Story & photo
by Samantha Elmsley
Dawson City builders, rejoice: the Dawson City Museum and the Heritage Advisory Committee are coming together this summer to build a database of photos that will help builders fulfill the historical building standards.
Luke Hunter, a Dawson resident studying history at the University College London, will be working out of the Dawson City Museum to put the database together. He’s hoping to have the database ready for use by mid- September.
“Currently, if someone wants to build in downtown Dawson, they have to find historical precedent for it,” said Luke.
“The feeling, I suppose, is that that’s a bit difficult to do. A lot of individuals find the requirements quite demanding and difficult to satisfy… The database will function almost as an extra-large style guide.”
Anyone wishing to build within the Dawson City Historic Control District, which runs from Crocus Bluff to the slide, must find historical precedent— and providing a photo is often the most helpful means of establishing that proof.
The period of commemoration for Dawson runs from 1898 to 1910, says Trina Buhler, chair of HAC. Builders must then have it approved by the Heritage Advisory Committee prior to hammering the first nail. Although the museum has been in the process of digitizing their photos over the past five years, photos that could be useful to builders are not currently separate from the entire collection. This can make research a long and discouraging process.
“The photographs have been available to the public,” said Molly MacDonald, head archivist at the Dawson City Museum, “it’s just that they’re mixed in with photographs of sternwheelers and whatnot.”
In addition to isolating photos most useful to builders, the database will also pinpoint the details of historical construction, cropping photos in order to more clearly show things like side panels and gingerbread work.
“There is a sense that people feel the guidelines are quite stringent, and that they are quite limited,” said Luke.
“So part of this is meant to show what a wide variety of styles and choices there are that can still satisfy the historical guidelines of the town.”
At this time, the project will not be online, but it will be widely available throughout the city: the Museum and Heritage Advisory Council will have a copy, with the intention of having distributed at other public institutions for wider use. Eventually, Molly hopes to see the project online.
In closing, Molly emphasized her excitement at the Museum’s chance to develop an historical project that is so relevant to Dawsonites today. And with Luke being a local resident, the project is truly rooted in its service to the community.
“It’s really nice to have someone who knows a bit about the context of the project, why this is important—some of the challenges it represents, and some of the benefits,” says Molly.
Funding for the project is coming largely from the town, which is contributing $10,000. Canadian Library Association is contributing another $4,000.