Life in Dawson City

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Dawson City is a delightful celebration of past and present, surprisingly dynamic for so small a community. Writers’ Row on Eighth Avenue reflects a rich literary tradition. Down the street from my sister’s home is the cabin used by poet Robert Service who recites his verses each day for visitors. Another cabin on the street was the local home of novelist Jack London and is now affiliated with the Jack London Interpretive Centre based in San Francisco. Across the street is the family home of writer and broadcaster Pierre Berton, who was raised in Dawson City. Owned by The Writers’ Trust of Canada and maintained by the Klondike Visitors Association, the Berton House hosts visiting writers who come to the city for three-month stints. Among the rich collection of artifacts in the Dawson City Museum down the hill is an amusing documentary of Berton’s life as a child. A short walk away is the Old Post Office, the Palace Grand Theatre, the original Carnegie Library, Madame Tremblay’s Store, Billy Biggs Blacksmith Shop, the SS Keno, the Commissioner’s Residence, the leaning buildings which have settled in the permafrost, and many other historic sites, interspersed between buildings built more recently in the style of the period.

Many artists and craftspeople inspired by the history and beauty of the north display their goods in local art galleries. The Yukon School of Visual Arts enables students to do their first post-secondary year locally and then transfer to art schools in Vancouver, Toronto or Halifax. The Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) presents shows and courses in the historic Odd Fellows Building which it shares with the ODD Gallery. Robert Service School, with 220 students from kindergarten to grade 12, shares a beautiful building with the Dawson City Community Library. The library features a significant collection of northern books, elaborate computer facilities and a spiral staircase leading to the “adult” collection (ostensibly off-limits to the school kids).

Hotels, restaurants and pubs abound. Klondike Kate’s Restaurant and Bombay Peggy’s pub are historic buildings. The Downtown Hotel’s Sourdough Saloon is “home of the sourtoe cocktail;” the Westmark Inn accommodates tourists from Alaska Cruise ships in the summer; the Aurora Inn is a relative newcomer open all year round. The Drunken Goat Taverna serves the best Greek food in the Territory; Sourdough Joe’s and the Riverwest Bistro are stalwarts on Front Street. During the summer, young people from all over the world flock to Dawson to work.

No wonder. In the land of the midnight sun, summer evenings are long and entertainment is easy to find. In April, the Dawson City International Short Film Festival takes over the Odd Fellows Building. In May, there is Gertie’s Opening Night, the Dawson City Gold Show and the Break-Up Comedy Festival. In June, the Commissioner’s Tea and Klondike Ball draw visitors from across the Territory, the Yukon River Quest attracts canoeists and kayakers from around the world to a grueling 715-kilometre river race from Whitehorse to Dawson City, and summer solstice parties occur on the Midnight Dome overlooking the city. In July, musicians from across the country come to the three-day Dawson City Music Festival. The Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in invite everyone to their Moosehide Gathering to celebrate First Nations history and culture. And there are also the Yukon Gold Panning Championships. In August, Discovery Days include a parade, a Mud Bog competition, and the Riverside Arts Festival. The locals who volunteer to run many of these activities are kept busy. For those interested in the outdoors, canoeing or kayaking the Yukon River, hiking and camping in the Tombstone Mountains are readily accessible. For a challenging and totally mind-blowing scenic experience, the Dempster Highway is the splendid 750-kilometre “road to the north” which starts 40 kilometres east of Dawson and goes to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Dawson City clearly has much to do and, for visitors, too little time to do it.

For a complete listing of all to do and see, check out the webpages of the Klondike Visitors Association and Parks Canada.

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