Dawson City businesses feeling the squeeze of labour shortage

Some business owners in Dawson City, Yukon, say they’re struggling to find people to fill jobs this season.

'Our customers are concerned,' says bakery owner

Dylan Wismer, owner of Cheechako's Bakeshop, says they're so short-staffed the bakery has had to cut back hours and close on Saturdays. (Anais Elboujdaini/CBC )

Many tourists come to Dawson City, Yukon, during the summer to soak in the gold rush history, visit the shops and casino and even try the one-of-a-kind sourtoe cocktail. But some business owners say they're struggling to find people to fill jobs this season. 

Dylan Wismer owns Cheechako's Bakeshop, located on Front Street, which sells freshly made goods from cookies and muffins to baked bread and sandwiches. 

"Normally this time of year, or by May, I would have I would say 30 resumes. I had five," she said. "None of them came through." 

The worker shortage is so bad Wismer said a concerned customer contacted his ex-wife who flew from Alberta to work the cash register. The bakery has also had to cut back hours so it's no longer open on Saturdays.

There's no place like Dawson though if you really want a summer of adventure, if you want to make some good money.-Wayne Potoroka, Dawson City mayor

"Our customers are concerned because they like eating here," Wismer said. "If we have to cut back our hours because we can't do as much because we don't have the extra hands, that means they don't get to eat in their favourite place as much." 

She added that being short-handed in the summer will also mean a leaner winter. 

Wismer said she believes this year's worker shortage is due to a number of factors including a lack of affordable housing and what she sees as a generation of workers going by the wayside.

"There's a lack of work ethic in the new generation," she said. "They want the job but they don't want to do the work."

City working on solutions

Dawson City mayor Wayne Potoroka said the city is working on addressing concerns with affordable housing. He noted when he first came to Dawson, he lived in his van across the river in what was called tent city, which was subsequently shut down.

"A lot of people talk about that as being a watershed moment of when some of the issues we have around housing workers started," he said.

"I'm confident that there are people living in the bush now, tenting out there, free accommodations while they work in town."

Dawson City Mayor Wayne Potoroka says the city is working on solutions to address concerns with affordable housing. (Submitted by Wayne Potoroka)

Potoroka said the city has a development incentive policy to encourage developers and there are three new multi-unit residential complexes that have been completed or are nearing completion.

He also said there are businesses in Dawson that have staff housing or are interested in creating staff housing. The city is currently considering amendments to the policy to extend incentives to businesses that build staff housing.

"We'll see where that goes but we're aware that that's an issue and we want to use what tools we can to help with the problem."

The mayor said he's also heard some concerns over worker salaries, but said that people can make a lot of money working in Dawson during the summer. 

"There's no place like Dawson though if you really want a summer of adventure, if you want to make some good money, if you want to work really hard — maybe at two perhaps even three jobs if you want — to put away a lot of cash for your university education. That's still possible here for sure," Potoroka said. 

Wismer said staff housing can be a challenge for employers that also have to take on the role of landlords as well as maintain a healthy work-life balance.

"It gets too stressful," she said. 

She also said the new accommodations have yet to help with the labour shortage. She would like to see the territorial or federal government, city council and chamber of commerce come together on a solution. 

 "If those three parties got together and built a building in this town with just plain bedrooms, cheap rent — an incentive for people to come up here, make a bunch of money and not be gouged — you might get it back."

Written by Emily Blake, reporting by Anais Elboujdaini


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