It’s the biggest party in the territory, and this year Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous celebrates its 50th anniversary.

For a lot of Yukoners the festival represents the nearing of the end of winter, but for others it’s a chance to compete for coveted titles, from Sourdough Sam, to Best Frozen Hair, to Furthest Log Toss.

Sibell Hackney has seen it all.

She moved to the Yukon as a teenager in 1965. In 1970, just after her 18th birthday, her father convinced her to enter the Rendezvous Queen competition.

“There were rules then that the Rendezvous Queen had to be between 18 and 24, and be single with no children,” she says. “I turned 18 two weeks before Rendezvous so I was allowed to run.”

That year the organizers of Sourdough Rendezvous also wanted to have someone eligible for the Miss Canada competition in Niagara Falls, Ontario, so they decided to have two competitions, one with Miss Canada rules, and one with Sourdough Rendezvous rules.

“They said, ‘We’ll have a Miss Yukon and a Miss Sourdough Rendezvous, and the Miss Yukon is the one who is going to go to the Miss Canada competition,'” says Hackney. “But it turned out that I won both.”

There is still a Rendezvous Queen competition, though it’s changed. You no longer have to be a single, 18 to 24 year old woman, without child. But there is still a talent competition, and there are still judges – though the judging has changed, too.

“We had hidden judges,” says Hackney. “We didn’t know who they were. Now there are judged events, but back then the judges were everywhere – on the street and at the events. The judges were watching and always tallying to see if you were going to be a good representative. That meant no smoking, no drinking, and being polite just as if you were an ambassador for the Yukon. We had to be on our best behaviour at all times.”

Hackney was flown to Niagara Falls where she placed 5th out of 18 in the Miss Canada competition.

The Sourdough Rendezvous Festival has continued to evolve. As Whitehorse’s population swelled from 3,000 to 28,000, the festivities have moved from a crowded Main Street to Shipyard’s Park. New events and attractions are added each year, building upon what’s worked and what hasn’t.

“The snow carvings are one of my favourite things now,” says Hackney.

While the festival didn’t have snow carvings in the 1970’s, it did, perhaps, carry more significance for those who lived through the dark Northern winters without the convenience and connectivity we enjoy today.

“Sourdough Rendezvous really was an instant cure for cabin fever,” Hackney says. “It was a time for everyone from the smaller communities to come to Whitehorse, break up the monotony of winter, and celebrate that it was ending.

“People didn’t go on big winter holidays. A flight to Vancouver then was $900 return and a brand new car was $2,500, so you can imagine how expensive that was. Everybody was making their outfits all winter to wear for Rendezvous – everybody, I’m not kidding. Little kids, old people, everybody was dressed up with their parkas on.

“You always get out of something what you put into it. I think that’s probably why I have these memories of Sourdough Rendezvous the way it was, because the majority of us put a lot into it, and therefore have fond memories of it.”

Connie Dublenko has been putting her fair share into Rendezvous. She moved to the Yukon in 1991 and started volunteering in ’93. She hasn’t missed a year since.

“Getting involved gave me an opportunity to get to know the community better,” she says. “Through the years, because of my volunteering, I’ve met some wonderful people and made some very good friends.”

Dublenko has a talent for sewing, and over the years has sewn thousands of garters, sashes, can-can tops, skirts, and more. This year, with the help of a friend, she has created 2,000 garters, 500 of which are 50th anniversary specialties.

“I don’t know how many thousands of garter’s I’ve sewn through the years,” she says. “I can probably do 100 or so in a day.”

Dublenko has also worked in the Rendezvous office during the festival, talking to people off the street, and over the phone, about the day’s schedule of events.

“For those of us who are mid 70s and older it’s become a real passion to be a volunteering participant of Rendezvous,” she says. “I think all the volunteers through the years deserve a round of applause.”

The 50th annual Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous takes place Feb. 14 to 23 this year, with a multitude of events around Whitehorse. See their ad on pages 12, 13 and 16 for more information.