When Mary Fitton placed second in the Mad Trapper competition at the 1978 Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous (YSR), some of the men complained.
At the time, Mad(am) Trapper didn’t exist as a contest (in fact, it was the first year for Mad Trapper), but any women wanting to compete were welcome to compete against each other. It’s just that none of the women had placed that well before.
Fitton says she did so by earning more overall points against the women she competed against than any of the men earned against their competition. She was only bested by first-place finisher Martyn Williams (Jim McPherson finished in third).
Over the course of a weekend, she says each of them competed in five of nine optional events including a one-mile snowshoe, flour-packing, log-splitting, a 10km cross country ski, rifle-shooting, the Chilkoot climb (which was up and down the hill behind Whitehorse General Hospital), a snowshoe bush race and tea boil, the leg wrestle and or the circle wrestle.
The options were similar to those that had been in the mix prior to 1978, but they were organized under a single contest banner for supreme bragging rights.
“With an emphasis on good sportsmanship and fun, the event will feature participation in several of the Rendezvous activities,” read the announcement in that year’s program, when events included optionals such as the one-mile snowshoe race, a one-mile bush race with tea-making, flour-packing, cross-country skiing, log-sawing and splitting, rifle-shooting, leg-wrestling, circle-wrestling and the Chilkoot climb. There were also three compulsories – the snowshoe run-off, log sawing and splitting, and animal calls.
“Participation is at the competitors’ risk – the Rendezvous Committee will not be responsible for any accidents resulting from stampeding moose,” said the program.
Fitton doesn’t remember which five of the nine activities she chose to do in ‘78, but she remembers her prize that year – a new pair of skis, boots and poles.
She also remembers that, partly because of the uproar over her podium finish, Mad(am) Trapper was established in 1980. In fact, Fitton remembers basically everything that’s happened at every Rendezvous since 1972, when she moved to the Yukon.
Fitton, 75, is originally from England. She’s the only one of her family to have made the move to Canada. She says she bounced back and forth between the Yukon and Vancouver during the 70s, because her boyfriend lived there. They moved up permanently, in 1993, when they bought a house on 7th Ave. He was killed in a helicopter crash the following year – “I’ve stayed single,” she added. “I can’t find anybody to match up to him.” – But Fitton remains in their house in the Yukon and for decades, she remained a part of Rendezvous.
Besides her Mad Trapper win, she remembers winning the hairiest leg competition in 1983 (she had just been to Hawaii, so her legs were nice and tanned). She remembers being on the YSR board in 1984. She started the snowshoe can-can line in 1986, though she also participated in the regular can-can line. She says she remembers Rendezvous swimming competitions in the hotel pool where the Coast High Country Inn is now located, and rifle-shooting in the basement of Whitehorse Elementary School.
Fitton says the festival has gotten a bit big for her in recent years, and she can’t compete anymore, but she loved the camaraderie of the events. She loved that Whitehorse was so small at the time, you knew everyone you ran into while you were walking around on Main Street, or slogging through the woods with a pack on your back while you were competing. She liked that feeling, the first time she took part, of being mind-blown by the events. She thinks that’s what brings people up every year, and why the title of Mad Trapper still has cachet, even if people outside the Yukon don’t really understand what it means.
“If you’ve never done it before, you have nothing to compare it to,” she said. “For people coming from down south, you just wonder ‘what the hell is going on up here?’
“I’d write back to my family in England and they couldn’t understand what I was talking about.”