Burn Away the Dark Times

The Yukon winter is so long that Dawson City-based filmmaker Suzanne Crocker once said winter has its own seasons.

Most Yukoners I know divide their very existence between their “winter” and “summer” selves. More often than not, winter versions mirror the still, silent, and slow environment outside our frosty windows.

Unfailingly, I spend each spring reflecting on the past winter months. I decide what I will hold dear to my heart from this season and what is best left in the past. Yukon Educational Theatre and Icycle Sport will be presenting the 17th annual Burning Away the Winter Blues on Saturday, March 21.

This event acknowledges the end of winter and the beginning of spring, allowing participants to shed winter hardships with the burning of an effigy. This ritual was created by Arlin McFarlane in 1999, and has offered a cathartic transition from winter to spring ever since.

The festival will kick off at the SS Klondike parking lot, where participants will assemble from 8:30 – 9 p.m. They can also park at the Robert Service Campground and board a free shuttle to the muster point. At 9 p.m., the procession will walk to the Robert Service Campground, where the build-up continues. Attendees should consider themselves participants, not audience members. As such, the public is encouraged to bring instruments, lanterns, and effigies. Paper and pens will be distributed so that individual winter blues can be collected in paper bags and burned. John Phelan will lead the drumming for the crowd.

The event unfolds “organically” says Geneviève Gagnon, artistic director and general manager of Yukon Educational Theatre. At the crux of the evening, the eight-foot graffiti yeti effigy will burn along with the rest of Whitehorse’s blues.

Yukon Educational Theatre has worked to make this a community event. Several youthtargeted effigy-building workshops were facilitated in partnership with the Yukon Arts Centre, Yukonstruct, and Splintered Craft. The graffiti yeti effigy, itself, is also a product of partnerships with Yukonstruct and Splintered Craft.

Allison Button and Chris Lloyd, volunteers at the “maker-space” Yukonstruct, used 3D modelling software to develop the concept, and laser cutters to build the effigy. “We built the concept on the idea of a snow and ice monster, which we felt was representative of the festival”, said Lloyd.

The construction required 30 bicycle boxes (donated by Icycle Sport), 15 volunteers, and 27 hours. “There were 292 pieces that had to be wired together, this was a true community project,” said Button.

But according to both Lloyd and Button, once you have the 3D model, the task of building is pretty easy if you have the drive and the time.

Splintered Craft, a cost-free, drop-in arts studio focused on youth ages 14-29, will have the effigy at their location in the Yukon Inn Plaza up until the event. Members of the public have been welcome decorate the effigy with their own blues since last week.

Aimée Dawn Robinson, facilitator at Splintered Craft, is looking forward to “physically celebrating the closing of winter”, with the decoration and subsequent burning of the yeti.

Geneviève Gagnon notes, “There are several points of entry individuals can use to explore the concept of shedding their winter blues.”

Even those unable to make it in person can connect via a live-webcast by going to www.livestream.com and searching for “Burning Away the Winter Blues 2015”.

The festivities start at the SS Klondike parking lot at 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 21. 

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