According to journalist Ken Spotswood, who prepared a media kit of short articles for the Klondike Visitors Association (KVA) to be used during our centennial years (1996-98), the Great Klondike International Outhouse Race had its first run in 1977, inspired by some chatter in a local bar.
The early editions, held then, as now, on Labour Day Sunday, resembled more of a pub crawl. Four contestants would carry a fifth one around town in a wheeled conveyance which resembled a privy. After a few years, the delays occasioned by the liquid interludes caused the organizers to impose a time limit. This sped up the race quite a bit. As Spotswood put it, the time limit and the addition of prize money caused “the barnstorming biffies (to) charge through the streets of Dawson like a dose of castor oil.”
These days the race, which once had anywhere from a dozen to 17 entries, is smaller than in days of yore. There used to be four or five serious teams who vied for annual glory, but the real athletes faded away shortly after the beginning of the Klondike Road Relay, apparently deciding to save their legs for the bigger event. The majority of the teams went for the punning potential of the race, with entry names like the Devouthouse (a group of Anglican ministers), the Elton John, the Royal Flush, the Whizzer of Oz, the Downtown Flaming Farts, and the Mad Crapper of Rat River. For many years team White Lightning had the distinction of leading the race standings, with seven victory laps around what was then a three-kilometer race. Once upon a time there were limericks associated with the race, but a crew from a radio station in Alberta put an end to that for many years when they ignored the fact that this was a family event on a Sunday afternoon.
The pub crawl metamorphosed into a scavenger hunt for many years. The race is shorter these days, the most recent version being around one of our larger city blocks, but the KVA has added some new wrinkles to make it more of a spectator sport.There was a trivia contest at the beginning of the race, with minor “humiliations” for the losers. The chants and cheers were back, though no one actually seems to know how to write a five line limerick. The race ran in three heats this year, with a series of small contests at the end that constituted an obstacle course, so just running well is no longer enough to guarantee a win. The Potty Mamas were well ahead when they reached the final block, but the Safety Turds (with members from the UK and USA) negotiated the obstacles more quickly and burst through the toilet paper finish line well ahead of the crew from Diamond Tooth Gerties, whose various incarnations have owned the most recent versions of this race. Ours is not the only such race. There’s one in Nova Scotia that was inspired by this one, but there are many others. The one outside Fairbanks takes place in the late winter, and the buildings run on skis. Maybe it’s time to issue a cross-border challenge.