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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!

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Gillian Campbell


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