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Keeping It Fresh

A Dawson institution unveils its annual reinvention
Venture North~Summer 2011 (V5I2)

There are many reasons to celebrate the end of winter in Dawson City, but perhaps the biggest delight is the reopening of Klondike Kate’s Cabins and Restaurant. The seasonal business, which closes from October to April, is renowned as one of Dawson’s best dining spots, and each year its return is enthusiastically welcomed by a town that’s gone many months with few eateries to choose from.


   “We’ve had locals say to us there are two signs of spring: one is that the river is going to break, and the second is that Klondike Kate’s is going to open,” says Josée Savard, who has operated the business with her husband, Philippe Lamarche, since 1990. “My husband was out taking the boards down off the windows, and everyone was coming up saying, ‘Welcome back. When are you opening?’ For us, that’s really satisfying.”


   The couple initially started as employees of the restaurant--Savard as a server and Lamarche as a cook--but they bought the business outright in 1994 and have not stopped making improvements since. In their first year as owners, they completely rebuilt the restaurant’s foundation, renovated the kitchen, and added a large patio--construction that was completed in the dead of winter.


   “One day my husband came in, and the ears had come off his hammer from the cold,” recalls Savard. “He said, ‘Well, what do you think?’ and I said, ‘If it’s too cold for the hammer, it’s too cold for you.’”


   In the years following, they underwent a painstaking renovation of Klondike Kate’s original nine cabins and added six additional cabins to the property, all built in strict accordance with Dawson City’s unique building codes, which require structures to maintain the authentic gold-rush-era look and feel. In recent years, they’ve made environmental responsibility a cornerstone of their operations, installing energy-efficient fixtures, using green cleaning products, and introducing biodegradable containers for takeout orders in the restaurant.


   As the pair head into their 22nd season operating Kate’s, they’re still excited about making changes. As in past years, they’ll draw inspiration from the long trips they take in the winter months to explore other cultures, but, as Savard explains, they’re increasingly interested in highlighting home-based treasures as well. 


   “We’re really into local products right now and focus on what’s available locally,” she says. “That’s what we’re interested in when we travel abroad. We want our menu to be focused on what’s available seasonally. We want to do our own foraging with mushroom and berries that are around, and we’re planting more herbs around the restaurant so we can use our own stuff. Using more of what’s around us is really important. For us to be able to share that with locals and tourists is exciting. We think that’s what they’re looking for. They’re also looking for a burger, but maybe it’s with some spruce tips in the sauce or some special herb that we have. You have to give people what they want, but you also want to share your passion.”


   All this will be accomplished with the help of the restaurant’s new head chef, Jeffrey Mickelson, a Dawsonite whose demonstrated passion for foraging and harvesting regional ingredients makes him ideally suited to collaborate with Lamarche in designing a menu that showcases locally sourced fare at its finest.


   For Savard, a former choreographer and dancer originally from Montréal, embracing the community that has embraced her and her business is crucial. She’s active in promoting French-language education and serves on the local school council, ensuring Dawson’s students, including the couple’s 11-year-old son, Gabriel, have access to education in both of Canada’s official languages. She also avidly promotes Dawson’s First Nation culture to guests, encouraging them to explore the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre to get a sense of life in the area before the Klondike Gold Rush.


   While Kate’s has always been popular with locals and tourists, Savard and Lamarche are setting their sights on weekenders from around the Yukon. There are plans for all-inclusive short-stay packages based around classic Dawson experiences--perhaps a weekend in a cabin that includes a picnic basket prepared for guests taking an afternoon hike, or an evening of wine tasting followed by a show at Diamond Tooth Gerties. There are also plans for themed cabins--a “Paris of the North” cabin that celebrates Dawson’s French history, with a bottle of chilled champagne in the room, and a “Miner’s Cabin” that could include a day trip to the goldfields.


   “We want to really make it clear that the cabins and the restaurant are all part of the same experience,” says Savard. “For tourists, as well as people visiting from around the Yukon, and even locals, we want to be able to offer a really special experience that shows off all the things you can do in Dawson because it really is a special place.”


Klondike Kate’s Cabins and Restaurant is located at the corner of Third Ave. and King St. For information, visit klondikekates.ca or call (867) 993-6527.

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