ReCollections - Dawson City - A ruby in the rough

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In celebration of National Parks Day we have partnered with our friends at Parks Canada and have featured an episode from their wonderful new history and archaeology podcast ReCollections, in our feed. Through the remarkable lives of Madam Ruby Scott and her employees, we'll hear about Dawson's Gold Rush heyday and the boom/bust cycle of both the mining and sex work industries. At the heart of the story is Ruby's Place, an elegant false-front building conserved as part of the Klondike National Historic Sites… despite the threats from climate change.

Duration: 35:46

File size: 49.2 MB Download MP3

Publish Date: July 13, 2023

  • Transcript of ReCollections - Dawson City - A Ruby in the Rough

    Josée Arnold: Dear listeners, we have something very special for you today! In celebration of National Parks Day we have partnered with our friends at Parks Canada and have featured an episode from their wonderful new history and archaeology podcast ReCollections in our feed. If you like what you hear, you can find ReCollections wherever you get your podcasts, and also at If you're looking to mine more nuggets on the topic don't forget to check out episode 67 of our podcast "LAC is a gold mine!"

    Voice Actor: This is a Parks Canada production. Ce balado est aussi disponible en français.

    Fred Sheppard (FS): Yukon Territory, 1896

    Voice Actor: Gold!

    FS: San Francisco, 1897

    Voice Actor: Sacks of gold from the Klondike!

    FS: Declared the front-page of the San Francisco Chronicle.

    Voice Actor: Half a million dollars in dust on one steamer

    FS: 1898, a hundred thousand people, including many intrepid women, braved unimaginable hardship to make their way to Dawson City at the heart of the Klondike Gold fields.

    A small percentage made a fortune, most did not. A more reliable income came from mining the miners - hotels, restaurants, dance halls and saloons arose from the permafrost, along with a number of brothels. And in the 1970s, Parks Canada bought one!

    Karen Routledge (KR): That's a good question, why does Parks Canada have a brothel?

    FS: I'm Fred Sheppard and you're listening to Re:Collections - A Ruby in the Rough.

    Parks Canada is known world-wide as a leader in nature conservation, but we do much more than that. Together with our partners, we commemorate the people, places, and events that have shaped what we now call Canada. Join us to meet experts from across the country as we explore the sites, stories and artifacts that bring history to life.

    Today, we're visiting the Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Site in Dawson City, Yukon, to learn more about one of its most scandalous buildings: Ruby's Place, a former brothel that operated in the mid 1900s and was run by an extraordinary woman, Madam Ruby Scott.

    A quick note before we get started, in this episode, we will be discussing sex work, but not in graphic detail. Listener discretion is advised.

    Dawson City, “the Paris of the North,” at one point Canada's biggest city west of Winnipeg, where fortunes were made and fortunes were lost. Located in the Yukon territory, it's about 100 kilometres east of the Alaska border, on the shore of the Yukon River where it merges with the Klondike River.

    The area now called Dawson City has been home to the Indigenous ancestors of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in since long before the influx of settlers in the 1800's. For millennia, they've relied on salmon and caribou, maintaining a reciprocal relationship with the land and its occupants.

    Small mountains and fir trees surround the town. On the north end, there's a visible scar on the hill from an ancient landslide, known as Ëdhä dädhëchą or Moosehide Slide. For centuries, It's been a convenient landmark for river travelers that features in many Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in oral histories.

    Dawson is only 250 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. It's known for midnight sun in summers and in winter, the dark polar nights are punctuated by Northern Lights dancing in the sky.

    Today, the roads are mostly gravel, with the exception of Front St, which was paved in 2009. The sidewalks are raised wooden boardwalks, and the downtown storefronts wouldn't look out of place on a Western movie set.

    Ruby's Place, the former brothel, is on Second Avenue, just south of the British Bank of North America and the Dawson Downtown Hotel. The two-story wooden building is white with dark green trim, and features two bay windows jutting out from the bedrooms on the second floor. It's not hard to imagine the resident sex workers looking out at the streetscape below, waiting for the next man with a pocketful of cash to come calling.

    But, Before the town and buildings, this swampy land was the site of an epidemic of Gold Fever.

    KR: In North America, in the 1800s, looking for gold was a major activity. People were fanning out all over the continent trying to find gold.

    FS: This is Parks Canada historian, Karen Routledge.

    KR: Gold was seen as a very stable kind of wealth and also one, that, when it was placer gold, meaning that when it was found as nuggets in the creeks, anybody could, in theory, strike it rich and extract it themselves. So from the 1870s onward, there were miners coming into the Yukon Territory to look for gold.

    FS: In 1896, the Klondike Gold Rush kicked off when a substantial deposit of gold was found in Rabbit Creek near Dawson, an area that's now Discovery Claim National Historic Site.

    The following summer, the San Francisco Examiner broke the news, creating an instant frenzy with reports of ships laden with gold nuggets found in the Yukon. And by the end of 1897, tens of thousands had arrived at the port of Skagway, Alaska, determined to traverse the treacherous overland route to Dawson.

    For most, the first of many challenges was the Chilkoot Trail, an important trade route for the Tlingit people. The 53 kilometre trail, today a national historic site and backpacking destination, winds its way up from Skagway over the Chilkoot Pass and on to Bennett Lake, which straddles the BC-Yukon border. The stampeders, as the gold rush travelers were called, hauled heavy equipment and supplies by foot, often dealing with deep river crossings, blizzards, avalanches and frigid temperatures.

    Once at Bennett Lake, the stampeders constructed rafts and boats to float 800 kilometres down the Yukon River to Dawson. For many, the ordeals of the journey proved too much - of the hundred thousand stampeders, less than half made it to Dawson.

    KR: Dawson is where it is, not because it's a great place for a settlement - it's actually quite swampy and it's been flooded many times. It was the closest good place for a steamboat landing to the goldfields. And all of the goods that came in and out were coming in by Steamboat.

    FS: At the height of the gold rush, Dawson's population was 30,000.

    KR: If you look at photos from that time, you can see tents up the hillside, just every piece of available ground. There's someone on it.

    FS: Today, the population is down to just 2300 year-round residents.The stampeders, mostly men, came from many different backgrounds. There were also some very strong-willed women who braved the Chilkoot Trail.

    Nancy McCarthy (NM): You've got Martha Black, you have Émilie Tremblay, you have all these women who came up to make their fortune.

    FS: This is Nancy McCarthy, a curator at Parks Canada. She's worked extensively with the Dawson Historical Complex artifact collection.

    NM: So you had the dance hall girls, you had the prostitutes, and then you had women who opened hotels and had legitimate businesses of their own. It wasn't just it wasn't just gold. It was to make their fortune in the town as a result of the gold rush.

    FS: One reliable, though technically illegal, way of making a living in boomtown Dawson was to engage in what's colloquially known as “the world's oldest profession”.

    NM: You had a lot of these men who were instant millionaires, they need something to do. So they would drink, they'd go to, bars and saloons and they wanted the company of women

    FS: Sex work has a long history in resource boomtowns in North America. We spoke to historian Doctor LK Bertram from the University of Toronto about the history of brothels in the Canadian Northwest.

    LK Bertram (LKB): Between about 1873 and 1914, historians agree that there was a system of sex worker prostitution economies in the Canadian West that we call vice toleration, which meant that the police created red light districts and ran them with a number of different entities, including madams, business partners, property owners.

    FS: A madam is the owner and operator of a brothel.

    LKB: They basically set aside these places in different towns so that people could go and spend their money. And they believe that these were essential parts of these towns and that a town without a red light district, basically was doomed to failure. People wouldn't want to stay in a town like that. A lot of people would go to the next town to spend their money.

    FS: In Dawson's early days, sex workers were welcomed into the city, mostly operating in the unofficial red light district on Second Avenue. Many worked out of saloons, small private cabins or on the streets. In a few cases, a business like a laundry or a cigar store served as a front for sex work.

    Here is Nancy again.

    NM: They were regulated, they were medically examined once a month, I believe, and that was to stop the spread of venereal diseases and other diseases. And so they paid a fine and they didn't mind because the fine went to a charity.

    FS: This fine was a bit like a licence fee, allowing sex workers to work freely. The proceeds went towards patient support at Dawson hospitals.

    As the gold rush came to an end in 1899, the population drastically declined, and Dawson transitioned into a town of seasonal mine workers with families. This changed how sex workers were viewed.

    NM: Dawson became more settled and businesses started opening up, wives started joining their husbands, it turned into a community. The tone is changing and they're called brazen - the brazen women. They were in an area around Second Avenue called Paradise Alley, and the business owners didn't like them hanging around. They didn't like the signs. So they started a campaign to get rid of them and it was successful.

    FS: Police crackdowns and onerous fines forced sex workers out of downtown Dawson. Many moved their operations outside city limits for several years to an area across the Klondike River known at the time as Klondike City or by its more derogatory name, Lousetown.

    Neither of these names were the original. The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in called it Tr'ochëk and used the area as a seasonal fishing camp for generations, until the newcomers displaced them. From mid-summer to late fall they'd harvest and dry chinook and chum salmon, treat moose and caribou skins, and prepare foods for winter storage. Today, the cultural landscape of Tr'ochëk is recognized as a National Historic Site.

    As the nature of employment in Dawson shifted from small-scale independent miners to salaried employees of corporate industrial mining, the business of sex work followed a similar trajectory. The model of individuals offering their services declined, and by the 1930s, brothels, businesses headed by a madam who employed the women, became the dominant form of sex work.

    Ruby's Place wasn't originally built as a brothel - constructed in 1902, after a fire destroyed most of the buildings on Second Avenue, it initially operated as a laundromat and rooming house. When you see Ruby's Place today, it fits right in with the Dawson aesthetic, and to someone who doesn't know the building's backstory, it's indistinguishable from the many mixed commercial and residential buildings that dot main streets.

    Shelley Bruce (SB): When you approach Ruby's, what you find is actually a rather handsome two story building. It's built right up against the boardwalk.

    FS: This is Shelley Bruce, a built heritage advisor for Parks Canada. Shelley works to understand the history of heritage buildings, and to ensure their conservation for years to come.

    SB: It has a false front design, and a false front is a really interesting form of architecture that you find in small communities and quite typically up in the north, where literally the front wall of the building extends taller than the rest of the building.

    FS: A false front is a decorative facade to make a building, when viewed from the street, appear more impressive than it actually is. It's a lot cheaper and quicker than building the whole structure to a high standard.

    SB: On the front elevation, you find two doors, one on the right, one on the left. It's a very symmetrical facade design. The second story consists of what are called Oriel Windows. It kind of looks like what most people would call a bay window, and it juts out from the front elevation.

    FS: In 1935, Ruby Scott purchased the building.

    We only know a little about Ruby's life before she arrived in Dawson. She was born Mathilde de Ligneres in northern France in the 1880s. She worked in various places, with stints in Paris, Strasbourg, San Francisco, Honolulu, and Keno City, another mining community in the Yukon. She ran brothels in at least some of these places.

    Shortly after buying the building, her brothel opened for business, competing with other Dawson madams like Bombay Peggy. Ruby was a generous and lavish woman, whose larger-than-life persona became a well-known fixture of the mining town.

    NM: The photos of her when she's younger, she's quite glamorous. And then as she ages, she looks like, you know, your grandmother. There's photos of her inside her house with the doilies and there's one photo in particular where she's making a cake and there's a child in the photo. She projected an image of a very warm and caring, nurturing person.

    FS: We spoke to two people who grew up in Dawson, and have childhood memories of Ruby.

    Marvin Dubois' grandfather moved to Dawson in 1897. 50 years later, his parents bought the Downtown Dawson Hotel, just down the street from Ruby's.

    Marvin Dubois (MD): Ruby comes into the picture like this in a very natural way. We hadn't started school yet, okay, so we were very little and Ruby was close by. She knew mom and dad and she knew us, and we knew her. And she had a little dog called Chi Chi.

    FS: Marvin now lives in Belgium, but his two sisters are still in Dawson so he visits frequently. As kids, they knew there were women who worked for Ruby but weren't aware of the nature of their work . What Marvin remembers mostly is Ruby's generosity.

    MD: Summertime we're all playing and somehow we learn maybe from other kids that if you bring flowers to Ruby she'd give you a chocolate bar. There were wildflowers at the right time of the summer all over the place. So we put together a big bouquet, go down the alley, and that's just where we played and knocked on her back door. And she came. We gave her the flowers. I don't remember exactly what happened, but I'm sure that she said they were just magnificent, you know, and she was forthcoming with the goods and we were as happy as can be.

    FS: Lenore Calnan owns the Raven's Nook, a general store just a block away from Ruby's Place.

    Lenore Calnan (LC): Dawson was a great place to grow up. We were allowed to roam about just about anywhere you wanted to go. You were safe. Didn't have to fear of anything other than if it was wild animals.

    FS: Lenore has fond memories of Ruby

    LC: Ruby was a well known, liked and respected lady in the town. And as a child, we would occasionally be invited in to have tea and cookies with her. I remember her parlour, if you will, being overly decorated. It was, you know, crocheted doilies and tiny porcelain figurines everywhere. And you were deathly afraid that you might bump something over and break it. But she was just a delightful lady.

    FS: Among the adults, Ruby was known for her extravagance. She often wore expensive fur coats and diamond rings - but was also incredibly giving. During the second World War, she sent care packages to Dawsonites in the armed forces. She was known as a skilled cook, and often hosted dinner parties for her neighbours, with French wines and a roast goose or turkey.

    Ruby also knew how to have a good time. She'd arrive at local bars, buy a round for the house, and proclaim

    Voice Actor: I make money from the boys, so I spend it with the boys!

    FS: The central object of her affection was her small white pekingese dog Chi Chi. She's holding him in almost every photograph. Ruby would bring him to church, and when chi-chi died, she convinced the priest to let her bury him beside the cemetery.

    While the details about Ruby's past are a bit blurry, we know even less about the women who worked for her because they were rarely mentioned in historical records.

    As the madam of the house, Ruby was responsible for her employees, ranging from 2 to 8 at a time. They typically came in the spring for the mining season and left as the long, dark winter approached - though at least two stayed and married locals. Some worked for multiple years, but most were only with Ruby's Place for one season. We asked LK why so little is known about these women.

    LKB: This is a really important question and there's a secret answer to it. And one of those answers is that they don't want you to know. These women hid themselves. They hid their true identities. This was like a strategy that they use to protect their futures.

    And the money could be really unbelievable. The money could also be terrible. But in a society that was so unequal during this period, especially a woman who maybe had been abandoned by her husband or who had kids to support. There's no other way she can get that kind of money. And the wages that are offered to them in so called legitimate economies are starvation wages in many, many respects. And many women understood that this was really one of their only best options. And so the one thing that a lot of these women have in common is just that financial strategy. And those are the stories that you don't hear a lot about because those women hid where they went after the sex trade.

    FS: We have one clue of how some of their earnings may have been spent: an artifact, a dress from the 1930s, that was uncovered in the walls of Ruby's Place during restoration work. This dress, probably repurposed as insulation, would have been in fashion during Ruby's time. It is impossible to know who wore the dress or where it was purchased, but it tells an interesting story about fashion in the North.

    Here's Shelley again.

    SB: The dress that was found in the walls is a woman's lightweight summer dress, it looks like it's full length, short sleeves. It has a tie that would have tied around the waist. It's a lovely shade of sort of pale purple or lavender, and it's in a bit of a check pattern.

    FS: The dress is labeled Billie Burke sportswear. Actress Billie Burke is best remembered for her role as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, in the film The Wizard of Oz - and like many celebrities today, she had her own fashion line.

    We do have a few details about two of Ruby's staff who worked there the longest - Cecile Hebit was fined $50 in a 1962 court case, leaving a trace in the city's records. Another, named Liberty, made an impression on the wife of a local RCMP officer, who remembered her as “pretty” and “nice.” She reflected:

    Voice Actor: It was such a godsend to have people like that because there were so many men and that made it so much safer.

    FS: But Ruby's Place was much more than just a brothel. It served as a lounge where locals could get a drink and socialize. And as LK explains, brothels, or bawdy houses, like Ruby's, played another important role.

    LKB: So these places were actually almost like sexual education schools. And madams, and sex workers prided themselves on this part. You know, the society that they lived in was so oppressed. And they saw their role as a humanitarian one in which they were teaching people the basics of sexuality. And some sex workers actually saw themselves as protecting other women. Often a lot of young men would go to bawdy houses for their first sexual experience. And these workers believe that if these men could get off on the right foot, if they could kind of learn a little bit about sexuality and about like the really important things also like disease prevention and birth control, that this would not only protect the men, it would also protect the women that they were with.

    FS: Daily life was often quite different than the Hollywood myth of boom town sex workers.

    LKB: Well, it's really important not to glamorize life for most people during this period. Like, life was very difficult and sex workers, because they had this really precarious relationship to the law. The police could turn on you at any moment. A client could turn on you at any moment. It could go from being good to ok to bad all on the same day. Like when we have these memoirs of workers and madams around, they often report things like it was profoundly boring, like they would have to sit and wait for clients to show up.

    FS: We don't know where these women came from, or how Ruby was able to attract new recruits each year. We also don't know if any Indigenous women worked at Ruby's, but LK thinks it's unlikely.

    LKB: You know, when I tell people what I do, when I tell them, oh, I study the history of sex work in Canada, they often want to talk immediately about Indigenous women. And what they don't know is that the sex work economies in the Canadian Northwest, they were strictly segregated. Indigenous women were absolutely not permitted in most of the towns to step foot inside these establishments.

    I believe that it's because prostitution economies equaled money and money equaled power at this time. And also it created this close proximity to European men that the Canadian government saw as very dangerous. They feared that if indigenous women and European men could create these kinds of bonds that, you know, a lot of people formed in bawdy houses because they were like social clubs, you would get to know people. People would fall in love sometimes. They would be business partners. If Indigenous women were doing that with European men, that could mean new political allies.

    FS: In the 1930s and 40s brothels were regulated with the help of Dawson's resident doctor, Allen Duncan, who would routinely inspect the women for sexually transmitted infections. If an illness was discovered, they would be detained in a hospital.

    In Dr. Duncan's memoir, Medicine, Madams and Mounties: Stories of a Yukon Doctor, he recounts the story of a man who came to see him. He told Dr. Duncan that he was hired to replace the windows at Ruby's Place. All was well when he worked on the first floor, but when it came time to replace the second-floor windows however, he couldn't help but watch some of the women as they worked - and instead of a cash payment, he opted to “spend time with the women.” Unfortunately, he caught something, leading him to Dr. Duncan's office for treatment.

    By the 50s, Dawson recognized brothels as a necessary function in the community, as long as they paid a rooming house license fee. This toleration policy continued until Reverend Taylor of St. Paul's Church arrived in town. He was horrified to learn that brothels operated openly with tacit approval from the City of Dawson, and wrote to Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent to complain - prostitution was technically a federal offence. The resulting RCMP crackdown led to fines and charges for Ruby's, and had an undesirable effect on her bottom line.

    Meanwhile the population of Dawson continued to dwindle, dipping to 881 by the early 60s. At the same time, the corporate mines began to shutter, and the influx of seasonal workers petered out. Exhausted with all of these legal and economic headwinds, Ruby decided to close her brothel after 27 years in business.

    LK told us what typically happens when brothels close their doors.

    LKB: When the bawdy house closes and people start to sort of like picking up whoever at the bar, then that educated element goes away. And then we see spikes in sexually transmitted infections and really serious ones and also spikes in unwed pregnancies. The fact that Ruby's survived that long shows that she was still really providing a service in this town and one that people felt was essential.

    FS: Ruby reopened the building as a boarding house, and continued living there until 1969. At the age of 84, she moved into the local retirement home, where she continued to be a fixture of the community. She was described as the “unofficial hostess” for the home, dressing up for dinner every night.

    Ruby passed away five years later. Throughout her time in Dawson, she became friends with the local priest, Father Marcel Bobillier, who remembered her fondly. He wrote the following entry in his journal after performing Ruby's funeral service:

    Voice Actor: I put to rest the soul of my dear friend, Ruby Scott, originally from the Amiens area, who had been living in Dawson for nearly 40 years. She had turned 89 years old on the eve of her death. She was a woman with a heart of gold who I visited almost every day. I had invited her to dinner at a restaurant the week before she died. She fell in her room and broke her hip. She was transported to Whitehorse but died on the operating table. She was so well known and appreciated for her kindness that the church was nearly full. Even the American priest and the Anglican minister came to her funeral mass.

    FS: While Ruby was winding down her business, and the mining industry dwindled in the early 60s, the gold rush era loomed large in Canadian mythology. Parks Canada decided to take an active role in preserving that history.

    Here's our historian Karen.

    KR: Dawson was commemorated for its association with the Gold Rush. The Klondike gold rush was one of the last gold rushes in a series of gold rushes around the world, mainly in the 19th century.

    Klondike National Historic Sites is a collection of sites in and around Dawson, Yukon. It includes Dawson Historical Complex, which is basically the historic downtown of Dawson, the SS Keno which is a river boat. And it also includes Dredge Number Four National Historic Site just outside of downtown in the Goldfields. And the last historic site there is Discovery Claim, which is the place where gold was found in 1896.

    FS: Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Parks Canada purchased a representative sample of buildings to provide visitors with a sense of what Dawson was like in its heyday.

    Shelley - our built heritage advisor - told us why Ruby's was included:

    SB: Ruby's was chosen because it's a really unique example of a fairly typical commercial building that one would have found in Dawson during the 1896 to 1910 era. They may have a false front, which sort of makes the building appear grand and big in comparison to what's actually going on behind. So Ruby's is known as being one of those really good examples.

    But the reason it's really designated is because of its most well known use, and the building is best known as a house of prostitution. And that was its primary purpose from 1935 to 1962. But, Ruby's is one of those really rare surviving examples.

    FS: The ground floor consisted of a parlour, kitchen, and Ruby's personal living space. The upstairs featured three bedrooms and a bathroom, living quarters and “workspaces” for Ruby's employees.

    SB: I think of some of the houses of like my aunts and my grandma at the time.

    FS: Ruby's Place projected Ruby's flair for the extravagant.

    SB: The main floor is essentially this riot of color and pattern and texture.The walls are painted sort of this peachy pink color. There is floral linoleum, and the furniture has any number of different types of floral patterns in like pinks and blues and whites. There's throw cushions in contrasting colors. There's a whole bunch of lamps attached to the wall and on pieces of furniture. And the riot of color just continues up on the second floor. We see a lot of floral prints on these overstuffed pieces of furniture like armchairs and couches. In the rooms for the staff, you'll see like a double bed, an armchair, a dresser, some lamps.

    FS: Maintenance work has been an ongoing challenge since Parks Canada took ownership of Ruby's Place. Dawson, like much of northern Canada, is built on permafrost, meaning the ground is permanently frozen, at least, it's supposed to be.

    SB: So permafrost is ground which largely remains frozen over time. As the climate has changed, we have started to see a number of different effects. Temperatures are becoming warmer, and the condition of the permafrost is of concern because as temperature rises, the ground is not able to stay frozen in the same way or for as long.

    FS: A building with a shifting foundation isn't likely to stay standing in the long run, so in 2018 Parks Canada began a conservation project to mitigate the issues caused by thawing permafrost.

    Ruby's Place was temporarily moved, and the wood foundation was replaced by piles, a network of posts drilled deep into the ground to the bedrock below. The permafrost layer will move and shift with time, but the bedrock should be a solid anchor.

    During this conservation work, several items were found in the walls of the building, including the dress we mentioned earlier, and a newspaper, a 1906 edition of the San Francisco Examiner. It could be a remnant of Ruby's time in San Francisco, or possibly the reading material from one of the women, but in a way, it's a fitting homage to the sensationalist journalism that kicked off the stampede to Dawson in the first place.

    Voice Actor: Sacks of gold from the Klondike!

    FS: Today, the exterior of Ruby's Place looks much like it did in its golden years, only lifted a few extra feet off the ground, with a new staircase to mask the piles. It's not open for visitors, but there is a large window display that tells the illustrious story of the site.

    Ruby's Place and the legacy of Ruby Scott continue to shine in Dawson.

    KR: I think it's really important to preserve Ruby's Place because it speaks to a kind of work that was always present in Dawson, that was female dominated and mostly female run. And there are so few records of these women who worked as sex workers. And Ruby's is one place where we can experience a little bit of their story, even if they didn't leave a lot of records behind.

    FS: Parks Canada conserves nearly two dozen buildings around Dawson. In a northern boom town where many residents stayed only a few years, these places are a tangible reminder of their presence, their hard work, their joys and their struggles.

    SB: Without protecting these buildings, the streetscapes would be very, very different. You would not have a sense of what that frontier rustic boomtown experience would have been.

    FS: It's important to remember that the Dawson area has a history that long predates the frenzy of the Gold Rush era.

    KR: It's also an important place in what we would now call the history of colonialism. The Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in have recently put forward a UNESCO nomination for Dawson and some other nearby sites to be a World Heritage site, with the reasoning being that Dawson and these sites represent an important stage in human history, which is the indigenous experience of an adaptation to European colonialism. So it's a site that means a lot of different things to different people. And one of the things we're trying to do at Parks is tell a bigger variety of those stories than we have told in the past.

    FS: Dawson City is located 525 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse. There are flights to Dawson airport year-round - or you can drive if you fancy a long road trip - it's about 27 hours from Edmonton, Alberta.

    The Klondike National Historic Sites are open to visitors year round, but most events and tours are offered from May through September.

    ReCollections is produced by Parks Canada. A big thank you to Nancy McCarthy, Karen Routledge, Shelley Bruce, Marvin Dubois, Lenore Calnan, Jeff Thorsteinson, Dylan Meyerhoffer and Dr. LK Bertram. For a deeper dive, Dr. Bertram has an article about sex work in Canadian boomtowns in the Journal of Social History called “The Other Little House”.

    For loads of extras, including a Google Arts and Culture exhibition with photos of historic Dawson and Ruby's place please take a look at the show notes or visit We've also got a self-guided driving tour of the Dawson area as part of Parks Canada's Mobile Guided Tour app.

    I'm your host, Fred Sheppard. Thanks for listening.

Host: Fred H. Sheppard, Product Development Officer, Field (Parks Canada)

Guests: Nancy McCarthy, Curator, Parks Canada
Karen Routledge, Historian, Parks Canada
Shelley Bruce, Built Heritage Advisor, Parks Canada
Marvin Dubois, former Dawson City resident, director of Communicative English
Lenore Calnan, current Dawson City resident, owner of the The Raven’s Nook
Jeff Thorsteinson, Historian, Parks Canada
Dr. LK Bertram, Associate Professor, University of Toronto


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