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Dawson celebrates Discovery Day

Arts festival, parade and more hosted in the Klondike
Blue skies and sunshine blessed the commissioner’s picnic on the grounds of the Commissioner’s Residence on Front Street. Some even turned out in period costume, like these happy croquet players. (Michael Gates/Submitted)

Discovery Day weekend in Dawson City was a busy affair despite the long shadow cast by COVID-19.

The program was packed with so many concurrent events and activities that it was impossible to attend them all. The Yukon Riverside Arts Festival featured exhibits and events scattered throughout town over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There were golf and fastball tournaments, and a horticultural exhibition on Saturday.

The events kicked off on Thursday afternoon with the Authors on Eighth walking tour, organized by the Klondike Visitors Association. Winners of the Authors on Eighth writing contest were announced at the event. Dawson resident Lulu Keating received the prize for her short story “Across the Slide.” The poetry winner was Kaitlyn Lonnee for her submission, “The Ballad of Mad Maggie,” while E.T. Thorbeng received the under 16 prize for “Middle of the Pack.”

The opening of the Dawson City Museum’s new exhibition halls was postponed again, due to a delay of installation of some exhibit lighting, but a sneak preview revealed what is going to be spectacular displays of the museum collection. The new exhibits on the main floor address the history of the Dawson region up to the end of the nineteenth century, while the second-floor galleries focus on important subjects from the twentieth century. Community figures are profiled in each exhibit and First Nation history features more prominently than before. This exhibit has been in the planning for several years, and a more complete review of the exhibit should follow the opening later this year.

Each day during the weekend, well-known Yukon poet, KJ Munro, took visitors on Hiku walks through the streets of Dawson, ending at Jack London Square, where participants were encouraged to share any creative works inspired by the walk.

One of the highlights of the Friday line-up was the evening event, “Words Out Loud,” readings and musical performances, sponsored by Yukon Words Society in partnership with the Dawson Print and Publishing Festival. Featured were Dawsonites Kylie van Every, who shared several stories told by Tr’ondëk Hwëchin elders, Mary Fraughton, who read several poems, including some reflecting complex family relationships, and Charles Atlas Sheppard, who shared his short story about morel mushroom picking near Dawson. West Dawsonite banjo-plucking and guitar-picking Mo Knight sang several of her own compositions. The socially distanced audience responded enthusiastically to all the performers.

The parade commenced at noon on Saturday, following a route designed to circumvent construction at the south end of Fifth Avenue. The procession was led by a highland pipe band, followed by members of the Yukon Order of Pioneers, Pioneer Women, restored antique automobiles, children on bicycles, floats, RCMP in red serge, a clown riding a penny farthing bicycle, and the Dawson Fire Department’s fleet of new and restored vehicles. Horn blasts from their modern fire engines were loud enough to be heard all the way to Bear Creek.

Commissioner Angélique Bernard hosted a free picnic at the Commissioner’s Residence in the afternoon. The picnic was an alternative to the Commissioner’s tea and ball which were cancelled due to COVID-19. Complimentary box lunches were handed out. Several parties signed up to play croquet and bocce on the lawn under sunny blue skies. Story Laureate Michael Gates gave a short reading, followed by special guided tours inside the mansion.

In another event sponsored by the Print & Publishing Festival, Author Ivan Coyote launched their new book ‘Care of’ at the Palace Grand Theatre. The event was hosted and opened with a short performance given by Toronto-based performer, Becky Johnson.

By all accounts, the Discovery Day weekend was the first event of the past two summers to see a return of visitors to Dawson in significant numbers. Restaurants were busy, and the streets, if not jammed with pedestrians as in normal times, were filled with lively crowds. One businessperson described Dawson streets as desolate back on July 1, while others described the impact of reduced visitation during the pandemic. Another expressed the difficult adjustment to larger crowds after having dealt with small numbers to that point this season and last.

The forest fire evacuation notice was reduced by wet weather earlier in the week, however, road construction through several sections of the North Klondike Highway between Stewart Crossing and Gravel Lake meant several delays, mud when wet, and dust when dry. Two overturned vehicles in a short stretch of the construction zone were a testament to the hazardous driving conditions. Other than that, Discovery weekend was a lively event welcoming visitors back to Dawson City, and an indication that life may be returning to a semblance of normal.