Yukon is the smallest of Canada’s three northern territories, situated in the northwest corner of the country’s continental mainland, with its northern border touching the Arctic Ocean. Each year, the Friday before the last Sunday in February is Yukon Heritage Day, a public holiday in which schools and government offices close, and many people receive the day off to celebrate the culture and history of this unique place. This year it lands today, on 26th February 2021.
1. Yukon Heritage Day
Yukon Heritage Day was made a territorial holiday by the Canadian government in 1975, and the first celebration of the holiday took place in February 1976. Other than time off work and school, Yukon Heritage Day is about celebrating the Yukon’s tenacious, frontier spirit, and this is done through various festivities, most notably the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.
2. The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous
Yukon Heritage Day is designed to coincide with The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, a festival which is held in the Yukon’s capital of Whitehorse. The winter festival first began in 1945, and revolves around the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century, which saw approximately 100,000 gold prospectors descend on Yukon, changing it for both good and bad, but making it the place it is today. The name comes from the fact that for those coming north during the Gold Rush sourdough was a staple, as it allowed them to make bread without the use of yeast or baking soda. Soon, the term became used for anyone coming North and staying in Yukon for at least a winter. It was recently announced that due to some negative connotations of ‘sourdough’, the word will be dropped from the name, becoming The Yukon Rendezvous.
The celebration features several activities including a ‘Queen’ contest, sled dog races, air shows, and snow sculpture contests. The weather at this time of the year in Yukon, is far from warm, but that doesn’t stop Yukoners getting out and celebrating by being part of the giant festival. In 2020, the Rendezvous saw its 55th convening, and each year it is sponsored by many major Canadian businesses with more and more people attending.
For a week, Whitehorse is filled with festivities, bringing Yukon’s heritage alive and marking the coming of spring. People partake in activities like the pancake breakfast, axe throwing, dogsledding, flour packing and chainsaw chucking during the day, followed by Sourdough Sam competitions, the crowning of the festival Queen and roving performances by the famous Snow Shoe Shufflers and Rendezvous Can-Can dancers. Today, as well as the the original sports and activities, there are also numerous new events, like the Dog Team Derby, Ski & Snowshoe Races, Ice Skating, Ice Hockey, Snowshoe Ski Ball, Bowling, Basketball, and many more winter sports. Any and all are enthusiastically played by both amateurs and professionals during the celebrations.
In addition to this, contests declaring the Queen of the Carnival, Miss Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, best beards, Mr & Mrs Yukon, Sourdough Sam and others are held. Dancers and bands from around the country are invited, and some are even named Superstars of the year. Fireworks, barbecue, ice sculptures, dance performances, air shows, fiddle contest and numerous other activities are also a part of the festivities. As the Rendezvous committee itself says, ‘the core of the fest is to gather all Yukoners and celebrate another winter passing. It recognises and commemorates all that is Yukon’.
3. Yukon Quest
Another important event that often coincides with Yukon Heritage Day is the Yukon Quest. Started in 1984, this is a sled dog race that covers the thousand miles between Fairbanks, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. Arguably one of the toughest races in the world, it is held during the harshest winter conditions. The race course itself follows the route of the historic 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, and the quest symbolises this as well as the heritage of Yukon.