The queen can be a king, as Sourdough Rendezvous opts for inclusion

Every year, Yukon's winter festival holds a competition to crown a 'Sourdough Queen.' Now, organizers are 're-branding' the event to be more gender-neutral.

Yukon's winter festival says its annual 'Quest for the Crown' is open to all genders

Sourdough Rendezvous Queen candidates in 2015. This year, organizers of the winter festival are pitching the role as an 'ambassadorship' that's open to all genders. (CBC)

The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous is making changes this year, to make its annual "Quest for the Crown" competition more open and inclusive.

In years past, the competition culminated in the crowning of a "Rendezvous Queen" at the winter festival in February. The Queen would typically be decked out in Gold Rush-era finery — ball gowns and tea dresses and frilled petticoats. 

This year, organizers are actively pitching the competition to all genders, with entrants vying to become the festival's official "ambassador."

"We're moving away from the old-school 'Queen's contest' sort of perception," said Heather Anderson, who's on the festival's board of directors.

"We're looking to sort of keep it more neutral throughout the whole competition, and refer to them as 'Quest for the Crown' candidates." 

One of last year's 'Quest for the Crown' candidates grabs a plate from the kitchen on her way to serve a lunch at a fundraising event. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

She says the competition rules have not changed — it's been open to all genders in years past — but this year marks an effort to "re-brand."

The winner could be a Rendezvous Queen — or, a Rendezvous King.

Transgender entrants are also welcome, she said — and it would be up to them to choose their title if they win.

"We're not quite sure how to proceed as of yet, but it's something that we would have to, of course, speak to the candidate about and get their preference and what they feel comfortable with."

No more judging of outfits

The competition is a big fundraiser for Rendezvous. Competitors sell raffle tickets and participate in a series of events leading up to the festival, where they're judged on specific criteria by a panel.

In the past, entrants were judged on their fanciful outfits — but Anderson says that part has been dropped this year. 

"In 2018, we actually had four candidates that were representing different First Nations and so the topic of wearing regalia was brought up by multiple candidates," she said.

Teagyn Vallevand says she wore as much Indigenous regalia as possible during her quest to become Rendezvous Queen in 2018. (Teagyn Vallevand)

"It was never a point of they could not wear [regalia]. We just didn't have all, I would say, the right information about what the regalia was, and how it was worn, and what all of these beautiful pieces were.

"So they're no longer scored on their specific outfits."

The festival is also offering contestants an allowance this year, to purchase or make two outfits to wear throughout the competition, and keep afterwards.

The winner of the competition is crowned at the Sourdough Rendezvous and becomes the festival's ambassador, attending fundraising events and visiting communities outside Whitehorse. He or she also serves as a sort of spokesperson and advocate for a local non-profit of their choice.

Written by Paul Tukker, with files from Dave Croft


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