Commissioner's Residence

Classified Federal Heritage Building

Dawson, Yukon Territory
Front facade of building. © © Permission Guy Masson
Front facade of building.
© © Permission Guy Masson
General view of the Commissioner's Residence showing its predominantly neo-classical character. © Parks Canada Agency/Agence Parcs CanadaFront facade of building. © © Permission Guy MassonInterior view of building. © © Permission Guy Masson
Address : Front Street, Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Site of Canada, Dawson, Yukon Territory

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1988-04-14
Dates:
  • 1901 to 1901 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Thomas Fuller  (Architect)
Custodian: Parks Canada
FHBRO Report Reference: 87-066
DFRP Number: 20024 00

Description of Historic Place

Commissioner’s Residence is a two-and-a-half-storey building situated on landscaped grounds that face the Yukon River, in Dawson. Set on a platform frame, the classically-inspired building is clad in wood siding and is ornamented with simple wood trim. It features a ‘Temple-fronted’ façade supported on giant columns and wrap-around verandahs on the first and second levels. The elegant central entrance is approached by a wide flight of steps. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Commissioner's Residence is a Classified Federal Heritage building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental value.

Historical value
The building is closely associated with the exercise of Canadian sovereignty in the Yukon and the establishment of a long-term federal presence there. Once called Government House, the Commissioner's Residence was built and used as the official residence of the chief executive of the Yukon Territory. As such, it is closely associated with the early political affairs of the Yukon and the individuals who played a major role in them, most notably, George and Martha Black.

Architectural Value
The original building has evolved from a predominantly Classical but eclectic design, through a dramatic and unique period as a Jacobean/gingerbread confection to the simplified, cohesive, well-proportioned composition that exists today. The interior is also eclectic, a restrained expression of classically inspired features and the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement. Built in 1901 to designs by Thomas Fuller, the building's foundation was designed in such a way that the permafrost conditions in the area would not be disturbed and instability would not occur.

The Environmental Value
Although little remains of the details of the building's original landscape, it does retain several important contextual relationships including its entire site and other significant heritage buildings in the Government Reserve area.

Sources: Joan Mattie, Commissioner’s Residence, Dawson City Historical Complex, Dawson City, Yukon, Federal Heritage Building Review Office Building Report 87-066; Commissioner’s Residence, Dawson City Historical Complex, Dawson City, Yukon, Heritage Character Statement, 87-066.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Commissioner’s Residence should be respected.

Its good aesthetics, functional design and quality craftsmanship, for example: its generally neo-classical character; its cohesive and well-proportioned composition – a rigidly symmetrical west facade with a projecting portico which is supported on four plain columns; inside, the two-storey central hall, with ground and second floor rooms set symmetrically around it, and the prominent and beautifully crafted staircase; the eclectic design of the interior, including some classical features (friezes and millwork details along with the symmetrical plan) and Arts and Crafts detailing (ceiling beams, paneled wainscot, dark stained wood); light fixtures, radiators and other fittings reflecting Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts influences; the functional separation between the original semi-public and service areas, which remains evident; the foundations of the building – posts on sill – which were designed to minimize the effects of permafrost; the plan, details and coverings of the ground floor, which reflect the 1908 renovation.

The manner in which the Commissioner’s Residence reinforces the historic character of Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Site of Canada as evidenced by: its prominent location in the heart of Dawson, south of the main business district in the Government reserve area; its spatial and historical relationships with buildings within the complex including the former Administration building, Post Office and the court house.

Heritage Character Statement

Disclaimer - The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.

The Commissioner's residence was built in 1901 to designs by Thomas Fuller as the official residence of the Commissioner of the Yukon Territory. In 1903 a large verandah was constructed across the front and two sides. It was badly damaged by fire in 1906 and after substantial renovations was re-opened in 1908. A second-storey sun-room was added to the annex in 1914. In 1916 it was closed and ceased to serve as the official residence. In 1950 the building was acquired by the Sisters of Charity and operated as a home for the aged until 1963 when it closed once again. It was acquired by Parks Canada in 1973 and stabilization work has been undertaken periodically. The Environment Canada Parks Service is custodian of the building.
See FHBRO Building Report 87-66.

Reason for Designation
The Commissioner's Residence was designated Classified because of its historical associations, architectural qualities and its contextual importance.

The building is closely associated with the exercise of Canadian sovereignty in the Yukon and the establishment of a long-term federal presence there. Once called Government House, the Commissioner's Residence was built and used as the official residence of the chief executive of the Yukon, the Commissioner. As such, it is closely associated with the early political affairs of the Yukon and the individuals who played a major role in them, most notably, George and Martha Black.

The original building has evolved from a predominantly classical but eclectic design, through a dramatic and bizarre period as a Jacobean/gingerbread confection, to the simplified, cohesive, well-proportioned composition that exists today, all the time reflecting an amalgam of the tastes of various designers and the occupant of the day. The interior is also eclectic, a restrained expression of classically inspired features and the influence of the arts and crafts movement.

The building's foundation was designed in such a way that the permafrost conditions in the area would not be disturbed causing instability.

Although little remains of the details of the building's original landscape, it does retain several important contextural relationships including its entire site and other significant heritage buildings in the Government Reserve area. The Commissioner's Residence, along with the former Courthouse, and the former Administration Building, anchors the extremities and identity of the Government Reserve and illustrates Dawson's former role as the capital of the Yukon.

Character Defining Features
The heritage value of the Commissioner's Residence resides in those aspects of the building which are associated with its role as the official residence of the Commissioner.

The Commissioner's Residence is a two-storey wood frame building that is generally neoclassical in character. Aspects of its original design and the subsequent two major re-buildings are evident on the exterior. Devoid of decoration, the building derives its character from its cohesive and well- proportioned composition - a rigidly symmetrical west facade with a projecting portico which is supported on four plain columns. Both a second floor and ground floor verandah are set behind this; the ground floor verandah extends around the building's two sides.

Inside, the two-storey central hall is the most significant planning feature. Symmetrically set around it are the ground and second floor rooms, and at the far end is the prominent and beautifully crafted staircase to the level above. Functionally the house was separated with the semi-public spaces located in the main block of the house and kitchen and service areas located in the annex at the rear. Changes to the historic plan of the building have been minimal consequently the historic relationship of use and plan remains evident.

The design of the interior is eclectic including some classical features (friezes and millwork details along with the symmetrical plan) and Arts and Crafts detailing (ceiling beams, paneled wainscot, dark stained wood). Light fixtures, the design of which reflects the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts taste, radiators and numerous other fittings are also intact and should be carefully protected as part of the building.

The interior of the building is largely intact from the period of the 1908 renovation and retains an extremely high degree of historic integrity. The interior ground floor should be protected in all its plan, detail, and finish.

The foundations of the building - posts on sill - were designed to minimize the effects of permafrost. Although periodic repair and replacement of components has taken place the design of the system is still intact.

Historically situated on a landscaped site which was complete with fencing, outbuildings, and gardens, the site has evolved to the plain grassed area it is today. This design is incompatible with the heritage value of the building situated on it. Should the opportunity arise, site development based on historic landscape precedent would considerably enhance the property.