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Original carpenters' signatures uncovered in historic Dawson City building

'As we began the work, we started removing those later-period additions and came across some really interesting discoveries,' said David Rohatensky of Parks Canada.

Former Territorial Court House was built between 1900 and 1901, and is now a National Historic Site

Scribbled on a stud, and dated 1901, the signatures of W. Falconer and Gavin Fowlie - later confirmed to be the original builders of the Former Territorial Courthouse in Dawson City, Yukon. (Mike Penrose/Parks Canada)

Workers doing renovations to one of Dawson City's Gold Rush-era buildings have discovered some long-hidden features, including ornate woodwork and signatures from the original carpenters.

The former Territorial Courthouse was built between 1900 and 1901, and was designated a National Historic Site in 1980.

David Rohatensky, Parks Canada's superintendent for Klondike National Historic Sites in Dawson City, calls the building "probably the most impressive and prominent building in the community."

"You can't help but see it, first thing when you come by river, or by the highway," he said.

The building had many uses over the years — beside a courthouse, it was an administration centre for the North-West Mounted Police, and a community hospital. Renovations and additions (new walls, dropped ceilings) had been made over the decades, but by 2009 it needed some serious rehabilitation work.

"As we began the work, we started removing those later-period additions and came across some really interesting discoveries," said Rohatensky.

Scribbled on a stud, they found the names of W. Falconer and Gavin Fowlie — later confirmed to be the carpenters who originally built the courthouse. Fowlie's tombstone is in the Yukon Order of Pioneers graveyard in Dawson.

The renovation crews also uncovered some ornate, carved wood ventilation grilles in the ceiling, hidden beneath material that was added in more recent years.

"When the courthouse was built it was an absolute flagship showpiece. The materials that were used were incredibly high grade," Rohatensky said.

"So findings like this — the ornamental grates — simply speak to that architectural touch that made the building special."

Rohatensky said the renovation work is meant to retain and restore as many of the building's original architectural features as possible. He said Parks Canada is only beginning to plan what the interior will look like when it's finished.

Rohatensky calls it a privilege to be able to work on such a significant "showpiece" building.

"It really was a federal government statement in the confidence of Dawson City's future," he said.

With files from Sandi Coleman

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