Dawson’s Thaw di Gras

Much of January this year was below -30 degrees, dipping to -47 at times, and that’s without even mentioning the wind-chill factor. So Dawson celebrates what is almost spring, sort of the end of winter, with a very local, largely free event we call Thaw di Gras, which is, of course, a play on the idea of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.

The latter event is held the day before Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar and was on February 25 this year, but Dawson holds off until March. This year the dates are from Friday, March 13 at 4 p.m. to Sunday, March 15 at 10 p.m. The event is coordinated by the Klondike Visitors Association (KVA), though marketing manager Paul Robitaille is adamant that the KVA is far from solely responsible for it.

“We actually organize four of the events, but there are about 40 of them,” he said. 

Basically, the KVA simply reminds everyone that is normally involved that it’s time to get organized and confirms they will be participating this year. Without a long list of volunteers and the cooperation of many of the town’s establishments, the carnival just would not happen.

“And if someone drops out of an event, we try to find someone else to run it,” said Robitaille. 

Last year there were 40+ events, some of which spread over the three days, and which took place all over town, though Robitaille said part of the charm is that most are an easy walking distance from the parking lot at Diamond Tooth Gerties. That’s where 15 separate family-friendly events take place on Sunday afternoon, including smoosh board racing, kicksled demos, air rifle shooting, axe, log and chainsaw throws, tea boiling, ice cream eating, log sawing, and the crowd (and raven) favorite, the kid and adult egg toss events.

One of the most popular with the kids is the loonies and candy in a haystack event. Then there is the one-dog pull event in the Eldorado Hotel parking lot, which hearkens back to the scene described In Jack London’s Call of the Wild.

The Downtown Hotel offers a keg toss, CFYT-fm Trivia contest, and a rock-paper-scissors tourney. The Triple J compound houses the crokicurl/tuna can curling and will be adding a mini-putt (golf with hockey sticks and pucks) this year.

Earlier on Sunday, the Westminster Hotel sponsors its annual chili cook-off and taste testing. If you prefer schnitzel, there’s an eating contest behind the Art and Margaret Fry Arena.

On the Saturday, Gerties will be busy with the dog ball high ball (just what it sounds like) drink, Air North’s paper airplane toss, beer cap basketball and a fiddle show and square dance. Earlier on Saturday, there will be snowshoe baseball on the Robert Service School playgrounds, a dog show at Gerties, a cat show at Bombay Peggy’s and the youth lip sync at Gerties.

There will also be a spring craft fair on March 14 in the ballroom at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture—Dënäkär Zho. The adults will have had their turn on Friday night on the Gertie’s stage at the Dawson City Music Festival’s lip sync, which takes place a few hours after folks have signed up to carve some snow sculptures out of the prepared snow forms. There’s lots of snow for that event this year for sure.

Outdoor events on Saturday include the Barry Fargey Sunnydale Classic Dogsled Race. Later on, there will be free sled rides. Outside the Westminster Hotel, the street will be filled with a road hockey tournament and there will be kicksled races on the Yukon River.

New this year will be a snowmobile parade. A little farther afield, there is generally snowboarding and skiing on Moose Mountain. Robitaille said it would be impossible for anyone to take in everything, but KVA schedulers try to make it so that a person could partake of many events. Indoor events at the various bars include bum darts (don’t ask), arm wrestling and an adult tricycle race.

“Thaw di Gras is my favourite event of the year,” Robitaille said, stressing that the KVA’s involvement has tended to shift it from being a strictly local celebration of the season to a tourism draw that attracts more visitors each year, enough to make it worth Air North’s while to put on an extra flight for the weekend.

“It’s a great weekend to showcase Dawson, for mainly other Yukoners.” He estimates that about 150 people came to town last year.

At the time of this interview the schedule for the weekend was still in an early draft form, so it’s not certain when the fireworks will be yet, but there will be some. Your dogs will let you know when they start.

[box] Check the KVA website (DawsonCity.ca) for details and to view a short video made during last year’s event.[/box]

Dawson in the deep freeze

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