The flags are flying at half-mast in Dawson City. Peter Jenkins, the owner of the Eldorado Hotel, former two-time mayor of Dawson City and MLA for the Klondike riding in northern Yukon, died last weekend at 77 years old.
Jenkins is often described as one who had a long and colourful political career, or that he ‘lived large.’ He was absolutely himself as he undertook a variety of enterprises, projects and fought political battles.
Wayne Potoroka, the outgoing mayor of Dawson City, and the man who defeated Jenkins for mayor in 2012, said he was “a man who did not apologize for who he was, and he did not suffer stupidity or incompetence.”
Potoroka has nothing but respect for the man he knew for many years.
As he wrote in a Facebook post on Oct. 4, “Peter was Dawson’s mayor for 17 years, the Klondike MLA for ten, and a prominent political figure and mentor in our town and territory for over four decades.”
“Any portrait of Jenkins as a man who was universally loved would do him an injustice. Peter did not get involved because he wanted to be liked,” Potoroka added.
“That was not a motivating factor. He wanted to be there when there were hard decisions that needed to be made.”
Potoroka reflected on Jenkins’ legacy.
“And I gotta tell you, that was also a great lesson. Being there, when there’s a hard decision to be made. That’s what every elected official should want— to be the person in the chair when there’s a hard decision to be made.
“And, you know, that sometimes makes you unpopular. And it sometimes doesn’t endear you to everyone in town. That never motivated him.”
Jenkins was a full presence on the landscape of Dawson City, a presence that barely dwindled in recent years. He was always available for comment or review, bringing an experienced eye to current plans.
And almost all will concede that Jenkins loved Dawson City.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Peter cared deeply for this community. He loved this town, and he was generous and kind. I don’t think that there’s many people in this community who has not experienced that generosity,” Potoroka continued.
Sometimes, Jenkins’ projects landed him in hot water with authorities — like the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, or the police, or bankers.
In his early days, Jenkins built a cable television distribution system where he registered accounts using the names of dead gold rush pioneers, then distributed the channels for free to Dawson residents. The CRTC hauled him up and he recounted to them the north’s wild ways, leaving them a little slack-jawed in the end.
That earned him the nickname Pirate Pete. Allan Fotheringham, in a Maclean’s story on the Yukon’s politicians, unearthed another nickname: “Peter, Peter, the meter stealer,” in reference to another escapade of a younger Jenkins.
But that is not the sum of the man, who by almost all accounts was a keeper of Dawson and Yukon’s history, and who shared those stories generously.
Potoroka continued: “He definitely did not hold much back. He let you knew where you stood and how he felt about things.”
The flags at Dawson’s City Hall will continue to be flown at half-mast in memory of Jenkins and his years of service for another week.
Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News