The Commissioner’s Tea and Commissioner’s Klondike Ball in Dawson City, Yukon
Lenora Hayman takes you on a flying trip to Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon to attend the Commissioner’s Tea and a Ball in true north style
What an experience to take high tea and “fill your dance card” in Dawson City, Yukon where the 1896 Gold Rush started!
Flying on Air North from Vancouver to Dawson City was very pleasant, since they actually give you a complimentary meal! Air North’s in-house catering provided a deli plate of ham, salami, pate, cheese with a baked herbed rusk, grapes, cherry tomato, pretzel crisps and a Nanaimo bar accompanied by the excellent coffee from Midnight Sun Coffee Roster.
I stayed 2 nights at Mayor Peter and Karen Jenkins’ Eldorado Hotel with contemporary guest rooms, Bonanza dining-room and Sluice Box lounge, overlooking the boardwalk-lined street.
On Aug.17, 1896, when George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie discovered gold in Rabbit Creek (later called Bonanza), starting the Klondike Gold Rush, the population rose to about 30,000. Today there are 1,873 residents working in this historical city with the original buildings. Recently Front Street was the first street to be paved, but with a clear bitumen surface layer to maintain the look of the remaining dirt streets.
Peggy Amendola, the supervisor at the Dawson City Visitor Information Centre, took my friends Baila, Barb and me to visit the sod-roofed cabin on 8th Ave. where Robert Service, the Bard of the Yukon and banker lived from 1909-1912. In 1972 Parks Canada took over the cabin’s maintenance. Fred Osson, dressed as Robert Service, introduced us to lesser known poems other than “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”.
The Gold Rush cabin of Jack London, who wrote “The Call of the Wild”, was originally on the North Fork of Henderson Creek, 120 km. south of Dawson City. Author, Dick North had the cabin dismantled and 2 replicas were created from the original logs. One is in the Jack London Square in Oakland, California and the other we visited in Dawson City where we met Dawne Mitchell, who explained the photos and newspaper articles on the wall.
Mining Recorder Frank Berton and Laura, his school teacher wife, bought their home in Dawson City for $500 in 1920. For 12 years, until 1932, this was the home of their daughter Lucy and son Pierre Berton, author, journalist and broadcaster who wrote “Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899”. Their home was bought by the Yukon Arts Council in 1989 with a $50,000 donation from Pierre Berton, and since 1996, it has been the Berton House Writers’ Retreat.
A guided, walking tour took us to Paradise Alley and Ruby’s Place, the last Dawson City brothel which closed in 1961, the first Post Office, a reproduction of the Red Feather Saloon, the former Dawson Daily News and the now derelict Bank of Commerce where Robert Service worked. We returned later to Bombay Peggy’s Inn and Pub, a restored, former mining company’s headquarters and later a brothel, for the book-signing of Michele Genest’s” The Boreal Gourmet. Adventures in Northern cooking”, with recipes for spruce tip shortbread to braised moose ribs with espresso stout and chocolate.
Our first evening, we dined at Chef Blois Crawley’s La Table on 5th in the Aurora Inn. Posters of French Can-Can girls on the pale green and burgundy walls overlooked our floral, green and burgundy, upholstered cane chairs and tables. We shared a salad of spinach, watermelon, feta olives, toasted pine nuts, pomegranate and mandarin dressing followed by a smoked salmon plate with 3 cheese spreads. Our Alberta beef tenderloin filets with red onion marmalade and Dauphinoise potatoes were superb, paired with the crisp, tropical fruit flavours of the Two Oceans Sauvignon Blanc.
We then headed to Diamond Tooth Gerties to gamble, have a drink and watch a Can-Can show. The Klondike Visitors’ Association, in 1971, named the hall after Gertie Lovejoy, a dance-hall madam who had a diamond placed between her 2 front teeth. This was the first casino in Canada to serve liquor and have a floor show. The Yukon Govt. receives 25% of the profits.
The next morning we visited the First Nations Danoja Zho Cultural Centre (Long Time Ago House) and learned about the Tr’ondek Hwech’in. With the arrival of the gold seekers came gambling, alcohol and the natives being pushed out of their traditional land. Chief Isaac and Bishop Bompas realized the Han speaking Tr’ondek Hwech’in( River People) were in jeopardy and they were moved downstream from Dawson City to the Moosehide reserve.
We also drove 7km up to Midnight Dome Hill to get a panoramic view of Dawson City and visited several cemeteries. Peter de Wolfe carried mail from Dawson City to Eagle, Alaska from 1910 to 1949. He died in 1951 and is buried in the Yukon Order of Pioneers Dome cemetery.
In addition we visited Debbie Winston, the couturier, originally from Berkeley, California, responsible for creating the many, fabulous, Belle Époque 1895-1914, heavily boned, corseted Edwardian fashions, we would be seeing at both the Commissioner’s Tea and Commissioner’s Klondike Ball.
The Commissioner (Lieutenant Governor in other provinces) doesn’t have an official residence as in other jurisdictions in Canada. The yellow Commissioner’s building in Dawson City was built in the early 1900’s and is now a Parks Canada historic site. The annual Commissioner’s tea is co-hosted, at this residence, by the Commissioner, The Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE) and Parks Canada .
The Honorable Geraldine Van Bibber, Commissioner of Yukon and other dignitaries welcomed the public, also attired in long dresses, picture hats, capes, parasols and top hats, who enjoyed an afternoon of music and honoring worthy volunteers, while sipping lemonade, tea and coffee and eating dainty sandwiches and cakes.
The Commissioner’s Klondike Ball in the evening at the Palace Grand Theatre, is presented jointly by the Klondike Visitors’ Association and the Commissioner’s Office in recognition of Yukon joining the Dominion of Canada in 1898,and also this year there was the added celebration of the 50th anniversary of the last voyage of the S.S. Keno paddlewheeler. Since many were dressing in the style of 1898, we added feathered headdresses bought from Diana Andrew’s Dancing Moose Gifts. Commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber’s dress was painted light blue at the bottom, graduating to darker blue at the top, signifying the gradual darkening of the day. Beaded dark, pink fireweed flowers, the Yukon Territorial flower, and stars also decorated her dress. At 8:00 p.m. spectators from across the street cheered, when all guests proceeded outside for a group photo. The Aurora Inn provided the canapés, tapas and sweets throughout the evening as we danced to the ‘Wrong Track Freight Train Group”.
Dawson City, in the far north, was still light at 2:00a.m. What a wonderful, historical destination with genuinely warm and friendly people.
Article and Pictures by Lenora A. Hayman
Last updated December 18, 2020 by Matthew George – Webmaster