Monday, July 28, 2008
THE HOME of MARTHA LOUISE BLACK
3rd floor servants' quarters.
Swallows painted on the wall in her large 2nd floor work room,
where she started many a seedling.
Mosquito Bite Me Not.
The main hall.
The ceiling in George Black's study.
Servants' bath on the 3rd floor.
The dining room, its windows covered with beautiful hand-dyed
and block-printed linen drapes.
A globe light fixture in the stairwell.
Parquet flooring and avocado velvet drapery in the drawing room .
A grape cushion with hand-tatting on the chesterfield in the living room.
While in Dawson last weekend I had the pleasure of being led through two of my dear Janice Cliff's Parks Canada tours: Dawson proper and the Commissioner's residence on front street. DELIGHTFUL. Janice's manner is so engaging. She's a wealth of knowledge. Loved every minute of it, especially the ends - poking through the secret parts.
The Commissioner's Residence was the home of Chatelaine Martha Black and her Commissioner husband George Black from 1912 - 1916. Martha was one those extra-ordinary women drawn to abandon her existence of wealth and comfort in Chicago for the Klondike. She fell in great love with this place, created a long, remarkable life here and died here at the age of 91.
In the late 1800's, after refusing to join her then husband William Purdy in the Sandwich Islands, Martha came up North with her brother, crossed the Chilkoot Trail on foot (with the sole knowledge she was with child) and arrived in Dawson to give birth to her third son, alone in a cabin in January 1899.
An artistic botanist, war worker, politician, lecturer, correspondent, writer, wife and mother, Martha was an elegant, tough, and ethical lady respected at all levels of Dawson society. In 1935, at the age of 70, she was the second woman (to Agnes Campbell McPhail) elected to the House of Commons, replacing her ill husband as representative of the Yukon. Among the issues she pursued where public health, pensions for the blind and nature conservation.
The house was totaled by fire and flood in the 1900's and has since been partially restored by Parks according to photographs. The Sisters of St. Anne occupied the building during the 1940's and 50's as residents and keepers of a senior citizen's home. The main floor is fully restored to 1916 as Martha and George would have known it. The 2nd floor is mainly empty of furnishings but bears the wallpaper and floral linoleum of the Sister's time, their iron beds and washstands. The bathrooms on the 3rd floor are stunning with their clawfoot tubs and honeycomb tile and the exquisite light from little windows.
The house holds a strong sense of Martha: a lady of compassion and attentiveness to detail, who painted lovely swallows and always smiled in photographs.