History, we know, can be as dry as dust. In the hands, or rather the voices, of skilled and experienced narrators, history can be the vivid and memorable accounting of where our ancestors originated and how they faced the challenges that befell them. This was our experience this past week when we participated in one of the final tours of Dredge No. 4 near Dawson City.
As our Parks Canada guide led our group of Germans, Americans, New Zealanders and Canadians through the dredge, she explained why the dredges were built, how they came to be on the creeks and how they worked.
But this was no dry recitation of facts. Our guide’s expertise – based on her own research – her breadth of knowledge, and her skill in demonstrating the mechanics made the baffling comprehensible.
Couple these with her humour, animation and enthusiasm, and we had an experience we will long remember. These qualities cannot be replicated by panels, even less by panels that stand outside the dredge itself. (One wonders, in fact, who will even produce the panels, given that the curators and carpenters have already been let go as part of the cuts to Parks Canada.)
Clearly, for these guides, conducting the tours and informing visitors comes with a passion they want to share.
If retaining the guides with their expertise is not a sufficient argument for the preservation of Parks services, there is the economic side of the equation. Thousands of paying visitors contribute toward the costs of Parks Canada personnel and site maintenance every year. Add to this the extra time visitors spend in Dawson taking these tours and one can see the financial benefits to Dawson and the Yukon rippling across the economy.
In this light, cutting Parks Canada personnel and closing Dredge No. 4 makes no sense or cents.
Ryan Leef, as our representative, should be making the case for the restoration of personnel and funding so that Parks Canada can continue its essential role in Yukon.
Let us hope that the Harper government has a rapid rethink about the harmful cuts to Parks Canada. We need the active engagement of Parks Canada staff to conserve our history and to narrate and animate past people, events and places. Every progressive society honours its past. We should continue to do the same with ours.
Rick and Margaret Griffiths