North

Yukon Rendezvous slices 'Sourdough' from its name

Organizers of Whitehorse's annual winter festival say the event is set to go ahead next month, with some pandemic precautions, and a new name.

'We did decide that, moving forward, 'Yukon Rendezvous' represents us a little bit better'

The office of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous in Whitehorse, in February 2020. The annual winter festival has now dropped the 'Sourdough' from its name and devised a new logo. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The snow carvings will be back, but the "sourdough" has been cut.

Organizers of Whitehorse's annual winter festival say the event is set to go ahead next month, with some pandemic precautions, and a new name — the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous is now simply the Yukon Rendezvous.

Festival president Tyson Hickman said that after 57 years, it was time for a re-branding. The festival got some money last year to do it.

"A lot of Yukoners have a lot of very fond memories about Rendezvous past, a lot of Yukoners don't. There is some negative connotation surrounding the term 'sourdough,' and Yukon's history in general," Hickman said. 

"So what better time to refresh the brand and move forward?"

Souring on sourdough

Sourdough was a staple for many who came north during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, allowing them to make bread without the use of baker's yeast or baking soda. It became so closely associated with stampeders that any of them who stayed in Yukon or Alaska through at least one winter came to be called "sourdoughs."

Robert Service's classic 1907 book of Gold Rush-era poems was titled, Songs of a Sourdough.

Hickman says the festival has been getting feedback in recent years that suggests some people have soured on the idea of a "sourdough festival," seeing it as a throwback to a colonial era. 

The name change is a way to make it more inclusive, said executive director Saskrita Shrestha.

"We did decide that, moving forward, 'Yukon Rendezvous' represents us a little bit better," Shrestha said.

"[The festival]'s definitely evolved and changed a lot over the last 57 years. And I think that it will continue to change and evolve as, you know, as Whitehorse does." 

'[The festival] will continue to change and evolve as, you know, as Whitehorse does,' said executive director Saskrita Shrestha. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The festival's old logo featured a comic drawing of a burly, bearded "Sourdough Sam" in boots and a parka. The new logo, pictured on the festival website, has replaced Sam with some stylized mountains and trees. 

More fencing, and other pandemic precautions

The festival has had to make some other significant changes this year in response to the pandemic. Many events are going online, and others will have limits on the number of spectators or participants.

"You can expect to see a lot more fencing than normal," said Hickman.

"And wherever possible, for inside events like our performance stage, we're asking people to register ahead of time so that we know you're coming and we can have a seat for you."

Hickman says another big change this year will be the return of two of the more popular events from past festivals — the snow-carving competition and the fireworks show.

CBC Yukon's 'Larry Logo' in a Sourdough Rendezvous parade in Whitehorse, sometime in the early 1980s. The festival has changed over the years, and this year will be much different again because of the pandemic. (Tim Kinvig)

"We wanted to do something for the community, and we knew that fireworks and snow carving could be done in a COVID[-19]-safe manner. And those were two items that were high on the list from the outset, for us," Hickman said.

The festival has had financial struggles in recent years, but Hickman says it's hanging on thanks to volunteers and some strong local support.

He says it was important to make sure there was some sort of festival this year — even if it was going to be a lot different because of the pandemic.

Snow sculptures will be back this year as part of the festival, after a hiatus of several years. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

"When the board of directors sat down after the last festival, we knew that by the time February 2021 came around, the community would be in desperate need of something," he said.

"This year is probably more important than most." 

The Yukon Rendezvous runs from Feb. 12 to 28 in Whitehorse.

With files from Elyn Jones and Leonard Linklater

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