Moving pictures were invented by the Lumière brothers in France in 1896, the same year that gold was discovered in the Klondike.
In the ensuing Dawson City rush, all manner of modern devices were transported to the city of gold. A star amusement was moving pictures, which premiered on August 30, 1898, in the Combined Theatre. The Klondike nugget reported on this new feature: “Besides the strong drawing attractions of Mulligan, Maurettus and the crowd of supporters, they show the most modern of Edison’s inventions, the ‘Projectoscope’. It resembles a stereooptic, in that images of objects are projected onto a screen, but there the resemblance ceases, for in the Projectoscope the images move just as in life.The sensational rounds of a fight, a bullfight, a naval battle, etc., are reproduced exactly as in life.
Crowds lined the door on opening night to witness, among other things, a steam locomotive streaking across the screen. One of the miners was so delighted that he jumped up and shouted, “Pass it again!” Run it again! I haven’t seen a locomotive in almost 10 years.
While many worked the gold fields to store their frozen earth in anticipation of gold recovery during spring cleaning, others sought refuge in the warmth and company of saloons, dance halls and theaters. Front Street in Dawson City. Amid song and dance, boxing matches, sacred concerts and masquerade balls, presented in the many theaters of the gold rush, the Klondikers were captivated by the first offerings of the fledgling film industry. Yet at that time moving pictures were just a novelty among the live entertainment that supported the gold rush town.
Motion pictures continued to be a novelty in Dawson’s cinemas in the years that followed. The Orpheum and Auditorium theaters and the Arctic Brotherhood Hall vied for Dawsonite patronage by occasionally providing moving pictures.
In October 1910, Ben Levy, the owner of the Orpheum, upped the competition, announcing the arrival of a new projector and many new films, as well as the news of its opening for the winter with new selections of films. every week. Levy began charging for film titles in his newspaper advertisements. One of the first titles was Frankenstein. Levy upped his game yet again by announcing major renovations to the Orpheum in February 1911. A year after Levy converted the Orpheum into a movie theatre, a new contender entered the arena: the Family Theater in the building of the Dawson Amateur Athletic Association (DAAA).
Walter Creamer, the director of DAAA, was a creative entrepreneur, keen to keep the business profitable, so in 1911 he converted the second-floor gymnasium into a theater. Constant competition continued between Dawson’s various theaters until war was declared with Germany in August 1914. At the time, there were still three theaters showing movies. But the war killed all that was left of the gold rush town as hundreds left the north, never to return.
Due to its remoteness and seasonal isolation, Dawson City was at the end of the film distribution chain. The cost of shipping films to Dawson City was high, and like many other goods, once they reached the Klondike they were too expensive to ship back out. Thus these films, chipped and worn from heavy use, arrived in Dawson two to three years (or more) after their first release, a fact that would make it obvious to summer tourists visiting Dawson that Dawson had become a social place. isolate and cultural backwater. A good example of this delay is the film His Madonnawhich was already five years old when it was shown in Dawson in April 1917.
In 1932, the Family Theater still sporadically offered outdated silent films, while the Orpheum fought back with talkies like In the west, nothing is newwith Lew Ayres, and The Virginian, with Gary Cooper. The rivalry between the two theaters continued through the early months of 1932; the following summer, the Family Theater still offered silent films but alternated with tourist dances.
However, the era of silent films is coming to an end and Fred Elliott, now director of the Family Theatre, throws in the towel. On July 28, 1932, he disposed of several tons of silent films in the traditional way, carrying them to the water’s edge and dumping them in the river. “We’re just following the weather,” Elliott said. “My clients want the ‘talkies’, so we’re going to have them.”
Elliott followed this soon after by burning the rest of his silent films on the banks of the Yukon River. A few years earlier, a large amount of silent films had been thrown into the indoor swimming pool at the DAAA building when she could no longer afford to maintain the pool. The films were discovered 50 years later, causing a stir as many reels contained rare footage long considered lost to the theater world.
Movies continue to be a regular form of entertainment in Dawson City, offered first at the Family Theater and later at the Orpheum. This competition ended when the DAAA building was destroyed by fire in late 1937. The Orpheum followed suit in 1940, but a theater of simpler design was quickly rebuilt by its owner, Harry Gleaves. The Orpheum passed through several owners until it was finally closed after being badly damaged by the great flood that inundated Dawson in early May 1979.
Owner Fred Berger reported they were able to catch fish inside the building after the water receded. The insurance settlement was not enough to pay for new seats in the theater, let alone cover the cost of reconstruction. At that time, Dawson City received over-the-air television broadcasts, and in the early 1980s the city subsidized the distribution of broadcasts via satellite, including movies on the Home Box Office channel. It was no longer viable to operate a movie theater in such a small market.
On October 4 at 7 p.m. in the Gray Mountain Room of the Mount Mac Recreation Facility, there will be a special presentation on how movies were found, followed by musical entertainment and a screening of movies that were discovered in permafrost in 1978. Everyone is welcome to attend this free event. Step back in time and watch a selection of films that were screened on a typical evening at Dawson’s movie theaters over a century ago. There will be food and refreshments, a presentation Stay tuned for more information.
Michael Gates is the first winner in Yukon history. This article is adapted from her new book, “Hollywood in the Klondike,” which is now available for purchase in select stores and online. You can contact him at [email protected]