Dawson’s housing doldrums

The Yukon School of Visual Arts is desperately seeking housing for its new crop of students. It's a perennial problem, not only for the art school, but for all of Dawson City said, Eldo Enns, SOVA's acting administrator.

The Yukon School of Visual Arts is desperately seeking housing for its new crop of students.

It’s a perennial problem, not only for the art school, but for all of Dawson City said, Eldo Enns, SOVA’s acting administrator.

“Our students come up at the end of the summer, typically just before the seasonal workers disappear, so we have that interim period in September where it gets a little tricky because things haven’t opened up completely, and there are people looking for housing for the winter,” he said.

But prospective students shouldn’t be discouraged, said Enns.

“If you come to Dawson we will find you a place to stay,” he said.

In past years, the art school has had to rely on the generosity of Dawsonites who have opened their homes to SOVA students.

“It’s that kind of generosity, from our perspective, that enables us to go forward,” said Enns.

The school has looked at the possibility of creating its own residence. Most recently the old Korbo apartment building was considered, until the Yukon Housing Corporation decided to tear it down because of the expense to clean up the land underneath the building, which had been contaminated by a fuel spill.

When SOVA was founded five years ago, the ultimate goal was to create a four-year degree-granting university, said Greg Hakonson. He designed the SOVA building and was one of the “founding fathers” of the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, which created the art school.

It was an economic art initiative, he said.

“If we could succeed it would mean something like 450 to 300 new people in Dawson, which is equivalent to a small hardrock mine,” said Hakonson. “The big difference is it’s not boom/bust.”

However, with the school struggling to house just 17 students, the dream of expanding could be in jeopardy.

“To me that’s pretty stupid that (the government) would invest so many millions into it and then not invest the little bit more required to make it succeed,” said Hakonson.

It’s not just art students who have trouble finding shelter. Dawson City, like almost every community in the Yukon, is facing an acute lack of affordable housing.

To tackle the issue, the town, along with the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce, Klondike Visitors Association and the Klondike Institute of Arts joined together.

Following the recommendations of the Klondike Development Organization, the town set some vacant land aside and put out a request for proposals for an affordable housing project.

Hakonson’s company, Low Impact Development, won the tender.

It put together a plan to build six small 500-square-foot bungalows priced at $120,000 or less.

“We weren’t going to make any kind of decent money on it,” said Hakonson. “This was more or less something we wanted to do for the community.”

It only took them a couple days to sell all the units. “We had to turn two people away,” he said.

The town initially approved the plans, but last spring it shelved the project “out of the blue,” said Hakonson.

The town said the lot it had chosen wasn’t zoned properly, and that the development contravened Dawson’s Official Community Plan.

As far as Hakonson knows it’s the first time that the town has killed a project because of conflict with the OCP.

“I’m pretty sure it’s the only time they’ve ever pulled that cat out of the bag,” he said.

As of press time, Mayor Peter Jenkins couldn’t be reached for comment.

Hakonson invested $15,000 of his own money in the project and still has several months left on the development contract that he signed with the city.

He could apply to amend the OCP, but that’s a long process. And with Dawson currently rewriting the OCP and municipal elections right around the corner, Hakonson is opting to wait.

The new revamped OCP has already passed first reading at town council and there is a public hearing on the plan scheduled for Sept. 10.

Acting on the recommendations that came from the OCP planning process would be a good start to solving the housing problem, said Wayne Potoroka, a town councillor who is running for mayor in October.

“We have to establish a favourable environment for all types of housing stock, not just student housing, but all types of housing,” he said.

“We need a plan. The future will be on top of us before we know it, and in some cases it has already sort of rolled us over.”

Contact Josh Kerr at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision


Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited internet options beginning Dec. 1. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet for some available Dec. 1

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited… Continue reading

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read