Closing Dawson’s dredge is penny wise, pound poor

Open Letter to MP Ryan Leef: On September 11, I joined my community for one last public tour of Dredge #4. I am looking at my photos right now, and I posted them on my Facebook site for all to view. What I see is a dedicated group of longtime Yukoners wi

Open Letter to MP Ryan Leef:

On September 11, I joined my community for one last public tour of Dredge #4. I am looking at my photos right now, and I posted them on my Facebook site for all to view.

What I see is a dedicated group of longtime Yukoners with large end-of-the-season smiles. One of the guides mentioned how excited he was about a four-day moose hunt starting on the Stewart from the McQuesten airstrip, up to Dawson. Others spoke of the changing of gears this time of the year brings for most Klondikers.

I went out for the 10 a.m. tour and stayed around for the final noon tour: that was when the entire interpreter staff showed up to lend support. They all took the tour, one last time, together. These folks were definitely in that “end of the year” mode but there was a clear sense of bewilderment in the air, bewilderment and betrayal.

I had an opportunity to tour the reclamation work on the hull in between guided tours upstairs. Now that is impressive; that should be part of the tour. The crew, made up of a healthy mix of local carpenters and from-away expertise continue to work on the hull, replacing rotting structure with some of the most beautiful Douglas Fir I have ever seen.

I was struck with the irony – and this has been a comment heard all summer long – of millions of capital dollars being put into a structure that will be mothballed.

Yet our Dredge #4 tour is being closed.

Ottawa is doing poor math. It sees that the dredge only makes, in direct revenue, $30,000 to $40,000 a year. To the bean counters in Ottawa, this is the rationale behind the closure. They fail to recognize the trail of money these tourists leave in their wake, just to get up here, and the national relevance our collection of artifacts holds.

Klondike National Historic Sites has already suffered a large cut to salaries. While such cuts have occurred across the country, job loss has a far greater socio-economic impact in small northern communities such as Dawson.

Why is Parks Canada supporting heritage attractions in the East, while shortchanging the Yukon?

Parks Canada does still have money – it is just choosing not to support the Yukon.

Parks is spending mega-millions of dollars on a new “urban park” in Toronto, the War of 1812 and Franklin expedition projects. All good initiatives, but meanwhile the Dredge is being shut down and the S.S. Klondike converted to self-guided tours as part of a massive national strategy to reduce salary costs.

Parks Canada is slowly pulling out of Dawson and it will definitely impact Yukon tourism.

The Yukon Party campaigned on the benefits of a close relationship with the Government of Canada. Why are they letting this happen?

Tourism Minister Mike Nixon failed to even bring the dredge closure up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper while he was here on recent visit to Carcross.

Mr. Leef, you made a promise to stick up for Yukoners in Ottawa: I am hard pressed to find a more Yukonesque issue than the Dredge #4 closure: Why are you not speaking out against this cutback? Why are you taking your orders from Ottawa? Dawson and the Yukon deserve better.

As the MLA for the Klondike I know my constituents do not support these cuts. The city of Dawson and the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon do not support these cuts either.

According to national direction, Parks Canada is to move “to self-guided visitor activities at select national historic sites while maintaining guided activities at the majority of our national historic sites.” Why is the dredge visitor experience being downgraded to interpretative signs in the parking lot?

This amounts to a shut down. Pretending it is still being interpreted as a “self-guided site” by allowing people to read three signs in the parking lot is ridiculous.

There are local people doing the tours now, doing them really well, with many years of experience and they are losing their jobs. Yukoners care that Parks is taking away jobs, and that they are cutting back on their investment in our communities. This is your opportunity to stand up for Klondikers in Ottawa, Mr. Leef. I respectfully challenge you to fight for this unique part of our culture and our identity.

Yukoners should pressure the Government of Canada to sufficiently fund Parks Canada’s Yukon operations to maintain quality personal interpretation and management of the collection, without impacting other jobs or programs. It’s up to you, Mr. Leef, to lead the charge.

Sandy Silver is MLA of the Klondike and interim leader of the Yukon Liberal Party.