Main squeeze

In moving off the downtown street, Rendezvous has been able to expand offerings.

It’s been years since the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous (YSR) was held on Main Street and still, once a month, someone asks – why isn’t Rendezvous held on Main Street anymore? Is it moving back there from Shipyards Park? When? Why not?

“Times are changing,” said Darren Bartsch, president of the YSR board. In fact, change is one thing that hasn’t changed about the festival. Some may not remember, but the move off Main wasn’t the first location change for Rendezvous. The annual February event used to be held on Front Street. Before that, it was held on the riverbank, and before that, it was held on the river. Things had to change when the YSR board could no longer count on the river though.

“It’s pretty hard to hold Rendezvous on an unfrozen river,” said Bartsch. “So this isn’t the first location move we have experienced.”

There were plenty of reasons for the move, says Marj Eschak, who’s been involved with Rendezvous for almost 40 years. First off, she says the move to Shipyards has made life much easier for volunteers who used to scramble to set everything up on Main Street.

“We had a very narrow window from Friday night to Sunday night,” she said. “Many of us were there all night Friday night and Saturday morning … taking down a tent and cleaning up and putting away killed our volunteers. We were killing them.”

Not only that, it was breaking the bank. Some of the set-up work had to be done by city crews. That narrow window of time however, meant they too had to work through the night, which meant overtime pay.

“That was a huge cost and part of the rationale for moving,” she said. “So the city crews could, at their leisure, start setting up the (Shipyards) grounds with the snow pads for dog pull.”

Another part of the decision had to do with the fact that the city had specifically developed Shipyards to host events such as Rendezvous – with ample space for activities as well as parking, a must for a lot of people coming into the core in the middle of February.

“The city built that beautiful park down there and parking is so easy. It just made life easier for so many people.”

And while Eschak says Rendezvous did bring business to Main Street, and Bartsch said it definitely got more locals involved when the festival was taking place directly on their doorsteps, there were also complaints from small business owners on the strip. Many said that people were coming into their shops, sure, but only to get warm or use the bathrooms. Bartsch says he understand the nostalgia around Main Street-era Rendezvous.

“I grew up in here in Whitehorse and moved here in ’83. My experience of Rendezvous on Main was definitely a good one. It was very traditional in my mind, but I don’t remember such big events as we’re offering today. I remember there was a truck pull and tug of wars, but I don’t ever remember seeing a big band or performers performing on Main Street, which is what we’re offering to the community these days.”

Not only that, being in Shipyards has led Rendezvous to work more closely with the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC). This has allowed for additional performances, as well as a Rendezvous craft fair.

“We had a great response on the craft fair, which is a rejuvenated event,” said Bartsch. “We were scrambling to accommodate more people from the communities around the Yukon, and have them become a part of the show and provide space.”

The cultural centre has also provided a backdrop for the Queen’s Coronation ball.

“It’s a wonderful venue,” said Bartsch. “The KDCC has been nothing but great for us, year after year, and working with them is just wonderful … I’m excited to see the facility being used to the fullest extent.”

Working more closely with the centre in the future is just one more change that could come down the pipe for a festival that’s always evolving.

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