The door closed, followed by the click of a lock. The timer showed 60 minutes.
That’s how long we had to solve a murder and find our way out of the room.
Thankfully, failing to solve the murder in the allotted time would only damage our ego, because the scene isn’t from a horror movie but from Parks Canada’s newest attraction: the Dawson City Escape Room.
The game takes place in a room inside the Commissioner’s Residence on Front Street.
It’s based on the true story of the murder of Leon Bouthillette, whose decomposed body was found south of Dawson City on July 14, 1902.
The five of us quickly split tasks, some deciphering clues and others looking around the room for new ones.
Adrenaline was rushing through our veins. While we were racing against time, a man was watching our every move from a monitor one floor below using a remote camera.
In the past two years, escape rooms have flourished across the world, with as many as 15 in Vancouver alone. Last April, one opened near the Takhini Hot Springs outside Whitehorse.
Escape rooms are built around a fictional story, requiring teams to solve puzzles, riddles and other headache-inducing scenarios to find their way out in the allotted time.
The advantage of setting up an escape room in Dawson City is that Parks Canada didn’t need to create a fake gruesome murder story.
“We have such a rich history of larger-than-life, you-wouldn’t-believe-it-was-true-even-if-we told-you kind of stories,” said Parks Canada’s Teresa Conkin, who worked on the escape room.
The Parks Canada team in Dawson set out to turn the story of how a North-West Mounted Police Officer solved the gruesome 1902 murder into a one-hour puzzle.
The room inside the Commissioner’s Residence was outfitted to resemble the officer’s room at the time.
The residence itself is the ideal location: the renovated Victorian-era building has kept its Gold Rush vibe, making the story much more real.
For Parks Canada, the escape room is the ideal way to reach a younger audience, pairing fun with historical events.
The game creator, a consultant hired by Parks Canada, opted to rely heavily on a mix of clues and puzzles to recreate the mystery.
“He took the story and wove it into a puzzle,” Conkin said. “The puzzle is all connected to the story.”
While willingly locking yourself in a room with four other people for an hour to solve puzzles might not necessarily sound like fun, the creators of the game made it entertaining enough that time flies by.
The escape room has been open for a week, and so far there’s been a success rate of about 10 per cent.
Two Yukon News reporters paired with three other visitors were able to solve the murder in 44 minutes, breaking the previous record of 49 minutes.
It was difficult but doable.
After all, the Mountie who solved the original case only had one clue to go on: a keychain.
“It was quite an impressive feat to solve this murder,” Conkin said.
Even groups who didn’t make it in time still had fun, she said.
“Whether they managed to escape within the time allotted or not they came out buzzing with excitement.”
Solve the murder and you will receive a personalized North-West Mounted Police Certificate of Genius, which, mounted in the right frame, looks like a genuine credential.
Because the residence is a historic site, and to make sure everything runs smoothly, staff monitor the room with a camera and can communicate with the team via walkie-talkie.
The participants can get two clues if they’re stuck.
Back when it happened, the murder triggered an international man hunt.
The detective in charge, W.H. Welsh, tracked the murderer to the United States, travelling thousands of kilometres.
“It was an incredible journey to solve that murder,” Conkin said.
For the murderer, it didn’t end so well: he was hanged in 1903.
The Dawson City Escape Room runs until the end of the season, Sept. 25, and will be back next summer.
Parks Canada recommends groups of four to six for the experience. Smaller groups can be paired with one another.
Entry is $22 per participant. To book, call 993-7210, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Dawson City Visitor Information Centre.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at