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Monday, February 17, 2014

Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous: a warm festival in a cold land

Winter in Yukon. The first snow might have come in September. The snow and cold definitely stayed after October. The sun barely makes an appearance. You’ve been living in a dark, frozen land for several months now.
In December you had Christmas get-togethers and it wasn’t so bad. But January was long, dark and cold. You know that Spring will be on its way but it will be at least two, perhaps three more months of winter. You need to lift your spirits. But how?
Let’s party! February is time for a winter carnival: Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous! Reenacting the colorful Klondike history of gold miners, this a period for everyone to come out of hibernation, to celebrate the present, the past and the future.  Starting in 1945, Yukoners have embraced their unique winter celebration. Local businesses and banks began to decorate their premises and the streets in the style of 1898 to “give visitors a hearty welcome and assure them a rollicking good time”. A parade was organized, contests and even a Queen of the Carnival. In 1947 the Whitehorse Winter Carnival saw the introduction of the beard contest with these rules:
Beards must appear below the mouth from January 1 to February 23, 1947.
• Age limit: All men under 50 years of age must grow a beard, but we except (sic) all contestants over this age limit and welcome them into the contest.
All personnel in uniform, such as the Canadian Army, the R.C.A.F, R.C.M.P., Customs, are exempt due to regulations beyond our control.  All ministers are exempt.  All individuals directly handling food products, such as cooks, waiters, butchers, etc., are exempt.

The Keystone Kops started patrolling the city and “fining” citizens, the money used for a good cause. In 1962 things really heated up. The Carnival was named the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival:
“It is a gathering of Northern people to let off steam generated during the long, dark days of winter. It is a preamble to the busy days of spring and summer. It is a time for remembering this territory’s history and the strength of its pioneer people. It is a salute to the past and a bright eye on the future. The Sourdough Rendezvous is a gathering of the community’s talent and skill. An assembly of the area’s high spirits.”

Dogsled races were added and Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous became a major component. It might be -40 outside but an Ice Fishing Contest, Ice Sculpture Contest and Ice Car Speed Races drew lots of participants. A popular event was flour packing. This reenacted the weight gold rushers had to carry across the Chilkoot Pass. They packed flour sacks on their backs, hung from a large metal contraption on Main Street and tried to stagger under its weight.  500 pounds in a tie, in 1964, between Jim MacCormick and Danny Jackson. Mukluk races, snowshoe races, pulling a train, even chucking chainsaws expand the array of wild and weird contests. My favorite: a hairy leg contest - for women only. Can-can dancers liven up the evenings in local pubs and the temperatures rise.
Can-can dancers
As Rendezvous’ popularity increased, more winter visitors came to Whitehorse. When I lived here, the Queen Contest was expanded from ‘young gorgeous girls only’ to include married women and anyone who wanted to have fun while supporting the community spirit. I joined, with several friends, as Miss Chocolate Claim.
Still regal after all these years!
1989 Gwyn and I as Queens!
What fun we had wearing ’98 outfits, hats with roses - attending teas and holding a period fashion show. Prominent older couples were named as Mr & Mrs Yukon.

Coming back this year it is fun to see even more new events. Where else but in the Yukon do they have a frozen turkey bowling contest. Can you just picture it? 
Right on Main Street!
We watched snowshoe dancers, an ice sculpting contest and listening to the ever popular Gillian Campbell, grand dame of the Gold Rush. This truly is a warm festival in a cold land. Long may Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous live!

 Check out:
Gillian Campbell

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Yukon: where past and present live together

Yukon. The name alone evokes images of vast, frozen wilderness. Of cloud shrouded peaks, wolves hauling at the Northern Lights and ribbons of frozen river. But there is much more to this northern land that borders Alaska, the North West Territories and the Beaufort Sea.
When my family and I moved here, in 1983, it was an isolated land of resilient people. We drove several days north of Edmonton. The trees became thinner, sparser. When we finally spotted Whitehorse on the east of the Alaska Highway, we could have easily missed it entirely and ended up in Alaska. But we drove down toward the Yukon River and embraced the town that was to be our home for 9 years. It has been the easiest place I’ve ever lived (and I’ve moved 27 times!) to make friends. Because most people came from somewhere else.
Back then, Whitehorse did not have much to offer in the way of modern conveniences. There was a supermarket but bulk items were expensive because they were flown up or trucked up the Alaska Highway. There weren’t many restaurants, leave alone many coffeeshops. Now Whitehorse has two Starbucks, McDonalds and a plethora of box stores, including Walmart. It also has four airlines servicing the town, including a direct flight to Germany.
More than a hundred years ago, in 1897, gold was discovered in this sparsely populated, northern land. The ensuing Gold Rush brought people and awareness. It was the rugged ones that came. And stayed. It was the tough men and women who left the south to carve out a living in the north. They built log houses, hunted and trapped. They interacted with, and learned from, the First Nations people who lived here and knew how to survive in this harsh environment.
And, slowly, more came. A service industry sprang up. Mining. Logging. A school here, a hospital there. A store, a service station, an airport. Slowly, towns were born and grew up. Paddlewheelers connected towns via rivers. The First Nations people’s lives changed as they came into contact with the new settlers. Much of their culture was threatened, and then revived. Costumes, dancing, fur and beadwork mingled with French trappers, saloons, and dog sledding to form an intriguing, northern flavour.

Now, Yukon has its very own, distinct culture. It is a land like no other. A haunting land that gets under your skin and never leaves. Currently, the territory’s population is roughly 35,000 people. Some 27,000 of these live in Whitehorse, the capital city. That leaves 8,000 people spread out across 482,443 km² (186,272.28 ml²). Some towns boast 52 inhabitants. Whitehorse has all the modern conveniences of a southern city. Some better, like the incredible Canada Games Center, hosting an Aquatic Centre comprised of a 25 meter pool with 8 lanes, a leisure pool with water features and lazy river, an indoor waterslide, a hot tub, a steam room and a sauna. It has an NHL sized arena  as well as an Olympic sized arena and leisure ice for recreational skating. There is a Fieldhouse with artificial turf flooring, a Flexihall with sprung hardwood flooring, which accommodate a wide variety of indoor sports, a Wellness Centre and Studio. A 215m Indoor walking and running track circumnavigates the entire centre while parents can drop off kids at a Child Play Area with indoor playground. There are Meeting rooms to accommodate both business and social gatherings, Food services, Physiotherapy services and a Yukon Family Literacy Centre. Adult admission for all this? $7.50.
Combine this with northern allowances, seniors’ and other special services, and Yukon has morfed into an attractive place for families to live. And in this climate, they deserve all the facilities they can get.

Being back in Whitehorse for a visit, I rekindled old friendships, saw the house we built, the school my kids attended, and many other familiar places. I walked down the street in -30 weather with a howling wind that made it much colder and was reminded of why we moved south. I stayed in a wonderful B & B called Historic House B & B:
The house is in downtown Whitehorse and allowed us to walk to many places. But the best part if that we have the entire house to ourselves. My friend Gwyn and I feel like two spinster teachers, coming home to make a roaring fire in the woodstove. We huddle by the fire in our pj’s at night and watch the starry skies from our window. We were delighted to discover that this 2 storey clapboard house was built in 1907 as home for the real Sam McGee and his family. How cool is that?

I visited to the Takhini Hot Spring for a soak in hot, natural water while my hair froze. I watched the last mushers of the famous Yukon Quest come in. The Yukon Quest is known as one of the toughest dogsled races in the world. It runs more than one thousand miles between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon and mushers and dogs spend some eight days on the trail.

But the real reason I came was to participate, once more, in Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. More on that in my next blog.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What to pack for -30 to +30?

To prepare for our trip to the Middle East, I bought a new backpack very similar to this one. I know we are going to do a lot of hiking so this will come in handy. It is quite light. The front pouch zips off to become a smaller daypack that I can also take as cabin luggage. It has a nice computer compartment and strap. The main pack zips open like a suitcase and hold the clothes with straps, so I don't need to stuff clothes in. In the bottom pouch I can easily fit shoes since I don't need to carry a sleepingbag.

This turned into a kind of crazy trip. It started out as a commitment with a dear friend to go back to the Yukon for Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. Then an invitation to speak at a major literacy conference in Toronto got added to the trip. Followed by library reading in Ottawa.
Since I was then half way to Europe, I decided to just keep going east: Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and more.

Rendezvous is the Yukon's winter festival. It celebrates the Gold Rush and is intended to drive away the winter blues. But it can well be 20, 30 or 40 below zero! Yikes. After this, in Israel, it might be in the mid 20's C. So what do I pack in the way of clothing? I also know that I will be hiking, trudging through snow and a speaker at a conference and in libraries. Yikes again!

The solution: I selected a tattered suitcase on wheels. It still works perfectly well but I have nicer ones so that I can leave this one behind after my first two weeks of cold climate and speaking engagements. I packed it with a wool sweater, a fleece jacket, Rendezvous clothing (even a big old hat with roses on it!), wool socks, and more. All stuff that is still presentable but with which I am ready to part. I will take it all to a Toronto thrift shop when the time comes. I also went to a local thrift store and found a perfect pair of black boots, fur lined. They were 2.- and will be warm enough in the Yukon and then I will re-donate them.

A ziplock bag with first aid things and toiletries is in the backpack. Some small gifts for hosts along the way. I downloaded several new books on our iPad and am taking 3 novels that I can part with when I finish them.

Other than that there are 2 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of capris and some lightweight, wrinkle free tops. A cardigan, a blouse that can be worn as jacket and a tiny fold-up hairdryer. One pair sandals, one pair dressier shoes. A feather-light silk jacket which I can wear even on jeans and will look dressy. Two scarves. A rainjacket which I will wear over the fleecy in the Yukon and by itself in Israel. Oh, and a bathing suit.
And that's about it. After all, I will need to carry it all along our long distance hiking trails.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

And we're off... Are you coming along?

We've been back from our Australian adventure long enough to have caught up to chores around the house. For the past few weeks we have been reading books like:
• A Camera, Two Kids and A Cael by Annie Belt (National Geographic),
• Lonely Planet Israel,
• Frommer's Jordan and Israel,
• National Geographic's Holy Land
and more.

Now we are packing our backpacks again and gearing up for 2 months of traveling to the Yukon, Toronto, Ottawa, Israel, Jordan, Turkey and the Netherlands. Are you ready to come along? (click 'follow' on this blog to receive all updates!).
We will share our adventures, practical advise and experiences with you.
So bundle up: next week it's Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous in The Yukon!