The Yukon’s Story Laureate is bringing early Hollywood to the Klondike with the release of his new book.
Michael Gates, currently the territory’s story laureate, will host a launch for Hollywood in the Klondike: Dawson City’s Great Film Find in Dawson on Sept. 25 at the KIAC ballroom beginning at 7 p.m.
Along with a reading from the 266-page text, the evening is set to feature a screening of some of the films that were found accompanied to live music featuring Barnacle Bob on keyboard.
That event will be followed by a Whitehorse session a little more than a week later on Oct. 4 at the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre, featuring the music of Annie Avery to accompany the films as well as a new composition by Dan Halen inspired by the book.
The story of the Dawson film find has been the subject of documentaries, news coverage and part of Gates’ own History Hunter column in the News over the years.
Gates was the curator for Parks Canada in Dawson in 1978 when construction work on a new recreation centre unearthed reels upon reels of film from the early 1900s. They had been buried there when the former swimming pool on the site was filled in. The find became known as the Dawson film find with interest coming in from around the world.
“That’s when everything started,” Gates said in a Sept. 20 interview.
Eventually the films would be moved to Ottawa — via military helicopter from Dawson, given the extremely flammable condition of the film — and catalogued there. The films that could be salvaged were shown at the Palace Grand Theatre in Dawson.
In his book, Gates revisits the film find, and as the book description states: “excavates and illuminates the cinematic history of a gold rush town like no other.”
He details the history of moving pictures being the first such cinematic show in town — the first was simply the image of a moving train — onto a time when the community boasted several theatres showing silent films on a regular basis, then “talkies” and the eventual decline and closure of those theatres. Colourful characters of the Klondike who went on to Hollywood and brought their Klondike experience with them are also explored: Robert Service, Jack London, Alexander Pantages, Marjorie Rambeau among them, along with a more fictionalized version of the Klondike that Hollywood created. Gates’ book looks at how that’s shaped the world’s perception of the North.
One could say Gates’ work on the book began on that day in 1978 when he got a call about the discovery as he and Kathy Jones, then the curator at the Dawson Museum and now Gates’ wife, have continued to be involved in researching, interviews and assisting in making of the documentary Dawson City: Frozen In Time.
Gates said it was a couple of years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, that work on the book itself “went into overdrive” as he described.
“The good was it focused my attention on writing the book,” Gates said. “But a lot of the archives that I relied upon for my information were shut down.”
Gates was able to work around the temporary closure of some of the archives. Throughout the book are a number of photos from his and Kathy Jones’ own collection as well as documents he was able to use through the Dawson City Museum, including items from the collection of Fred Atwood, who had been active in the Dawson community in the early 1900s.
“He kept a collection of tickets and programs and newspaper articles and so that really added flesh to the story,” Gates said. “It was fascinating.”
As he gets set to host the two events in Dawson and Whitehorse to launch his new book, Gates said he hopes what he’s written will prompt readers to take a closer look at the relationship between the Klondike and Hollywood.
Along with the two launch events, Hollywood in the Klondike is available at local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org