What is Thaw di Gras, Anyway?

Thaw di Gras (sometimes misspelled Thaw di Graw, especially in Manitoba) is the peculiar name Dawson City gives its spring carnival. The event will be held from March 15 to 18.

The name is, of course, a reference to the Mardi Gras, which actually took place on February 21, the Tuesday before the Christian religious observance known as Ash Wednesday.

That day is also known as Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday (or Fat Tuesday in a literal translation), and is supposed to be the last chance for the faithful to cut loose before giving up certain foods and practices for the season of Lent, which leads up to Good Friday and Easter in the Christian calendar.

Last year, Thaw di Gras was blessed with sun and warmth. Both the snow carvers and the hockey players enjoyed the fine weather. PHOTO: Dan Davidson

Thaw di Gras, coming a few weeks later, has nothing to do with any of that and is instead a celebration of the slow return of spring.

As the website at the Klondike Visitors Association (KVA) says, it is “held in mid-March [when] locals shake off the dark days of winter…”

Or, as Cameron Sinclair, KVA marketing assistant and events coordinator, puts it when we sit down for a chat, “It’s the most fun you can have in the winter with your snow pants on.”

As noted a few weeks back, the sun has returned and so have higher temperatures, but it is still the tag end of winter here, and if the weather gods are not kind, Thaw di Gras (is that like “Fat Thaw”?) can be nastily chilly for events like snow sculpture carving, outdoor kids’ games in Diamond ToothGerties Gambling Hall parking lot, or the annual street hockey tournament held on the street between the Westminster Hotel (The Pit) and the Yukon School of Visual Arts/Yukon College complex.

The Pit’s famous Chili Cook Off may generate enough heat to defy bad weather if it comes.

No surprise, then, that a lot of the events on the tentative draft of weekend activities actually take place indoors, with the Pit, the Downtown Hotel and the Eldorado Hotel all making space for such things as ping pong, arm-wrestling, hat-tossing, hot dog races, X-box Olympics, and tricycle races.

Indoor events will also include a cat show, with “many hilarious cat-a-gories” (at Bombay Peggy’s), and a dog show (at Gerties), as well as the ever-popular adult and youth lip sync contests (also atGerties).

The Klondike Institute of Art and Culture Ballroom (at the Odd Fellows Hall) will be the site for the “Me So Corny” crew to present another evening of improv comedy madness, while the 24-hour snow-carving contest will take place across the street.

Traditional outdoor events like axe-throwing, log-sawing and a mysterious event called the snow snake will take place in the Gerties parking lot. The one dog pull, made famous in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, will take place across the street from the Eldorado.

Sunday will see another running of the seven-mile Sunnydale Classic dogsled race, put on by the Percy DeWolfe race committee. This takes off from the ice bridge at noon.

Everyone (except for nervous dogs) can enjoy Dawson’s annual fireworks display, which should take place on Saturday night.

The draft program guesses this will be around 9 p.m., but with daylight hours increasing daily over the next 14 days or so, the program wisely adds the qualifying phrase “when it gets dark.”

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