Asbestos slows work on historic Dawson bank

Renovation work has stalled at the historic Canadian Bank of Commerce in Dawson because of asbestos found in the building.

Renovation work has stalled at the historic Canadian Bank of Commerce in Dawson because of asbestos found in the building.

The town purchased the building earlier this year for $170,000 from Michele Palma in an out-of-court settlement.

The bank dates back to the gold rush, and Robert Service famously worked as a bank teller there.

It was designated a heritage site in 1988.

Dawson resident

Palma bought the building from the bank decades ago. However, he only purchased the structure itself, and not the land it sits on.

The land was owned by the federal government at the time of the purchase, and it was subsequently transferred to the Yukon and finally to Dawson.

At some point foundation work was done, which in effect physically makes the building part of the land it sits on.

Palma and the town had been in a legal dispute for a couple of years over who is the rightful owner of the property. 

Now that the town is the outright owner, the plan is to restore the building to its former glory.

“Our first goal is getting it back to looking the way that it should,” said Jeff Renaud, Dawson’s chief administrative officer. “It warrants to be a centrepiece of our community.”

But those plans are on hold because of asbestos found in the building, which makes it unsafe for renovations to continue.

The town looked into getting the hazardous material removed and disposed of, said Renaud.

“Unfortunately the estimates for that work are well beyond our financial capabilities right now.”

Estimates were close to a quarter of a million dollars for that work, he said.

Instead, the town hopes to make the building safe again through an encapsulation method, which means that the asbestos would be sealed up so that it is no longer a hazard.

The town has hired a consultant to figure out how much that will cost, said Renaud.

He doesn’t expect to have the answer until late January or early February, he said.

In the meantime, crews will continue to do the work that they can off-site, so they are ready to go when the building can again be accessed, said Renaud.

The town has not yet decided on the eventual purpose of the building.

The first goal is to protect it from further degradation and restore the exterior, said Renaud.

After that, depending on how much interior renovation is possible, the town may come up with a plan to use the building, he said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at