy of Canada Post Corporation.
As a special added attraction, there was a repeat performance "Nuggets are a Girls' Best Friend", held over from February's Centennial Ball and presented by the Dawson Youth Drama Club.
Next year's plan is for a transportation theme and the year after that will commemorate the Rush.
by Dan Davidson
Schedules were more than a little off during the first day of the Western Premiers' Conference in Dawson, but it was just as well, as far as the "Meet the Premiers Dinner" hosted by the Klondike Visitors Association was concerned.
High winds, blowing dust and extreme chill made the whole evening somewhat doubtful at 5:30, but forty-five minutes later, when things actually began, the weather had cleared substantially and the sun was shining.
The Dawson City Music Festival's tent was still the best place to hold the dinner, though. The sumptuous BBQ was prepared by members of the Tr'on dek Hwech'in First Nation.
Entertainment for the evening also came from the Tr'on dek Hwech'in. The summer theatre group provided a puppet show based on a Raven legend, as well as a poetry recitals by Jackie Worrell and Vanessa Everitt and a Raven dance by Michelle Oleson.
Local politicians have been quite pleased by the outcome of the conference, which has seen the name of Dawson City spotlighted on the news broadcasts during the conference. MC Denny Kobayashi, executive director of the Klondike Visitors Association, thanked Government Leader John Ostashek for successfully lobbying the group to meet here.
After greetings from Mayor Art Webster, councillor Angie Joseph-Rear of the Tr'on dek Hwech'in and MLA David Millar, Ostashek responded.
"I think it's very fitting ... this is the ideal setting for a group of this size to come and see what was created here and the reason for the existence of the Yukon. We held our meetings today in the old legislative precincts which were created because of the Gold Rush. I think it's a very fitting tribute that, as we move forward in responsible government in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, that we came back go the roots of government in the Yukon."
Being in Dawson has created a very warm feeling among the ministers, and Ostashek felt it had contributed to the cooperation in their formal sessions.
For each of the premiers, Ostashek had a Yukon memento, specially painted gold pans prepared by Whitehorse artist Catherine Deer.
The evening ended with a little informal gold panning contest, after each of the premiers had had a lesson in the art from MLA David Millar. Salted gold pans were provided by Guggieville, ad the prize of 1 oz of gold was donated by the Gas Shack.
by Dan Davidson
Whatever their response to the larger issues debated during the course of their meetings in Dawson, the visiting western premiers had nothing but praise for the community, the hospitality and the atmosphere created here.
A miracle happened here in Dawson," said newly elected B.C. premier Glen Clark, "I spent the last 30 days campaigning against Ralph Klein and now we agree on everything."
His own personal schedule, had, he noted, been rather brisk of late: "It feels like I've been panning for gold for the last 30 days."
For his part, Premier Klein made an amusing appeal to the home audience in describing his conversation with John Ostashek earlier that day at the Old Territorial Building.
"Sitting in that building today and to understand that that was the first legislature in this territory and that it was turned over to Whitehorse in 1953. John said to me, 'They will never forgive us in Dawson for relinquishing the capital.' And I said, 'Why?' You have all the best of the capital here. You have the building. You have a gorgeous museum. And you don't have the government. I think this is all right."
Saskatchewan's Premier Roy Romanov focussed on the benefits of having the conferences move around, and had warm words for this one.
"It's truly been one of the very best WPC's I've attended. Somewhere...the Western premiers decided to hold their meetings outside of the major centers of the four provinces and the two territories, and I think that was a great decision because when we travel around to do business what we really get to know is the people of this great country a little bit better and what a rich and colourful and varied history this great nations of ours.
"Dawson City is a first time visit for me which really exemplifies...the finest characteristics of Canada. There is a combination of individual spirit and strength. You've got to be a person who has a sense of direction to come to any part of Canada, but for sure for Dawson City. At the same time it has that other attribute -- a feeling of community, of people helping each other out."
Manitoba's Premier Gary Filmon followed up the unity theme in his remarks. He noted that "35% of those who voted for separation had never been to any other province in Canada. It occurred to me that if they had the opportunity that we (in public life) have to see people in all areas of this country, to see how similar we are -- we have far more in common than the things that divide us -- we'd never have anybody thinking about separation, I can assure you."
Premier Klein followed up the same idea: "It's the magic of Canada that exists in its diversity, and if only people can see it...to see it in all its majesty, then they will start to think about this word 'separation', and start to appreciate what it means to come together and to be together and to have that sense of unity and community.
"There's been a lot of talk about gold in 'them thar hills'. Well I think there's a lot of gold in them thar hearts, those hearts that are the Yukon."
Premier Don Morin of the Northwest Territories was, like Clark, at his first meeting. He was last to speak.
"This is a very traditional gathering for me because they let the elders speak first."
Morin cited the partition of his territory as an example of a peaceful, cooperative process. However he joked that people in the north have to stay together and work together. Any other arrangement would be too cold.
|Klondike Sun Home Page|