After years of neglect, Dawson City in the early sixties had the classic look of a rundown ghost town. However, plans were underway to spruce up the most famous gold rush town in the world.
In 1962, the federal government began an effort to restore some of the old gold rush buildings and turn Dawson City into a tourist mecca. The centerpiece of this effort was the Palace Grand Theatre built by Arizona Charlie Meadows at the turn of the century. Meadows was a veteran of the Wild West Shows, having worked with Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill’s wild west shows in the United States. On his way to the Klondike, Meadows picked up loose change by shooting spots off a deck of cards. He also carried with him a portable bar, selling booze to stampeders at various camps along the way.
To build the Palace Grand, Meadows used lumber from two steamboats he had bought. By the spring of 1899, the theatre opened and featured a stage play called 'Camille'. Charlie Meadows would also stage wild west shows of sorts at his Grande Theatre. But it didn’t last long. For all intents and purposes, the gold rush ended in the fall of ’99, just two years after it began.
For years the Palace Grand stood as a run down reminder of those glorious gold rush days at the turn of century. Then, in June of 1962, the restored Palace Grande opened with a sparkling ceremony which included the opening of a new Broadway play called FOXY. The star of this light-hearted musical comedy was Bert Lahr, who had gained world-wide fame as the cowardly lion in the famous movie 'The Wizard of Oz'.
The staging of a Broadway play in Dawson City took considerable cheek and money. The play itself didn’t achieve critical acclaim and the timing of such an elaborate stage show was questionable. Dawson City didn’t have the facilities to support much tourist business. It would be many years before the town would be fully restored. Yet with the renovated Palace Grand came the determination to put the spirit of the Klondike Gold Rush back into the Klondike.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
It all began in 1959 when the Minister of Indian Affairs, Alvin Hamilton, invited Tom Patterson to visit Dawson City. Then, the gold rush town was a crumbling shadow of its former self.
Yukoners wanted to change that and the feds agreed. Patterson, an impresario who had created the wildly successful Stratford Shakespearean festival, saw the tourist opportunities in the Klondike and recommended a series of measures to bring culture to the Klondike.
Thus began the expansion of Dawson from a ghost town to a tourist mecca. But it would take a long time and oodles of money before any result would be apparent. The federal project to refurbish the town included moving the SS Keno from Whitehorse to Dawson and rebuilding the Palace Grand Theatre.
The Gold Rush Festival Committee was formed to manage local organization of the Festival. The first Dawson City Festival was held in the summer of 1962 and lasted six weeks. The focal piece was a Broadway play. By every measure of the day, the festival was a major flop.
Still, in the summer of '62, a cast of characters, including Bert Lahr, who had become famous around the world for his portrayal of the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, descended on Dawson. The play was called "Foxy", and featured all the trite gold rush stuff one could imagine. Greed, grit, gold, girls and great expectations. Music and lyrics were written by the famous songwriter Johnny Mercer, who penned the academy award-winning songs Moon River and That Old Black Magic.
The play ran for seven weeks in the summer of 1962, usually to a nearly empty house, and its producers lost their $400,000 investment. In late 1963, producer David Merrick decided to revive it. The on-Broadway production opened on February 16, 1964, at the Ziegfeld Theatre, where it ran for seventy-two performances.
Foxy's failure was due less to critical reaction, which for the most part was favorable, and more to Merrick's lack of interest in the project. Lahr won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Broadway Musical that year. Foxy was one of Broadway's more obscure flops. It was also one of the few Broadway plays whose soundtrack was never recorded until an off-Broadway revival troupe made a CD in 2000, so hardly anyone not in Dawson in 1962 has heard the music.
Foxy didn't put Dawson City on the tourism map. It wasn't because the idea was wrong. It was the timing. Few tourists wanted to drive on highways of mud or dust or take an airplane to reach Dawson City, a town that didn't have any facilities to look after visitors.
But for the glorious summer of 1962, the Klondike hills were alive with the sound of Broadway music.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
The Hougen Santa Parade led by the Midnight Sun Pipe Band leaves the White Pass Train station. With the cooperation of White Pass, Hougen's annually invited children to ride the train to McRae where Santa emerged from the bush and rode the train back to Whitehorse. Santa passed out candies to over 1000 children. Hundreds of people lined Main Street between the White Pass train station and Hougen's store.
Tea was served at the swearing-in ceremony of Gordon Cameron as Commissioner of the Yukon.
L to R: Gordon Cameron smiling, Rolf and Margaret Hougen, Mrs. Whitehouse and Bonnie Cameron.
Gordon Cameron is Commissioner from May 1, 1962 to May 31, 1966. Prior to his appointment, he was Mayor of the City of Whitehorse.
Seen here are Marg and Rolf Hougen with R.J. and Lois Bennett of Kelowna on a horse and buggy tour of Rome in October, following a visit to the Isle of Capri. The driver was a good driver but as a guide he responded to a question "Where did Nero fiddle while Rome burned?" His answer, "Dat vas a longa tima ago"
The driving force behind the creation of Dawson City Festival was Roy Minter. With the support of Erik Nielsen, Yukon MP, and Walter Dinsdale, Minister of Northern Affairs, and with the rebuilding of the Palace Grand Hotel, the Broadway bound musical "Foxy" had it's world premiere on July 2 starring Bert Lahr of 'Wizard of Oz' fame.
Later, "Foxy" appeared for 72 performances in the Ziegfield Theatre, New York.
In the photo -Top-
Minister of Northern Affairs, Walter Dinsdale, Pierre Berton
Bert Lahr, Bea Lilly, Tom Patterson, creator of the Stratford Festival
|January 8, 1962||White Pass & Yukon Route purchase Loiselle Transport Ltd. of Dawson Creek on January 4, 1962.|
|January 8, 1962||Erwin Martens is installed as president of the Whitehorse Kiwanis Club on January 2, 1962.|
|January 11, 1962||Norman Chamberlist protests his expulsion from territorial council. Justice John Parker dismisses Norman Chamberlist's case against Commissioner F.H. Collins and J.O. Livesey, territorial council speaker. Parker declared he nor any other court in Canada have the jurisdiction to enquire the council's decision.|
|January 29, 1962||Northbound vehicle traffic over the Alaska Highway set an all-time record during 1961. Records show that a total of 16,994 vehicles entered Alaska over the highway during that year.|
|February 1, 1962
→ September 13, 1962
→ October 9, 1962
|Under the Lord's Day Act paid admission on Sunday events is prohibited in Whitehorse, starting February 1, 1962. In consequence, movies are not shown on Sundays, no bowling events are held on Sundays and admission to Sunday hockey events is free. On September 13, 1962, city council gives green light for two plebiscites on Sunday Sport and Sunday Movies. (To be voted at the same time will be daylight saving time and the inclusion of residents from the West of Eighth area within the city limits.) The Whitehorse Board of Trade announces October 9, 1962, it supports daylight saving as well as paid admission to Sunday sport and Sunday entertainment.|
|February 8, 1962||After protests from Indian groups about insufficient participation in the newly opened Skookum Jim Centre, Norman Shorty and Clara Tizya join the board of the Centre.|
|February 15, 1962||Erik Nielsen, on behalf of Northern Affairs Minister Dinsdale, announces the establishment of two new mining districts: one in the south-east corner of the Yukon Territory; the other across the boundary in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories.|
|February 19, 1962||The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous is held in mid-February. Alice Martine is the new Sourdough Rendezvous Queen.|
|February 22, 1962||Northern affairs and territorial officials announce the removal of building from squatter areas in Whitehorse. Areas include Whiskey Flats, Moccasin Flates, Sleepy Hollow, West of Eights Avenue and Two Mile.|
|February 26, 1962||A bill passes February 13, 1962 in the House of Commons according to which the Keewatin and Franklin districts of the Northwest Territories together will have a member in the next house of commons.|
|February 26, 1962||Hougen's Ltd. search for the longest-married couple in the Yukon is won by Mr. And Mrs. Ira Van Bibber. The couple was married in 1903 and has lived in the territory ever since.|
|March 1, 1962||Northern Affairs minister Walter Dinsdale boost a national park for the Yukon.|
|March 8, 1962||Bob Campbell is elected president of the Whitehorse Board of Trade on March 6, 1962. Dave Porter is 1st Vice President, Dr. Bill Buchan 2nd Vice President and Jim Boyce Treasurer. Beth Drayton is Manager.|
|March 15, 1962||Yukon MP Erik Nielsen calls a halt to the proposed layoffs along the Northwest Highway System. Effective date for the end of work had been set at March 31.|
|March 15, 1962||Hougen's Ltd. Celebrate their 1st anniversary of the opening of the new facilities.|
|March 19, 1962||March 18, 1962, Heather Berg is elected Queen of Dawson City's 2nd Ice Carnival|
|March 26, 1962||The Skookum Jim Memorial Centre opens in Whitehorse on March 23, 1962.|
|April 9, 1962||It is announced that Gordon Cameron will assume the position of Yukon's Commissioner on May 1st, 1962. Member of Parliament Erik Nielsen makes the announcement. Mr. Cameron succeeds Fred H. Collins. He was the first Yukoner named to the post since George Black.|
|May 10, 1962||Bob Hughes is elected president of the Whitehorse Lions Club May 9, 1962. He succeeds Bert Law as the Lions Club President.|
|May 14, 1962||F.H. Collins receives the Eagles merit award from the Fraternal Order of Eagles.|
|May 31, 1962||Federal Liberal Leader Lester Pearson visits Whitehorse.|
|June 18, 1962||Erik Nielsen is re-elected as the Yukon’s Member of Parliament defeating Liberal candidate Vic Wylie.|
|June 28, 1962||A new mining strike in the Mayo mining district is made known June 25, 1962. 464 claims on an iron ore deposit by Crest Exploration are recorded.|
|August 21, 1962||A petition is circulating Whitehorse and calls for geographic and economic survey of a road from Carcross to Skagway.|
|October 4, 1962||On October 2, 1962, Judge John Parker suggest the union of the Mackenzie district of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon into a single territory and, eventually, a province.|
|October 17, 1962||"The Bay" opens its store in Whitehorse.|
|December 10, 1962||The Sleepy Hollow area is flooded with "froozen" water when the sluce ice in the Yukon river slowed down the flow and caused the water to go over the riverbanks.|
|December 17, 1962||Half of the territorial councillors speak out against a national park in the Yukon.|
- Dawson City's Gold Rush Festival is held in late June. Walter Dinsdale, Erik Nielsen, Bert Lahr, Bea Lillie, Pierre Berton, and Tom Patterson (of the Stratford Festival Fame) are among those attending the festivities.
- Bert Lahr, who played the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz visits Whitehorse en route to Dawson City to star in the Palace Grande production of 'Foxy'.
- Yukon Commissioner Gordon Cameron and Alaska Governor William Egan celebrate on the S.S. Keno during Discovery Days in Dawson City.
- Major General Rockingham visits the Northwest Highway Command in Whitehorse. Brigadier L.G.C. Lilley is the Commanding Officer.
- The Whitehorse City Council consists of Mayor Ed Jacobs with Aldermen, Jim Howatt, Jan Montgomery, Howard Firth and Clarence Allan.
- Canon Marsh of Toronto is elected Bishop of the Anglican Church of Yukon.
- The RCAF sponsors a Hillcrest Community Riverboat Ball to be held in the RCAF Recreation Centre.
- Reconstruction of the Palace Grand Theatre in Dawson City is completed in time for the Gold Rush Festival.
- Yukon Game Director J.B. Fitzgerald oversees a wolf control poison program.
- A historic roadhouse at Champagne, built by Shorty Chambers to serve the Stage Route from Whitehorse to Kluane, burns down.
- The Yukon Regiment, Militia Unit, Infantry Company is formed. Major Duke Collins is the Commanding Officer.
- Wien Alaska Airlines takes over the Pan American Route to Seattle.
- Bishop Coudert and Commissioner F.H. Collins sign an agreement for separate Catholic schools.
- Territorial Council changes laws to allow entertainment in cocktail lounges. All entertainment lounges closed during dinner hours from 6:30 to 7:30pm.
- Bob Hughes succeeds Bert Law as the Lions Club President.
- Walter Dinsdale, Minister of Northern affairs, visits the Yukon.
- Edgewater Hotel is built on site of the White Pass Hotel (which had been destroyed by fire on Christmas Day).
- Bruce Winsby, Manager of the Bank of Commerce, leaves Yukon.
- Tourist Services opens a new Supermarket with Jim Smith as manager. The owner Bruce Sung of Vancouver attends the opening.
- Standard Oil of California announces a feasibility study on the major iron ore discovery north of Mayo. Leo Proctor builds a winter road into the area.
- Cable TV service is extended to Hillcrest in Whitehorse.
- Allan Finster, Ricky Metcalfe, Gord Finster, and Randy Mutch, find a shrew in a woodpile. Their photo appears on front page of the Whitehorse Star on October 9, 1962.
- The old post office built in 1901 is slated for destruction by the Department of Public Works (Ottawa). A defence force including Jim Smith, Helen Horback, and Bob Erlam fight to save it. It was also the Court House at one time.
- Rolf Hougen is Chairman of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.
- Unoccupied buildings in Whiskey Flats, Moccasin Flats, Sleepy Hollow are moved off Crown Land.
- Magistrate A.C.L. Adams presides over dozens of alcohol related charges.
- Max Fuerstner is granted a Liquor License to operate the Bamboo Room at 1st and Rogers, as a Lounge and Cabaret.
- Jack Needham of the Kee Bird Menswear sells his business to Dick Karset
- BYN General Manager announces the sale of Lot 19 (4th and Roger area) to the City of Whitehorse on the condition the lots are sold to squatters from Whiskey Flats for a range of $300-$400 as a means of 'solving' the squatters problem.
- Marg and Rolf's 4th child and 3rd son, Erik, is born in February.