Dawson City, Yukon Friday, August 21, 1998

The cleanup crew at the Jewish Cemetary pauses to celebrate their accomplishment. Photo by Anne Saunders

Feature Stories

Discovery Days Festivities Get off to a Rollicking Start
Low Revenues at Gerties Force KVA to Trim Budget
The KVA Entertainment Contract - By the Numbers
Moosehide Gathering Renews Tr'ondek Hwech'in Culture
A Feather in Our Cap
Gold Rush Jamboree Hits Dawson
Doing Their Best
History of The Great Klondike International Outhouse Race
Interview with Bay Ryley: In Search of the Klondike's Other Gold Diggers
Dawson Museum Displays Students' Family Treasures

Welcome to the August 21 edition of the Sun, assembled during a hectic Discovery Weekend. The hard copy edition was 20 pages, with 11 photographs, 20 articles, a short story and a poem.

Discovery Days Festivities Get off to a Rollicking Start

by Dan Davidson

Opening ceremonies for this week's Discovery Day Festival took place outside and inside the Palace Grand Theatre on Tuesday night, during two events.

In the parking lot tables, chairs and pavilions were set up to allow visitors to listen to a number of introductory speeches and entertainments. Several dozen of the people there were from the Gold Rush Descendants tour which had just returned up river from a trip to Paradise Island.

After speeches by town councillor Shirley Pennell and M.L.A. Peter Jenkins, emcee Denny Kobayashi introduced a number of past mayors of the community who still reside here, noting that their contributions helped to make this week possible. Present were Vi Campbell, Albert Fuhre, Peter Jenkins and Art Webster.

David Sloan, Minister of Health, brought greetings from the Yukon government, mentioning that this is the fourth trip he's had to make here for one thing and another over the last two months.

"One thing you've got to give Dawson," Sloan said, "they are the best hosts in the territory. This is a place where we all feel at home."

One of the largest descendent groups was led by Jack Grey, a past president of the Standard Oil Company, whose ancestor once owned a Dawson hardware store. He presented copies of a turn of the century hardware catalogue to Steve and Ken Herman, owners of the present Dawson Hardware Store.

Kobayashi introduced Solway (Dines) Fyke, an 80 year old former resident of Dawson whose father, Johnny Dines, was the subject of one of the skits in the spring tour of the Whitehorse Choral Society. She brought along the music to a special Discovery Days song which her father had once composed and it was played by Palace Grand pianist, Norman Long.

From the Lone Wolf Entertainment group came Diamond Tooth Gertie (Lorraine Butler) and the Goldrush Girls, who stirred up the audience with a couple for songs composed by Long, including "Gertie's Girls".

Joey Hollingsworth, the man behind the show at the palace grand this summer, took the stage to present a rendition of "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby?" and presented a sample of the tap dancing style which would have been in vogue a century ago to the tune of "Swanee River" .

Butler and Long concluded this part of the gathering with the singing of "My Country is a Cathedral" and the guests were then treated to a barbecue by the Dawson Humane Society.

Later in the evening a large audience of locals and guests gathered inside the theatre to view a real treat, a combination fashion show and slide show on the social history of Dawson, narrated by Museum Director Mac Swackhammer and the Yukon Anniversary Commission's Wendy Burns, and starring large cast of volunteers, including most of the summer staff at the Museum and the Palace Grand.

The narrative included an hilarious send-up of the clothing styles of summerdoughs and sourdoughs as well as a more serious look at Dawson fashions through the century. The slide show was a mix of historical and contemporary material all linked together by the narrators.

There were several musical numbers, including a high kicking can-can Nicole Fitzgerald, a recreation of a Klondike Kate presentation by Sara-Jeanne Hosie, and a marvelous bit of singing by Danielle Meunier.

The finale was the judging of a fashion contest. The contestants had all had 24 hours to assemble a proper Gold Rush costume using whatever materials which came to hand, including some recyclable. The catch was that the outfit had to be put together with a glue gun. There were some surprisingly good results, even if the winner was Megan Waterman, operator of her own local sewing shop.

This is the sort of home-grown thematic talent show that could easily be put on at least once a year. It was a hoot and the people loved it.


Low Revenues at Gerties Force KVA to Trim Budget

by Dan Davidson

The last fortnight has been a busy one for Denny Kobayashi, Executive Director of the Klondike Visitors Association. He had a lot of meetings with his directors, staff and seasonal employees and most of them weren't a lot of fun.

Kobayashi had to confirm the news which the KVA had already begun to suspect as early as the end of May, that this year's budgetary target was not going to be met. While the organization was still going to end the season in the black, revenues were going to be $300,000 below expectations and some cuts were going to have to be made.

It may seem like a paradox to talk about low profits when the actual number of visitors at the KVA's two main attractions, Diamond Tooth Gerties and the Palace Grand Theatre, is up sharply, but something has happened to the demographics of tourism.

Simply put, more people than ever are here, but they spending less than when the numbers were lower.

The Palace Grand isn't hurting. Numbers there are up 25% from last year. There had been 23,000 seats sold by the end of July, so many that the regular 6 nights a week weren't enough to cover the numbers and the cast of the Gaslight Follies will have presented up to 20 matinees by the end of the season.

The big change is at Gerties. The floor show seems to be drawing people in. The gate is up 7% and 33,604 people have entered the casino, but they're not gambling and they're not drinking alcohol in anything like the numbers of old.

Kobayashi estimates the slot machines had taken in some $200,000 less than would have been expected by this time in the year, and the gaming tables are down as well. Over all, Gerties' revenue is off by $260,000.

The KVA still expects to make a year end profit of $122,000, but the board, with the cooperation of its employees, has had to go through a serious cost cutting exercise in order to avoid a deficit. By the end of the first week of August the KVA had trimmed its costs to the tune of $297,000.

The cuts began at the top, Kobayashi said, changing the organization's previous habit of cutting first from the bottom. Administration costs were trimmed by $20,000. The budget covering the directors was chopped in half. A strategic planning exercise set for later this year was canceled and reorganized using local talent. All travel was frozen pending individual reviews of each trip. Management salaries were frozen. Advertising was reduced by $8,000 and the amount of money available for sponsorships to local groups was cut in half to $5,000.

In addition, all discretionary capital spending was frozen, meaning that the casino won;t get its new $10,000 coin sorter this year.

One of the biggest single ticket items was the elimination of the 18 month old Director of Marketing and Planning position, which Kobayashi says cost about $50,000 to maintain including the salary and benefits. For him, this is the heartbreaker, for his colleague was doing an excellent job.

"This is the most painful of all the cuts," Kobayashi says, "She's been extremely effective. We've enhanced our market presence and investments.

"We're going to look at some way to cooperatively fund this position within the community in some way, because it's very very necessary, but the KVA can't carry it. In the short term we have no choice."

Kobayashi says the KVA board saw the change coming over a year ago, but believed that their operation here had a bit more time than this before it hit. That being said, the board had predicted that revenues this years would follow the pattern of the last few years and rise by 10 to 12% before beginning to fall off next year. Instead, revenues have fallen by 2%, leaving the budget 12 to 14% in the hole.

The change is a continuation of the decline in alcohol sales which has been marked during the 1990's. The new factor is the decline in gambling. It appears to Kobayashi that the impact of all the video lottery terminals and casinos in southern Canada and the United States has finally made itself felt here.

Gambling is no longer a unique experience. It's been several years since Gerties could bill itself as the only legal casino in Canada. Now it has to rely on its gold rush ambiance to carry the load and figure out other ways to cash in on that.

Another factor, Kobayashi adds, is the downturn in the price of gold. There are fewer high rolling miners sitting in at the tables this year, and those who are regulars are spending less along with the new generation of tourists.

Who are these new visitors? Well, they seem to be younger and they don't have the same level of disposable income. They're able to get here because the price of the cruises has been dropped in order to capture them, but they don't have the same amount of money to spend once they've arrived.

Staff, says Kobayashi, have been super through the entire exercise. The employees themselves have come up with many of the ideas which the KVA is now implementing. None of the workers at Gerties have been laid off, but there have been some reductions in hours and the casino will not be following its usual practice of filling positions which become vacant as workers begin to leave during this part of the season. After this weekend Gerties will close a 1 a.m., an hour earlier.

On the plus side, Kobayashi says, the decline in drinking means that the KVA doesn't have to spend so much money on alcohol, and the drop in income from the slot machines also reduces (by about $44,000) the share of that income which has to be paid out to the territorial government.

The KVA owes money to the City of Dawson for two major debentures which the City guaranteed. One, for $70,000, has been paid this month. At the last meeting of council the KVA's request to defer payment on the $75,000 loan was accepted. It will now fall due in the new year.


The KVA Entertainment Contract - By the Numbers

by Dan Davidson

In the flurry of accusations and counter-accusations which have surrounded the issue of the Klondike Visitors Association's summer entertainment contract since it was awarded in the fall of 1997, the only items which are not a matter of conjecture, personal opinion or taste are those surrounding the actual cost of the service which is provided by the contractor.

What follows is a complete breakdown of the bids on the 1998 summer entertainment contract, as provided to the Sun by both LPV Productions and the KVA. The chart shows the breakdown of the various portions of the Palace Grand/Diamond Tooth Gerties bids. These are the original bids, prior to the addition of the 7% GST, which would affect the final numbers in all cases.

It can be seen here that Lone Wolf, the winner of the contract, did have the lowest price, being $194,172 cheaper than the Frantic Follies bid and $240,822 cheaper than LPV Productions.

The Frantic Follies did submit a proposal for running Diamond Tooth Gerties alone on August 23, 1997, with the same numbers as those on the spreadsheet, beginning at $285,000 for the first year and dropping to $245,000 for the final two years. Lone Wolf also indicated that they would be prepared to consider splitting the contract and running just the Gerties show at the same $210,000 price tag for 1998 with an escalation of 1.8% each year thereafter.

LPV Productions did produce an addendum to their tender, indicating that they would be "prepared produce the Diamond Tooth Gerties show without the Gaslight Follies Contract for an additional $165.00 per evening." This would have raised their DTG bid to $294,249 for the 1998 year.

As regards the shows at both venues, one can only judge them by the results and whether or not they appeal to one's taste. This writer has no interest in what goes on inside the casino and has seen only those parts of the act which have been presented elsewhere. The contractor admits to having stumbled badly at the beginning of the season and having put in a lot of hours fixing the problems since that time. Lone Wolf's principals and staff have indicated to the Sun that it was a team effort, involving a redesign of the dances, flow of material and some of the song choices. KVA sources indicate that the final revisions (probably) were made just last week.

Attendance at Gerties is up 7% over last year, even though use of the slots machines and consumption at the bar are down substantially. KVA assumes this means people are going to see the floor show.

As for the Gaslight Follies, the show had gone through only a few changes between early June and late July. Some of the more suggestive elements of the production had been toned down, including removing a pocket from the Mountie's uniform. Speeches placed at the end of the show were used to tie the Follies more closely to the Centennial year theme.

Attendance at the Follies is up 25% this summer, and the KVA has had to add an additional 20 matinee performances to handle the bookings.

The KVA contract is phrased as being a one year deal with an option for two renewals. So far Lone Wolf is indicating that they would be interested in doing at least a second year.


Moosehide Gathering Renews Tr'ondek Hwech'in Culture

by Dan Davidson

There were times during the Moosehide Gathering when Tr'ondek Hwech'in cultural coordinator Debbie Nagano wondered how she was going to keep up with it all. With four days of activities to be organized, including several dozen workshops and presentations, and anywhere from 400 to 600 people needing to be fed, she began to fear that the gathering had grown a little too fast.

In the end, though, everything worked out well and this Moosehide Gathering will go down in history as a big success.

"Lots of representatives from funding agencies were there," she said, "and they were really blown away." That's good, because the first nation will still need financial assistance to mount the next gathering in two years.

"It can't stop," she said. "It's such a positive influence on a lot of the young kids that we have here. A lot of them are coming from Alaska and the NWT too, so of course it's going to build. One of the main reasons why we put on events like this is to teach the youth.

"It's coming along," Nagano said. "You can see it in the members. It's really hard to forgive the past and move on and this is also why we have that gathering. Yes, we've had a hard time, but let's not use it as an excuse anymore. Let's build from it, take four days and celebrate who we are even though we've got a lot of problems behind us.

Moosehide is located just a short boat ride from downstream from Dawson City and small craft plied the Yukon River continuously for the four days, ferrying visitors to and from the gathering and focusing attention on a way of life which was once dominated by the river, even as life today is dominated by the highways.

Nagano says that while the purpose of the gathering was certainly to celebrate the culture of the Han and other groups which make up the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, natives from other areas were welcome, as well as other locals and even tourists.

Aside from workshops on everything from drum making to the lore of the Medicine Wheel, the gathering had lots of entertainment, provided by such groups as Sundog, the Ross River Drummer, Kevin Barr & Company, Sarah & Susie, Robert Charlie's Band, and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in Singers & Drummers.

One of the most popular facilitator/entertainers was Winston Wuttunee, who was persuaded to extend his stay for an extra day.

Activities included stick gambling, storytelling by elders, Indian Bingo, jigging contests, and a daily potlatch feast.

Events tended to run on into the night. Nagano says that days which began at 8 a.m. and didn't end until 4 the next morning were the rule rather than the exception.

Thursday was the most formal of the four days, for it was the day when the final signing of the Land Claims agreement, which had taken place earlier in the month, was celebrated. Two hours of congratulatory speeches from a host of dignitaries set the tone of the evening, and there were enough officials there that the signing could have been done all over again. Government Leader Piers MacDonald spoke, along with CYFN Grand Chief Shirley Adamson, Commissioner Judy Gingell, Chief Steve Taylor, town councillor Shirley Pennell and many others.

People came from a great distance to this gathering. One Mohawk man came from Ontario because he had heard that a sacred fire would be part of the gathering and he was a traditional fire keeper. In a long speech on Sunday, he was quite critical of the way the fire was handled by the young men who had been given charge of it, but he tempered his lecture, recalling that the boys did not know the teachings as well as they might. This he blamed on their elders.

Nagano said it was a sobering message, but one that could only help the people learn more the future. "We've learnt a lot of lessons from him."

The guest who came the farthest distance came from Sweden, and was a bit of a surprise.

"She was one of our members," said Nagano, "one of the descendants of Chief Isaac, so she was quite honoured."

The gathering concluded on Sunday with the presentation of gifts to the all the visitors in a ceremony which echoed the potlatch gift giving of the old days.

"It's from all members. So members don't get any gifts. It's just for visitors."

Productions like this do need more volunteers from within the local native population. Nagano says that those who do volunteer are great, but they work so hard that she is worried about burnout.

"We work them just a little too hard."

The big new roofed meeting area was erected by Han Construction in the week before the gathering, and this provided a sheltered place from a large number of people to gather.

"That construction outfit that we have is just unbelievable. They worked until they couldn't work any more." It was completed the morning the gathering began.

While it was great, the gathering was an exhausting experience for those who worked on putting it together.

"One recommendation that I'll be making is that we've got to have more coordinators," Nagano said. She's thinking about one for each segment of the gathering, something like the committee structure used by the Dawson City Music Festival. "It's getting quite technical, so the schedule has to be prepped a long time before."

This year the DCMF and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in did trade off some favours. The festival borrowed tents and the gathering borrowed sound equipment.

Moosehide was blessed with generally hot or balmy weather during the gathering, and even managed to miss being pelted by the torrential rainstorm that hit Dawson on Sunday evening.

"I saw it coming," said Nagano, who had been organizing the gift giving ceremony just at that time. "There was a lot of prayer about that one."


A Feather in Our Cap

by Dan Davidson

The Red Feather Saloon is open once again for "business", but its liquor license only extends to root beer. Photo by Dan Davidson

Back in the early 1960's, when the federal Progressive Conservative government under John Diefenbaker first proposed spending money to rebuild the Palace Grand Theatre and create a tourist attraction to help boost Dawson's sagging economy, the Prime Minister faced criticism from the Liberal Opposition for restoring a place once filled with liquor, gambling and painted dancers.

He did it anyway, but one wonders how he would have justified spending money on a saloon in those days.

The Red Feather is last name attached to an establishment which was built in 1902. It acquired the name when it was bought by the owners of the O'Brien Brewery just a year or so before prohibition hit the Klondike. It survives as an example of the many bars which crowded Dawson during its early years, and was reopened to the public on August 14 in just that spirit.

As Rose Margeson, of Klondike National Historic Sites, explained to the large crowd at the corner of Third Avenue and Princess Street, "The saloons of Dawson City were the working men's clubs, centres of warmth, light and activity, presenting welcome relief from the backbreaking work of mining and the profound loneliness of urban Klondike life"

The many saloons combined with the young, male, transient population to help create Dawson's frontier image.

In a move which was a refreshing change from the usual procedure at such events, three of the people who had done the work getting the Red Feather Saloon display into shape for this opening actually did the ribbon cutting when the time came. Craftsmen Joe Fraughton and Ben Johnson, along with collections specialist Paula Hassard, did the honours. The politicians and officials were left with only their speeches.

Acting mayor Shirley Pennell praised the hard working individuals at Klondike National Historic Sites who have maintained the heritage of Dawson.

"This afternoon we all have the privilege of sharing the history and appreciating the hard work put in by the many people affiliated with KNHS.

"We truly life, work and play in a unique setting, with a future to pass on to our young people."

MLA Peter Jenkins apologized for not being dressed in period costume. He had split his trousers while dressing.

"I know the press is going to pick up on that and say he's 'gettin' too big for his britches' but that is not the case.

"This is wonderful occasion today where we pay tribute to another national historic site being used for a purpose (within) the living historical community that Dawson is becoming known for today."

Also present at the opening was a group of KNHS employees dressed in the banners of the Women's (Christian) Temperance Movement, dramatizing the social revolution that shut the Red Feather and other saloons down in 1916.

Parks Canada bought the site in 1972, including the blacksmith shop and adjacent buildings. In 1989 the territorial government and KNHS joined resources to restore the buildings and incorporate within them a government liquor store and territorial office behind the historical facade. The Liquor Store opened in 1993. Since that time, the Red Feather display has been waiting its turn in the KNHS project schedule, and has now joined the 30 plus other KNHS sites within the Klondike region.

Speaking for Parks, emcee Glenda Bolt finally announced, "It gives me great pleasure to present to you, the folks of Dawson and the Yukon, and visitors from all over, another finished piece of history to enhance the growing number of attractions that Parks Canada/KNHS has to offer."

The Red Feather Saloon is not a large establishment, so it took about an hour to file the crowd through about 15 people at a time, to view the furnishings, wallpaper, fixtures and the sight of three tables of KNHS employees happily acting the part of miners taking a break.

The Women's Temperance Union picketed outside while the guests moved through the refurbished saloon, emerging at the other end all smiles, clutching bottles of ginger ale, root beer and cream soda or glasses of iced tea.

Later in the day a television crew filmed the saloon as part of a program which will eventually air on the Discovery Channel.


Gold Rush Jamboree Hits Dawson

by Dan Davidson

Hundreds of members of the Goldrush Jamboree line the dyke to be photographed by Ken Spotswood, courtesy of Fireweed Helicopters. Photo by Dan Davidson

As the first week of August drew to a close, Dawson played host to over 1100 Boy Scouts who were celebrating their 1998 Gold Rush Jamboree. According to local coordinator Carole MacBride there were more than 800 young people registered along 279 adults and supervisors. A number of family members were along as well, so the numbers climbed above 1200.

Since most of the troops were from the United States, where scouting is not yet co-educational as it is in Canada, most of the scouts were boys between the ages of 11 and 15. Alaska provided the bulk of the visitors, though there were also members from California and Alberta.

During their stay in Dawson they enjoyed a semi-wilderness camping experience in two adjacent fields on the Tr'ondek Hwech'in land sometimes called Strachan's Farm near the Dawson Airport.

MacBride says that the community here really rolled out the welcome mat for the scouts, offering them all sorts of activities during their several days here. The Klondike Valley Firefighters Association even provided them with a safe campfire one night.

Dredge #4 received an extra 750 visitors; 960 scouts panned for gold at Claim #6 with pans provided by the Yukon Anniversaries Commission. Ten placer mines on the creeks opened their doors to about 300 of the scouts and showed them the mechanics of their search for gold as well as some of the bones that turn up in the course of mining.

Outside of those events the activities were on a troop by troop basis, with most following an abbreviated form of the usual tourist package from the Visitors Reception Centre. MacBride says the outdoor pool was a scout favorite. There were museum tours as well as visits to the Service and London cabins and a hike up the Dome Road. Both the Yukon Queen and the Yukon Lou took groups for river trips.

Some groups stayed on after the main body had departed on Sunday and explored the area a bit more by rafting to Eagle and taking mountain bikes up the Ridge Road into the gold fields.

While the scouts did get into town for shopping and activities, they were not visible there en masse until Saturday morning, when they suddenly assembled along the dyke for a mysterious purpose. It turned out that they were posing for a photograph, shot by local freelancer Ken Spotswood from a helicopter provided by Fireweed Helicopters. it took half a dozen low passes by the chopper to get them all in.

Following that event they spread out through the streets and lanes with garbage bags in hand, picking up some of the junk that accumulates on our streets during the good weather. They collected their way along to the Gold Panning venue beneath the Moosehide Slide, where Diamond Tooth Gertie and her Gals provided a short show. Various awards were presented and they wrapped up their jamboree with a hot dog feast - "tube steak", as one leader called it.

MacBride says the leaders and scouts she talked to were most impressed with the Yukon and in particular with Dawson.


Doing Their Best

by Dan Davidson

While in Dawson the Scouts did their best to maintain their reputation for uprightness and fair play, to the extent that when a local family complained that a scout had taken a local boy's skateboard, the troops responded with outrage and sympathy.

Carole MacBride says, "One of the Scout leaders in town was a approached by a local mother who had been told by her so that a fellow in a red shirt (many scouts wore red t-shirts) had taken his skateboard."

"When the story came back to camp the kids were quite upset about this; upset to be accused; upset to think that a scout might do that or than a group would cover for a member who would do that."

No board was discovered and no one came forward to admit to the deed, but the scouts, many of whom had already spent all the money they'd brought with them for this jamboree, passed the hat and collected $340 to pay for the missing skateboard.

"One kids had 27 cents left and he put it in."

MacBride says the money is being kept until a full investigation has been carried out by the local R.C.M.P. If nothing comes of the investigation then the money will be turned over to the Worldwide Brotherhood Fund, which promotes scouting and works on service projects in developing countries.


History of The Great Klondike International Outhouse Race

By Ken Spotswood

This historical shot of the famous Fitton Two-Holer is reproduced courtesy of Mary Fitton of Whitehorse.

You haven't really lived until you've had the privilege of sitting comfortably down on a toilet seat--in an outhouse on wheels--and been rushed through the streets of Dawson City to the cheers of local residents and the utter bewilderment of tourists.

People actually pay for the privilege.

But keep your pants on--it's all in the name of fun.

It's The Great Klondike International Outhouse Race, an annual event sponsored by the Klondike Visitors Association (KVA). If it sounds outrageous, that's because it is. It grows in popularity--and infamy--each year.

It is featured in prestigious publications such as The Old Farmer's Almanac, National Geographic Traveler and Adventure West magazines. And because of its bizarre reputation, it has also been featured on television and radio stations in Canada and the United States where bathroom humor is an art form.

The people of the Klondike couldn't care less what Miss Manners thinks of the affair. And it's safe to assume that the word 'outhouse' isn't even in the vocabulary of Martha Stewart.

The event has become a Labour Day weekend tradition in Dawson City, where outhouses were a fact of life dating back to the Klondike Gold Rush. And for many people who live outside the city limits, they still are.

The outhouse race was first run in 1977. No one seems to remember who was involved, why it was created or how it came into being, but it's safe to assume that the concept was probably born in a local bar.

During the first years of the competition the rules were pretty loose, and so were the participants. The race course weaved its way through the downtown core. Many racers took advantage of this by stopping at a few bars along the route. Then they would weave their way to the next watering hole. Some racers became so good at weaving their way that they never made it to the finish line.

As a result, a time limit was introduced--the team that finished in the shortest time won first prize. Since then, the competition has become spirited, and now the barnstorming biffies charge through the streets of Dawson like a dose of castor oil.

These aren't just any old outhouses either, and neither are the competitors. Imagination has become the operative word here. The privies are decorated in outlandish themes, and the racers dress up in elaborate and hilarious costumes.

Some of the more memorable themes of recent years include The Elton John, The Royal Flush, The Whizzer of Oz, The Downtown Flaming Farts and The Mad Crapper of Rat River. And who could forget Canned Juice, a team that lampooned the O.J. Simpson trial by decorating their outhouse like a jail.

The outhouse race is also a non-denominational event. Eyebrows went up in 1986 when a group of Anglican ministers--in Dawson for an ordination--entered the event. They transformed their privy into a 'devouthouse'.

During recent years, one local team has stood out from the pack. White Lightning has won the event seven times. The team set a new record in 1996 with a time of 8:58 for the three kilometer course.

In 1996 an ingenious outhouse design was entered by N.W.T. Air. It was made to look like an airplane, complete with propellers and a 20-foot wingspan. The craft nearly took the side mirror off a parked truck while rounding a corner during the race, but to most people's surprise it actually held together for the entire run.

The event is open to anyone and previous experience is not necessary. Teams have come from Europe, Edmonton and Alaska to take part. Competitors have included miners, school teachers, clergymen, tourists--even doctors and medical staff from the local nursing station.

The rules are simple and straightforward.

Teams must be composed of five people aged 16 or older. They can be all male, all female, or mixed with a 3:2 or 2:3 male-female ratio. Four runners propel the customized crapper along a three kilometer (1.86 mile) course through city streets. One team member must sit on the crapper at all times. Runners usually take turns sitting on the pot to give everyone a short rest during the race. They can change places on the run, or stop and switch.

Only the runners can propel the outhouse. No mechanical, motorized or other type of power is allowed.

Outhouses should look like outhouses in appearance and size. There are some basic requirements and specifications with regard to size, shape, construction materials and wheels. Details and entry forms can be obtained from the KVA, which also has five of the wheeled privies available for rent.

Prizes are awarded at Diamond Tooth Gerties Casino on the evening of the race. The categories are:

The number of teams and traveling toilets varies from year to year, but there are usually about a dozen careering commodes registered by the August 30 deadline. If more than 12 teams register, the race is divided into two heats to reduce the mayhem. It is a moving experience for everyone involved.

Potty 'spotters' are also stationed along the route to keep vehicles out of the way, and to keep spectators from being boweled over (sic).

The outhouse race used to include a Bathroom Wall Limerick Contest, but last 1996's entries sunk to new depths and the limerick contest has been 'canned', so to speak.

For further information on The Great International Klondike Outhouse Race, contact the KVA at Box 389, Dawson City, Yukon. Canada. Y0B 1G0. Phone: (403) 993-5575. Fax: (403) 993-6415. e-mail: KVA@Dawson.net


Interview with Bay Ryley: In Search of the Klondike's Other Gold Diggers

by Dan Davidson

In spite of the fact that the image of the can-can girl is inextricably liked with tourism promotion in Dawson City, at least one writer feels that not enough is known about Dawson's dance hall girls. One things that seems certain is that they were probably the same sort of women who followed every documented gold rush from California to British Columbia, Australia, South Africa and finally the Klondike. They were probably not the sort of girls that one would want to bring home to mother.

Bay Ryley became interested in studying the life of Dawson City's Demi-Monde while working for Parks Canada on the Chilkoot Trail after she first arrived in the Yukon during the summer of 1991.

"Just from seeing women's shoes on the trail, pieces of clothing and champagne cork it made me think about what had happened and how many people had come through."

She was influenced additionally by the pervasive can-can imagery that is so closely associated with the Klondike now. (She even had a sister-in-law who had been a can-can dancer at Diamond Tooth Gerties casino back in the mid-seventies.) This all seemed to be associated with tales of prostitutes and dance hall girls, and she didn't really find that there was much to read on the subject, so she decided to find out more for herself.

As it turned out, this was a fruitful line of inquiry for her Master's thesis at university, and that academic treatise was the first stage of the book which has just appeared as Gold Diggers of the Klondike (Watson & Dwyer Publishing, 144 pages, $19.95).

Ryley, who is currently studying third year law at Dalhousie University in Halifax, is back in the Yukon this month for the first time in four years, on an author's tour which has taken her to Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver before her stops in Whitehorse and Dawson.

While several writers who have come out since Ryley first drafted her thesis have taken the line that too much has been made of Dawson's prostitutes and dance-hall girls at the expense of the more "banal" (as one paper put it) lives of ordinary women, Ryley feels the opposite is true. In her opinion the folklore about loose ladies is mostly that, Klondike legends unsubstantiated by research or facts.

In the opening to her book she notes that the most common image, that of the can-can dancer, is probably without foundation at all, since the dance may have first appeared here in the 1960s when the Goldrush tourism promotions began.

Her goal was to look at prostitution in a wider social context: "What did it mean to the community and the economy?" What purpose - beyond the obvious - was served by the presence of these women? Why were they treated so leniently at first and then cracked down on later? How did the public perception of them change during Dawson's first decade?

To do the best job possible she decided to get as close as she could to contemporary sources and avoid the reminiscences which didn't appear until much later.

The book retains signs of its academic origins, with a solid section of footnoted references and a selected bibliography. Ryley says this has been pruned down from her thesis, but it's still very useful and shows just how much use she made of old newspapers during the weeks she spent researching in the Dawson City Museum archives (now called the Klondike History Library).

Most theses don't end up on the shelves of your local book store, but Ryley's timing on this project was excellent, and her contacts in the publishing industry pointed her to a house that might be interested in a Klondike book. The actual location of a publisher turned out to be much easier than she had expected.

Next came the transformation of her successful thesis into a successful book. It took her about three months of rewriting to turn an academic essay into something more accessible to the average reader.

"(It was) longer than I thought," she says. "I wanted to make it a smoother read. I took out the theory stuff that had to be in there when it was a thesis, rearranged some things and made it flow a little better."

She added 34 pages of pictures, documents and maps, most of which are referred to somewhere in the text.

Ryley's been enjoying her few days back the Yukon. She hasn't been here for four years and the changes are, she says, quite astounding. The trip has also given her the welcome opportunity to renew some friendships.


Dawson Museum Displays Students' Family Treasures

by Dan Davidson

One of the exhibits capturing the attention of visitors at the Dawson City Museum this summer is the result of a springtime cooperative venture between the museum and the Robert Service School.

Called "The Family Treasures Exhibit", this collection occupies the display cases on the grand stairway to the second floor and the landing outside the Klondike History Library. It is made up of materials brought in by students in grades 3 to 6.

As the display card notes, not all Family Treasures are ancient artifacts, but they may be. Whether old or new, they hold some special meaning for the students who allowed them to be in the display for the summer season.

Museum Director Mac Swackhammer brought the idea with him from Ontario a few years ago and worked closely with the teachers in grades 3/4, 4/5, 5 and 6 to instruct the students as to what kinds of things would be of use for this display. Most of them bought into the project and provided a wide variety of objects, papers, photos, painting and textiles for the display.

From Sam Phelan-McCullough came a quilt which his grandmother had made of the material from old dresses. Kevin Mendelsohn brought in a diamond willow chair made by his father. Randi Henry contributed a set of mukluks made by her grandmother incorporating beads which have been in the family for six generations.

Bianca Beets' quilt was made when she was 8. her description records that it "has my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents as the little fabric people" within the main design.

Kyla Kobayashi's family book contained records stretching from 1894 to 1995. Allison Kormendy's Yup'ik roots were shown in her Alaskan carvings. Mary Fraughton's carving was made by her father, while Laurie Van Bibber brought in a Dutch spoon dating back to 1942.

Chelsea Hartwick's shadowbox was full of shelves containing keepsakes that had originally belonged to her mother or other members of her family. Jenni Matchett's moccasins had been given to her family by one of her grandpa's parents. From there they had passed through the hands of three other family members before coming to Jenni.

In addition to actually bringing in their items, each student posed for a picture and provided a word-processed write up describing the item and telling what was special about it. These little photo essays are on display in four binders on a table at the top of the second floor landing.

Aside from providing a charming display for the museum's 1998 season, this project assisted the students in learning more about museums, what they do, and how everyday objects in their lives can take on a special significance.


Klondike Sun Home Page