Learn all about the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous through the ages. We've got detail about the weather, what activities took place, interesting rules and other fun stuff...
1945 to 1961
Think back to 1945… where were you? Most people reading this may not have even been alive. Now just think… that’s when this festival got its start. Yukon Carnival Week as it was known in 1945 was started by the All Union Committee backed by the entire International Trade Union Movement of North and South America. It was billed as “an elaborate program of winter sports in which professionals and amateur sports enthusiasts of the US, Alaska & Canada will participate”. It was planned as a full week of daily sports activities and nightly entertainment. Now see if you recognize any of the events that took place that year: Dog Team Derby, Ski & Snowshoe Races, Amateur Fancy Skaters, the International Hockey Game and the Snowshoe Ski Ball Game. Doris Lesanke was proclaimed the winner of the Queen of the Carnival in 1945 with other notable facts being that visitors were drawn from Alaska, British Columbia, Ontario, Idaho, Quebec, Alberta, and Texas!
In 1946, following on the success of the previous year’s festivities, the carnival is held again with the city beginning to decorate the streets and encouraging local merchants to decorate their businesses in the style of 1898 to “give visitors a hearty welcome and assure them a rollicking good time”. This is the first year of the parade that was well attended with a large number of participating floats. New events including a curling bonspiel and amateur night. Frances Van Berkel was named Queen of the Carnival.
In 1947 the Whitehorse Winter Carnival saw the introduction of the beard contest for “Days of ‘98”. The Rules were as follows (excerpt from The Whitehorse Star Jan 10, 1947):
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.
Any others desiring exemption must present their case to the Committee of the Whitehorse Winter Carnival for acceptance.
A Kangaroo Court will be held commencing February 1st around town and any man found not advertising the Carnival in this manner will be tried for “non-support” and fined in any way deemed fit by the Committee. The Kangaroo Court would late be known as the Keystone Kops.
“The Carnival is operated for the enjoyment of every citizen in Whitehorse and it is the desire of the committee in charge to make this contest a lot of fun for everyone. In this regard we ask that, in the case of the Kangaroo Court, if any one is called up before it, to bear in mind that it is being operated in this atmosphere and that should he have to face this Court he will take the fine as a joke and aid the Committee in their efforts.”
1947 saw Mary Gunn named as Queen of the Carnival and the introduction of the games of chance and cards as well as skits and dancing.
In 1948 the Kiwanis took over the organization of the Winter Carnival from the All Union Committee. That year we saw Frances Straughan named as the Carnival Queen and a Costume Ball added to the slate. It should also be noted that this is the year that it is noted that the Queen of the Carnival is being crowned in an Ice Palace. Also of note are the number of prizes on the Queen Raffle ticket including a new Frigidaire!
Something happened in 1949 as no carnival was held due to Insurance costs. Also of note that year was the fact that Rolf Hougen was named to the organizing committee.
In 1950, the carnival returned. With the return of the old favorites that were featured in the ‘40’s. Also added to the slate was the Wind Up Jamboree.
Then from 1951 – 1961, there was no festival in Whitehorse.
Something happened for 1962 though! The Carnival came back and was named the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival. The Chairperson was Flight Sergeant H.Kane. Below is the formal description of the 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.”
In 1962, the Ice Palace was built by the Drama Club with Alice Martin being crowned Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. Also of note, Fred Stretch of Carmacks entered the Dog races with a community dog team made up of various dogs from around the community as no one in the community maintained a working team in Carmacks. One of the dogs was owned by an RCMP member; on the return leg of the race when the dog saw someone on the riverbank dressed in an RCMP parka, it led the team over thinking it was it’s owner with their lunch. An untimely lunch break if there ever was one! Also, the Hangin’ Judge of the Kangaroo Court Bud Fisher first appears to start a tradition and the Midnight Sun Pipe Band appears at events around the festival.
1962 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -37.5c on February 16, HIGH -12.8c on February 16
In 1963, Rolf Hougen was named chairperson of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival, and Gwen Carswell was named Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. New to the festival that year was an Ice Fishing Contest, Ice Sculpture Contest, Pot Boiling Contest, and Ice Car Speed Races! This was also the year of the International Cross Country Ski Meet in Whitehorse, featuring the 1963 Canadian Champion Martha Benjamin of Old Crow. Also, 1963 saw the formation of the Dog Mushers Association.
1963 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -13.9c on February 24, HIGH -5.6c on February 23 & 24
In 1964, Rolf Hougen continued as chairperson of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Society. The society and name were officially registered and this would be the date that is officially recognized by the society for future anniversaries. This was also the last festival for many members of the Canadian Army stationed in Yukon as the turnover of maintenance of the Alaska Highway was given to another government department. The festival drew about 1,500 visitors from outside Whitehorse and the hotels were jammed full. The winning flour packing weight was 500 pounds in a tie between Jim MacCormick and Danny Jackson. The Chilkat dancers came to the festivities with $15,000 worth of costumes and PWA flew into Ross River to bring out their dog musher entries and in the time it took to load the plane, one of the teams decided to make one more practice run and off they mushed. PWA returned the next day for the errant team. Diana McNeil was named as Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.
New to the Festival – Sourdough Pancake breakfast, Basketball tournament, Bowling tournament, barbecue, Poster contest, Fireworks. Categories for Beard contest – Bushiest, Best Trimmed, Queerest, Mutton Chops beards, in the mustache category Fullest and best trimmed.
1964 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -20c on March 1st, HIGH -0.6c on February 28th
In 1965, Pete Hudson took over as Chairperson for the festival and Donna Bigham (Skagway, Ak) was named Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. New events included the Art exhibition, One Dog Pull (550 pounds of Dog food pulled for 25 feet), Motorized Toboggan Race, Queens Banquet, City of Whitehorse Reception, Display of Indian Crafts at Skookum Jim Hall.
On the opening day of the dog races, Babe Southwick, Vice-President of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association and the only lady competing, mushed her dogs to third place and then collapsed afterwards of a heart attack. She was taken to the hospital where she died with the last wish that her team be allowed to finish the competition. Accordingly, Alex Van Bibber, an old friend who was acting as a course marshal, took over for Saturday and Sunday. Babe Southwick’s number in the race “8” was retired forever.
Other notes of interest were that Princess Seeseequasis, 1965 Canadian Indian Princess, was in attendance during this years Rendezvous as a guest of the Queen Contest. The winning Flour packing weight was 550 pounds by Jim MacCormick across the 350 foot course. Beard Buttons made their appearance and anyone caught without one and with no whiskers went to the Crow Bar Hotel immediately. This was also the first year School children are given a holiday on the Friday of the Festival.
1965 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -26.7c on February 22nd, HIGH -1.7c on February 24th
In 1966 Howard Ryder took over as chair of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival and Linda Kunze was named Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.
Prior to the opening day of Rendezvous, Paul Ben Kassi of Old Crow had no sponsor and could not afford to bring himself and his dogs and equipment to Whitehorse. A local newspaper carried the story and the item aroused the interest of a Learned Kansas woman who had met Mr. Kassi in 1963. She wired Whitehorse for information concerning the costs of sponsoring and by return mail sent a cheque to cover the cost.
The Yukon Dog Mushers association made Mrs. Lavena Wheeler an Honorary member that year.
At the Sourdough Pancake breakfast about 400 pounds of flour is consumed. In the One Dog Pull, Jared Wilkinson of Pelly Crossing had a dog Mac who pulled 1,165 Pounds of Dog Food. Riverside Grocery who donated the dog food only had 1,000 pounds down on the river and when it became evident that Mac was capable of more, Alex Van Bibber tossed on the extra poundage from his own team’s supply. First prize in the Queen raffle was an Acadian Sports Coupe with all the trimmings (the first time ever for a car as a prize).
New to the Festival in 1966 - The Drama Club Can Can girls started to make the rounds of the bars presenting mimes and Rendezvous song to add to the excitement of Rendezvous. Moose Calling contest, Skydiver down on the River. Escapades on Blades with stars from the Capilano Winter Club in Vancouver.
1966 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -19.4c on February 21st, HIGH +5c on February 23rd
In 1967 Howard Ryder continued as chair and Lenore Hakonson of Dawson City was named Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. This was also the first year that the winner of the Queen Contest was determined by ticket sales as well as poise, talent, deportment, and personality.
New to the Festival – The Yukon Teachers Association organized Junior Sourdough Rendezvous.
All day Friday, special events take place, including Ski races, Mukluk races, Junior Dog Sled races, Snowshoe races, a Tug-O-War and a Fire Lighting-Pot contest. The Klondettes Singing Chorus Line.
1967 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -22.8c on February 26th, HIGH -1.1c on February 22nd
In 1968, Bob Choate was named chair and Margo Magnusson was named as Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. First prize in the queen raffle was a car and won by a seven year old girl.
This was the first year an invitation was issued to dog mushers all over Canada to enter the dog sled races and the Chilkat dancers performed again for the festival. Alanis Obomsowin of Montreal entertained the crowds with ancient Indian legend songs accompanying herself on the “music stick bones” or on the drum. The RCMP lambasted the Canadian Forces in snowshoe baseball winning by the improbably and still to be notarized score of 4,937 to 4 to take home the Tangle Foot Trophy. The Chamber of Commerce in Yellowknife came over on a charter flight full of Rendezvous participants.
New to the festival was the Indian Performing Arts Show and the Drama Club’s Frantic Follies toured the bars with songs, mimes and the can-can and Dorothy Warrington the Lady known as Lou sang in fantastic gowns.
1968 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -18.3c on February 19th, HIGH +3.9c on February 23rd
For 1969, Bob Choate was once again chair, and Pat Daws was named Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.
This was the first year that the Pack Race (Freight Race) was added to the Dog Races with teams carting 100 pound sacks. The Bank of Montreal won for Best Decorated Commercial Establishment and Jean Chrétien (Minister of Northern Development) and his wife and father were guests of honour at the festival.
Mr. Chrétien was fined $5 shortly after arriving for being beardless. The minister spent a few minutes in jail as the hoose-gow’s most famous prisoner and good naturedly demanded a release petition be sent to the Minister of Justice in Ottawa. His father Willie Chrétien who was 81 was chosen by the Can Can girls from a crowd at the Friday night Open House to receive the Yukon Order of the Garter as the best darn garter watcher. The senior Mr. Cretien spoke very little English but soon caught on to the fact that he was to take the garter off Flora Dora’s leg and spiritedly entered into his task with much gusto.
“Rawhide” Max Ferguson and his sidekick Allan McPhee arrived for the carnival too and had a great time kissing Queens, interviewing mushers and awarding prizes.
1969 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -24.4c on March 1st, HIGH -2.2c on February 27th & 28th
In 1970, Bill Royds was named chair and Sibell Hackney was named as Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. The parade was moved to Sunday afternoon at the end of the festival. Stock Car Racing was added to Chadburn Lake and the “KEYSTONE KOPS” organized by the Jaycees of Whitehorse are determined to be the “young men of action”.
The Annual Queen Contest was being run under the Canada Pageant rules with the possibility of laying the foundation for future entries to compete in Miss Canada.
Canada’s National Indian Princess (Evelyn Joseph from Vancouver) and Alex Scalplock (champion Indian dancer from Calgary) came to the festival as guests and judge of the native dance contest. Winning One Dog Pull was “Blackie” owned by Edwin Hager with an estimated weight of 1,050 pounds.
A new record in the flour packing by a tenacious photo clerk from Hougen’s department store who strolled out on his lunch hour. Uwe Meyer set the all-time 750 pounds over new course of 50 feet.
1970 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -21.7c on March 1st, HIGH +6.1c on February 24th
In 1971, Bill Royds continued as chair and Judy Crayford was named as Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous. Bruno Gerussi of the Gerussi Show was a guest of the festival. The finest military band in Canada the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry Marching Band was featured at several events this year. In addition to all this, Vancouver broadcaster Jack Webster was a special guest broadcaster at the festival.
New to the festival in 1971 was Motorcycle racing, a Chess tournament, and the Old Time Fiddle contest. The was also the first year that Mr. & Mrs. Yukon are presented as chosen by the Yukon Order of Pioneers. They are special guests of many of the Rendezvous events at the Festival. This year it was Jack and Hazel Meloy. 1971 was also the first year of many that Gillian Campbell (direct from the music halls of Britain) appears at various events throughout Rendezvous with a honky tonk band known as the Red Garter Boys. As well this was the First Annual Rendezvous Air Show.
1971 WEATHER STATS: LOW: -37.2c on February 27th, HIGH 0c on February 20th