Dawson City to gussy up downtown

The City of Dawson is looking for a downtown makeover, and it’s recruiting local citizens to help. A walk-about planned for Monday afternoon will be hosted by Urban Systems’ Zoe Morrison and Dawson heritage advisor Trina Buhler.

The City of Dawson is looking for a downtown makeover, and it’s recruiting local citizens to help.

A walk-about planned for Monday afternoon will be hosted by Urban Systems’ Zoe Morrison and Dawson heritage advisor Trina Buhler. The duo will take Dawsonites on a tour of their own downtown to find out what people love and what can be improved.

“It was just time to see if we can’t do a better job of planning for our downtown core,” said Dawson’s mayor, Wayne Potoroka.

He said the plan came about when the city realized there was an opportunity to work with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, which is currently working on its own regional development plan as part of its self-government agreement.

The idea for a walk-about is great, Potoroka said, because it presents the opportunity to get input from the community in an informal setting.

“Sometimes the best ideas come from places where you’d least expect it,” Potoroka said.

The planned revitalization will be an interesting one given Dawson’s historic character. Its unpaved streets, wooden sidewalks, tin roofs and siding all are historical attributes of the Klondike-era boomtown that are protected by heritage bylaws.

“Dawson is a really special place,” said Morrison. “The people who live there are really aware of how important the heritage is for tourism and the character of the town.”

While most people in town love Dawson’s character, there are some modern challenges that come with it.

“Some of the more practical things they are struggling with are the boardwalk sidewalks, which are great and reflect the heritage very nicely, but they’re not always accessible. (We’re) trying to solve some of these practical problems in a way that still reflects the heritage,” Morrison said.

“Now in Dawson you see people with strollers or walkers in the street instead of on the sidewalk, which isn’t always a problem, but that’s one of the challenges they are facing,” she said.

Other concerns include finding ways to put empty lots and abandoned buildings to use, and updating the look and feel of Dawson’s downtown to make it more appealing to businesses and tourists.

The work will likely be similar to efforts to revitalize the waterfront area long Front Street, explained Trina Buhler. She has partnered with Urban Systems to facilitate the community meetings that will ultimately be put into a formal plan and presented for the community to implement.

“It’s about keeping things alive down there, incorporating art and meeting spaces into the downtown core. What do they love about the downtown core, what really bothers them about it? Are tourists able to get from the downtown core to various historic sites easily?” Buhler said.

While Urban Systems’ project looks mostly at the streetscape in the downtown core, Buhler is also working on a separate project specific to one iconic building, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce on Front Street.

Buhler is working with an architect from Victoria on a plan to fix up the exterior of the bank building and make sure that it’s protected from the weather. But she has to make sure that the building’s character is maintained, just as the city will have to juggle its wooden sidewalks with accessibility issues.

“It’s a national historic site, so those elements, the character-defining elements like the roof, and the windows, and its shape and its original location on that prime piece of property has to be retained.

“You have to take the old into consideration and protect the material that is already there. But at the same time, roofs are complicated, and you want everything sloping in the right direction. So you want to use modern materials while protecting the heritage materials that are underneath,” Buhler said.

Contact Jesse Winter at jessew@yukon-news.com