Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous needs dough, makes changes

Money is tight for Whitehorse's annual mid-winter festival, meaning a new venue this winter, no snow carvings, and maybe no fireworks show either.

New venue, no snow carvings, and maybe no fireworks for annual festival in February

There won't be any snow carvings at this winter's Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, and the fireworks display could also be extinguished. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

There won't be any snow carvings this year, and the fireworks show is up in the air.

Whitehorse's annual mid-winter festival — Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous — is making changes because organizers say money is tight.

"It's been a hard year all around in Whitehorse," said Dave Blottner, the festival's executive director.

"We've heard from a number of our sponsors that they don't have the money that they used to have to be able to give towards the show."

The festival also lost about $25,000 last year when a local company failed to fulfil a contract.

"It put our society in a bit of a deficit position, and now our society has to work really hard to recover from that deficit in order to go forward," Blottner said.

The long-running festival is in its 55th year. Most recently, it has been held at Shipyards Park in February. Before that, it was held on Main Street. Tents are set up to house performers and artists, while activities, like flour packing and axe throwing, are held outside.

Some of Rendezvous's biggest boosters, at the 2017 festival — Marj Eschak, Vicky Stallabrass and Aurora Laurealis. (Steve Hossack/CBC)

According to Blottner, it costs about $600,000 to put on, each year. The city and territorial governments chip in about one-sixth of the funding. The rest comes from corporate sponsors, local fundraising, and ticket sales.

So long to Shipyards Park and the snow carvings

The festival is moving this winter from Shipyards Park to the nearby Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre. Blottner said the move is meant to "reinforce our relationship" with First Nations, and also save money that would be spent erecting the big performance tent at Shipyards Park.

"Putting up a large tent in the middle of winter and heating that large tent, that can be a problematic outlook and it's a rather expensive endeavour to take on," he said.

"So you'll have a warmer, more stable environment for all the wonderful free shows that everyone's come to love."

The ever-popular chainsaw toss competition, in 2015. Indoor and outdoor events will be held at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre this year, instead of Shipyards Park. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Another big change this winter will be the absence of the popular snow carvings. For years, the snow carving competition was a highlight of the festival, drawing skilled teams from around the world.

The competition was run for years by a group of local snow carvers, but that organization folded a couple of years ago. The Sourdough Rendezvous Society then organized a snow carving "exhibition" last year, but that's now been put on ice.

"We love the snow carving as much as everyone else, so we stepped in and we tried really hard to make it continue to happen — but we just weren't able to continue down that road," Blottner said. 

The fireworks show could also be extinguished. Blottner says it costs about $15,000 to put on, and the festival has not yet found a sponsor. It has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money. 

A Rendezvous parade in the late 1970s. The festival has been a mainstay on Whitehorse's winter events calendar since the 1960s. (Tim Kinvig)

Blottner predicts that the festival will survive, and ultimately move back to Shipyards Park. But he acknowledges that it needs to evolve because not all of the traditional aspects of the festival still resonate.

"There will always be mainstays of the festival, of how it used to be. The festival also needs to grow and change and adapt to the coming times."

With files from Sandi Coleman


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