In 1898, Dawson was fast becoming the largest city west of Winnipeg. It was an upstart place with hotels and fancy bars featuring gambling rooms, dancing ladies and boxing matches for money.
A boomtown if there ever was one. But as the prospectors left for golder pastures, the town settled down and a sense of permanency developed.
By 1902, Dawson was a modern city. It had running water, three hospitals, three churches, daily newspapers, electric lights, and a telegraph system. The town with a colourful past now looked to a secure future. Schools and libraries would be part of that.
Dawson had what was called a "Free Library", supported by public funds and by the Standard Library Restaurant and Hotel. Books could be taken out for 3¢ a day. However, residents wanted a more formal library.
Enter Andrew Carnegie. He was born in Scotland in 1835. His parents emigrated to America when he was a boy. Young Andrew developed a good business sense and built the Carnegie Steel Corporation.
When he sold out in 1901, he was worth half a billion dollars. Carnegie then became a philanthropist with libraries as the basis of his good work, contributing money for the construction of library buildings around the world.
One hundred and twenty-five libraries were built in Canada alone with donations from the Carnegie fund. His endowment was well known in Dawson and the Free Library was not about to miss out on the money. In 1902, they made a funding request to the Carnegie Foundation.
Carnegie replied with an offer of $25,000, provided the town would spend $2500 dollars a year on upkeep. The town council sent a letter of acceptance on January 1, 1903.
In March, Council agreed to buy a lot at Fourth and Queen Street from Joe Ladue, Dawson's founder, for $2600 and accepted a design from architect, Robert Montcrieff, who had designed the Bank of Commerce building. Work began at breakup, but the finishing materials didn't arrive in Whitehorse from the "outside" until the fall of that year, so the building was not finished until June of 1904.
The Carnegie Library was officially opened on August 16th, 1904, with gleaming gold letters on the front, making no mistake as to who financed the project. It was yet another architectural wonder in an isolated town that was becoming famous for fine buildings such as the post office, the Commissioner's residence and the Bank of Commerce building.
Dawsonites could choose from almost seven thousand books and magazines and relax on ornate chairs and sofas inside the beautiful building. But, alas, it did not last.
As the population dwindled, it became impossible for taxpayers to continue funding the upkeep on such an elaborate building. By 1920, with a population of less than a thousand people, the Carnegie library was sold to the Masonic Lodge.
Today, the Carnegie Libray and the Bank of Commerce designed by architect Robert Montcrieff stand as a fitting reminder of the days of Dawson's glorious past.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin