Given the odd behavior of the Yukon River this year, it’s not at all certain just how and when spring breakup will occur, but however it happens, the ladies of the IODE have it covered.
What were some very wide open leads in the river prevented the formation of the usual ice bridge across at the ferry landing site this winter. Indeed, that passage has only become accessible to walkers, dog teams, snowmobiles and ATVs over the last fortnight at this writing (March 19) and those crossing from West Dawson and Sunnydale have had to rely on a route upstream that works out to be over 6 km long.
There was some concern about how this might affect the contest, but the river had finally filled in and the Yukon Order of Pioneers have placed the usual tripod on the ice.
It’s the movement of the tripod, attached by a cable to a clock at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, that establishes the precise time of breakup and determines who wins the annual ice pool.
By that time, people holding tickets will have been walking the dyke trail at all hours of the day and night (which is pretty light by then) watching the river for signs of the approaching summer. Someone will be there to see the river ice move. That person will notify the fire hall, and some member of the department will sound the siren to let the community know what is happening.
At one time that siren might have been a flood alert warning, but the last of those was in 1979, and the dyke that was built in 1987 has been doing its job well since then.
No matter what time of day the siren sounds, you can count on the dyke to quickly fill up with spectators. If school is in session, classes will take time to go see the sight.
A week to 10 days later, the George Black Ferry will be launched and normal summer travel will begin.
Break-up contests have been going on in Dawson since 1896. Records indicate that used to be several of them, but they were consolidated at some point and run by a committee. The IODE assumed that role during World War II. At that time they reserved one quarter of the proceeds to buy items for soldiers serving overseas. Now they retain half of the profit and use the money to do charitable works and fund student awards.
Tickets have gone on sale for this year already, and will be available in Dawson, Stewart Crossing, Braeburn Lodge and Whitehorse until April 15. This is sooner than used to be the custom, but the river set a new early breakup record of April 23 in 2016, and if the IODE had not changed its day then, the ice would have gone out while tickets were still being sold.
Interestingly, the previous early record of April 28 was set in 1940, the year that the IODE took over what was sometimes called the Ice Derby from the committee that had been handling it up to that year.
In recent years, breakup has been occurring between April 29 and May 12, with a solid cluster of dates between May 1 and 4 and one outlier on May 15 in 2013. The latest date on record in May 28, in 1964, but the statistical trend line shows a strong tendency for earlier rather than later over the last 20 years.