opening doors in dawson

Are you curious about what lies beyond the beer parlour in Dawson City's storied Westminster Hotel? Want to see the view from the Old Post Office tower or Sylvia Burkhard's living room? This week some of Dawson City's historic treasures will be revealed

Are you curious about what lies beyond the beer parlour in Dawson City’s storied Westminster Hotel?

Want to see the view from the Old Post Office tower or Sylvia Burkhard’s living room? This week some of Dawson City’s historic treasures will be revealed as many of the town’s historic properties throw open their doors to the public.

A celebration of Dawson City’s heritage Doors Open Dawson starts today and runs until Saturday, promising a full slate of presentations, hands-on workshops and tours.

“This came about in recognition of all the heritage initiatives that Dawson has going on right now,” says Jen Edwards, a Doors Open Dawson organizer, communications officer for government of Yukon historic sites, and former Dawson resident.

“The Dawson City Heritage Management Plan is being implemented; Dawson has been placed on Canada’s tentative list for World Heritage Site status, but a lot of people don’t know what these things mean. Doors Open Dawson is a way to explain and celebrate these achievements.”

The first Doors Open took place in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1990 and similar events began to pop up across Canada starting in 2000. The concept is simple: buildings of architectural and historical significance, many of which are not normally open to the public, open their doors to visitors for a day or a weekend. Many provide guided tours, special exhibits, displays or performances. In February 2005, more than 1,000 people participated in the Yukon’s first Doors Open event with tours of 13 historic properties in downtown Whitehorse.

This year the spotlight shines on Dawson City. Organizers have lined up a colourful program intended to spark interest in, and enjoyment of, the community’s heritage. Information about historic properties will be sprinkled throughout the program, but Doors Open Dawson is more than tours.

“We want to demonstrate there are so many aspects to heritage—community engagement, downtown revitalization, sustainability—and that heritage can be fun,” says Edwards. “Ryerson graduate Alex Hakonson helped us prepare a photographic exhibit that opens with a wine and cheese at the Dawson City Museum on Wednesday. Tr’ondek Hwech’in is hosting two presentations at the Danoja Zho Cultural Centre on Thursday night. And definitely Pecha Kucha Night on Friday is piquing a lot of interest.”

Invented in Japan in 2003, Pecha Kucha began as a social forum where architects and designers could share concise presentations about their work and ideas. Presenters must deliver their views in 20 slides with no more than 20 seconds per slide. Now a popular format adopted around the world, Doors Open Dawson is hosting a Pecha Kucha Night in conjunction with the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture and Cirque Communications around the theme sense of place.

Guest presenters will include Whitehorse architect Jack Kobayashi, Dawson Mayor John Steins, filmmaker Lulu Keating, musicians Aaron Burnie and Jon Ostrander, among others.

“I think Doors Open Dawson is a great initiative,” says Mayor Steins.

“All of us—council, the administration, the public—we’re all grappling with the idea of historic management and implementation, so I’m really hoping for awareness.

“It’s going to be fun and celebratory, and it will open people up to the importance of place in a general sense.

“Of course, the objective is to get people to focus on Dawson and encourage them to consider their sense of place and what they value about what should be preserved and celebrated.”

In between all the fun, organizers have also scheduled practical workshops and guest speakers. Dawson will showcase the heritage management plan, conservation architect Andrew Powter will give a workshop on the restoration and maintenance of wood windows and siding and the head of Heritage Montreal and ICOMOS Canada, Dinu Bumbaru, will speak about World Heritage Site status and what it means for a community.

“We’re holding a two-day workshop on the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, which will be of particular interest to historic homeowners, businesses, contractors and anyone involved with historic buildings,” says Edwards.

“The presentations will reflect a values-centred approach to conservation, which means figuring out what the values of a site are first and then determining your course of action. You can’t judge the historic value of a building just by looking at its physical properties.”

Doors Open Dawson comes at a time when Dawsonites are digesting the results of a three-year heritage management planning process that has seen the community articulate what they think makes Dawson unique and how they can move ahead to protect those assets and values while allowing the community to grow and enjoy all modern amenities.

“We’re accustomed to a way of doing things,” says Mayor Steins, trying to sum up some of the feelings of residents. “You don’t think about your home being significant – it’s where you live. That’s why we need events like this. They remind us how special Dawson is.”

For more information on Doors Open Dawson, please go to

This article is part of a series produced by the Yukon Department of Tourism and Culture with the support of the Government of Canada, Historic Places Initiative.