1901 Yukon Nuggets
The Grandest Home in the Yukon
Now an historic attraction, the Commissioner’s Residence in Dawson City is the Yukon’s equivalent of the White House, or twenty-four (24) Sussex Drive in Ottawa. It was originally built to house the most senior government official in the territory, the Commissioner.
It was constructed in nineteen oh one (1901) for forty–two thousand dollars ($42,000) by federal architect Thomas W. Fuller, who designed and built several government buildings in the Klondike capital that year. By then, it was clear that the Klondike was not a flash in the pan.
At first, the building was a simple box design, three storeys high, overlooking the Yukon River from the government reserve at the south end of Front Street. During the administration of Commissioner Frederick T. Congdon, it was remodeled with a wrap-around verandah, second storey balcony and fancy ginger bread fretwork.
Two decorative features atop the second floor balcony were slyly called “ballot boxes,” which was a reference by Dawson residents to the corrupt election practises favoured by the Congdon political machine.
The building was gutted by fire on Christmas day, nineteen oh six (1906) and refurbished in nineteen oh eight (1908) for Commissioner Alexander Henderson, in the form familiar to visitors who view it today.
Its most famous occupants were George and Martha Black, who maintained year-round residence in the building from nineteen twelve (1912) to nineteen sixteen (1916). The Blacks were famous for throwing the doors open and entertaining the entire community at social events that often lasted until the early hours of the morning.
The building was closed down in October of nineteen sixteen (1916) after the Blacks left for Europe during World War One. It lay empty until the Sisters of St. Ann took possession of the building in nineteen fifty (1950). It was used as an old folks home until the Sisters left the territory in nineteen sixty six (1966).
It was declared to be a national historic site in nineteen sixty seven (1967) and was restored to the period when George and Martha Black lived in it. The furniture that had survived for eighty years was conserved by specialists from all over the country.
When it was opened by Prime Minister Jean Chretien in August of nineteen ninety six (1996), it looked every bit as splendid as it did when George and Martha Black entertained there in the early days.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Michael Gates.