Canada Day will be exceptionally busy in Dawson this year. Combining our nation’s birthday with a roster of events that normally occur on the first Saturday after that celebration will make for a packed schedule.
The Klondike Visitors Association decided a few years ago that having the Yukon Gold Panning Championships in the afternoon, following a Canada Day parade and activities at the Dawson City Museum, made for too many distractions in one day, but this year the calendar is forcing a return to past practice.
The contest venue will be in the Waterfront Park, and will share space with the Saturday Farmers’ Market and Artists’ Market, but that has worked out well over the last two years, giving spectators something to do between panning heats, and creating something of a village fair atmosphere along Front Street.
The Klondike Visitors Association’s Paul Robitaille says the plans for this year include ramping up that festival atmosphere, as well as avoiding overlapping the Canada Day events, which usually run between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
So the panning will not start until 2 p.m., in the hopes of drawing visitors to sign up for the Cheechako event, where first-time panners try their luck, after watching a demonstration. This will probably be by a skilled panner, such as perhaps Robitaille himself, who was last year’s winner of the Yukon Open.
This year Parks Canada staff will be emceeing the contest, in an effort to tie it more closely to the Gold Rush themes in town. They will provide the context and background.
Dawson City Museum staff will offer a rockerbox demonstration, and Technic Inc. will demonstrate a gold pour (making a gold bar) if weather permits.
Gold panning requires only pay dirt, water and gravity for success. Contestants fill their pans from a bucket of dirt, shake the gold to the bottom, rinse, wash, and repeat as needed until they see some golden colours. Then they get those flakes into a small glass vial and raise their pans in the air to signify that they are done.
Each bucket contains a fixed number of gold flakes (no nuggets in this contest) per category and there is a three minute penalty for each missed flake.
There are time limits for each category, of course, so you do have to work within that constraint.
In addition to the beginners’ group, there are categories for those over 60 (Sourdoughs); the Klondike Classic, using only the traditional pan; two youth categories; and, of course, the Yukon Open.
The winner of the Yukon Open receives a $2,000 prize and the right to attend the World Gold Panning Championships, being held this year in Moffat, Scotland in early August.
Robitaille is a three-time winner and has travelled to the World event. The Yukon Open prize money doesn’t cover all the costs, he says, but it sure helps, and the trip is worth the effort.
At Moffat this year, the Klondike Visitors Association will be putting in a bid to host the 2021 event. If accepted, this will be the fifth time the World’s has come to the Klondike.
In addition to the panning, there will be Klondike Trivia contest – with prizes – between heats. There will be a draw for jewelry prizes for the contestants, with items from Forty Mile Gold and Klondike Nugget and Ivory. There will be a barbecue fundraising event, with funds going to some worthy Dawson non-profit organization, yet to be selected.
Weather for this event has been variable over the years. An umbrella, to be used for either rain showers, or as a sun shade, would not be a bad idea.
The Yukon Gold Panning Championship takes place in Dawson City on Saturday, July 1 from noon to 4 p.m. at Waterfront Park on Front Street.