Frostbite finds new home in this old house

The freshly oiled floors were barely dry on Friday night when Frostbite Music Society officially opened its new permanent office space in Shipyards…

The freshly oiled floors were barely dry on Friday night when Frostbite Music Society officially opened its new permanent office space in Shipyards Park.

It’s the century-old Chambers House’s third move, and the society’s sixth move in five years.

And it was next to impossible, said Brenda Barnes

Frostbite’s president became emotional as she told how the society came to own and open its new unique office.

It took many failed attempts and delays to purchase the log cabin. Then the society had to find land to which it could be moved.

“The society has attained a new maturity and stability and is now situated on the brink of new directions,” said Barnes.

“Its identity solely as music presenter has expanded and now encompasses heritage preserver, property manager and community developer.”

Celebrating its 30th year, the Frostbite Music Festival takes place February 15 to 17 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

The society has had to move from rented office to rented office over the years — an unstable situation that always hung over the head of festival organizers.

Before settling at Shipyards Park, the society office had moved five times in five years, including a stint in Barnes’ home.

Several years ago, Frostbite was told it might lose its office space only weeks before the start of the festival.

“It’s hard to sustain energy when you’re always concerned with moving or staying afloat,” said Barnes.

A new, lasting home gives the society stability and credibility, she added

“To have a permanent spot, it gives a more professional impression for people. When people don’t know where you are, it’s hard to do business.”

Watching the doors open gives Barnes a feeling of closure.

She expects to step down from the board after this year’s festival.

“It’s time to spread some of the experience around,” she said.

“It’s a great time to bring in some new energy and ideas.”

Securing money and land for the new offices has been a decade-long challenge, said Barnes.

The society acquired the house from a failing non-profit group for a reasonable price.

“We got it for basically a buck,” said Barnes.

But relocating, renovating and restoring the building was an expensive project. Contractors had to strip the siding, bring the building up to heritage standards and build custom windows and doors.

“As a group of volunteers whose main successes have come entirely through the planning and presenting of musical events, some thought the project was too ambitious,” said Barnes.

The 83-year-old house was built by businessman Harry ‘Shorty’ Chambers, who arrived in the Yukon in 1899 and lived in the house until 1944.

Originally built on the north side of Alexander Street, the building was moved to the corner of Black Street and Second Avenue in 1975 and then to the city compound in 1995.

Renovations on the log home started three-and-a-half years ago.

In May 2007, the house was moved from the city compound to Shipyards Park, where the city offered the society some land.

The society’s new home will anchor the new summer festival site and allow the hosting of off-season events, said Barnes.

“Our placement in Shipyards Park will hopefully help the city fulfill its goal of bringing people back to the Whitehorse riverfront,” she said.

A new revenue stream from renting the second floor could eventually cover operating expenses and allow the society to expand. There has already been some interest in long-term rentals, she added.

Barnes pictures a new community profile for Frostbite with the office opening.

“There was a perception in the past that the society was all about throwing a big party every year,” she said.

“We’re mandated to showcase emerging talent from across Canada. We’re not just about music anymore. We’re developing citizen ownership of the park and we’re doing heritage work.”

The society received $187,734 from the territory for moving and restoration of the house.

Minister of Tourism and Culture Elaine Taylor and Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell attended the opening.