I had a full day this overcast and cool Friday, and covered four attractions, posts for which will follow over the next few days. I’ll start off with the Dawson City walking tour led by a Parks Canada costumed interpreter.
This 90 minute tour covers only a tiny portion of downtown Dawson, pretty much just two blocks square, and doesn’t touch on three quarters of the subjects I would have expected it to cover. It is a great tour that, to my immense delight, took us into buildings I thought were just façades.
The tour starts at the Palace Grand Theatre, but doesn’t go into any details about it.
The Palace Grand today is where you can buy tickets for the Parks Canada attractions as well as a ‘Pick-a-Pack’, which gives you access to three attractions for the price of two. There will be a big shingding there tomorrow, with ladies in gowns and men in tuxes, an annual event known as the Commissioner’s Ball.
Our first stop was Lowe’s Mortuary where we learned about the different ways folks made their fortune in Dawson, from placer mining to saloon keeping to prostitution. One fact that I learned was that before the cold came, an estimate was made of how many people might die over the winter and that many graves were dug before the ground froze!
Next stop was the Bank of British North America.
This was the first bank to operate in Dawson, starting business in a tent in 1897. Today, the only bank in Dawson is a CIBC, across the street on 2nd avenue. As a bonus, you can see in the background the original CIBC bank where Robert Service worked.
Going into this building was neat since I walk by it so many times in an average week.
The next stop was Ruby’s Place, the site of the last brothel in Dawson, which shut down in the 1960’s!
Behind the brothel is a row of little cabins:
Imagine an alley lined with these things, all holding a girl plying the oldest trade in history.
Rather than outlaw prostitution, the Northwest Mounted Police regulated the profession, requiring the women to have monthly checkup. They would have to present their ‘clean bill of health certificate’ upon request and they would be fined or even expelled from town if they did not have it.
The next stop was my favourite simply because I’ve always thought that this was a building with a great front and that it’s a shame that there’s nothing inside. Joke was on me!
This building housed several saloons. The Red Feather Saloon was the last one and the name on the building when it was taken over by Parks Canada. However, the inside was modeled on an earlier saloon, the Hub, simply because it’s the only one for which a picture of the inside remains. Note that gambling was outlawed in Dawson in the early 1900’s, so the only games played in the Red Feather Saloon were of the pleasure variety, such as cribbage.
The final stop on the walking tour was the original 1898 post office.
The arrival of a post office and bank in Dawson confirmed its identity as a proper town that would not simply fade into history the way so many other gold rush towns, such as Dyea, did. There was a time when Dawson was a major city of 30,000 souls, one that got electricity and telephone service well ahead of what are now major North American cities. Today, it is a shadow of its former self, but it is still a thriving community and one that is not likely to fade quietly into non-existence.
The tour over, I headed across the street to the current post office, down to Front Street to the Riverwest Café for a sandwich to eat later, and then I hoofed it up to Writer’s Row, 8th Avenue, to learn all about two of the three famous authors associated with Dawson, and see the home of the third. To be continued… 🙂
Check out the gallery for more pictures from the walking tour: