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Yukon Heritage Day brings the history and culture of the smallest of Canada’s three territories to the forefront of public attention, on the Friday before the last Sunday in February. Schools and Yukon government offices close, while business owners have the option of giving employees time off.
The day is designed to coincide with The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, a festival in Yukon’s capital, Whitehorse. The event specifically revolves around the Yukon Gold Rush period of the 1890’s, featuring a “Queen” contest, sled dog races, air shows, and snow sculpture contests. Sounds like a chilly but fun time!
History of Yukon Heritage Day
Back in 1975, the Canadian government enacted one of their Collective Agreements — complicated government edicts around union behaviors and other labor rules — which included making Yukon Heritage Day a territorial holiday during which public institutions would close. So of course, in February 1976, the holiday saw its first celebration. Other than time off work and school, the biggest deal about Yukon Heritage Day is that it most often coincides with the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.
The Sourdough Rendezvous is held in the capital, Whitehorse. Since the holiday falls in February and Yukon is just east of Alaska, it’s quite cold! But Yukon residents tough it out for the chance to be a part of the giant festival. In 2020, the Rendezvous saw its 55th convening. It’s sponsored by many major Canadian businesses, and grows in scope and attendance every year.
Even Yukoners that can’t make it to Whitehorse still get to enjoy a day off to think about their culture and history, one highlight of which is the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century that saw approximately 100,000 gold prospectors descend on that region of Yukon. We don’t know if there’s still “gold in them thar hills,” but we can tell you that this is really a precious day.
Yukon Heritage Day timeline
Yukon Heritage Day sees its first observance across the territory.
For the first time, the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous takes place in Whitehorse.
The city of Whitehorse is incorporated, paving the way for decades of festivities to come.
Prospectors swarm to find gold in the Klondike hills, changing the face of Yukon by sheer force of numbers.
Yukon Heritage Day FAQs
Is it light day and night in Yukon, like in Alaska?
Perhaps not to that extreme. For example, on the summer solstice in Yukon, there are over nineteen hours where the sun is above the horizon — a long day! — and on the winter solstice only about five and a half.
How cold does it get in Whitehorse?
The hottest temperature recorded in Whitehorse was 96.1 degrees Fahrenheit on June 14, 1969. The record cold was 69 degrees below zero Fahrenheit on January 21, 1906.
Will the 2021 Rendezvous be affected by Covid-19?
We contacted the director of the event, and though the particulars won’t be exactly known until October 2020, at the time of this writing we are assured that the festival will be “Covid-friendly.”
5 Amazing Facts About The Klondike Gold Rush
Pulling their weight
In part because the Canadian government required every incoming prospector to bring a year’s worth of food to prevent starvation, the typical prospector’s equipment weighed close to a ton, which they had to move in phases.
Not a second to turn around
Some of the “boom towns” that saw thousands of gold-seekers come through had their populations increase by as much as 6,000 percent.
“Who are these tourists?”
The native Hän people of the region, who either didn’t know or didn’t care about the gold ore in their nomadic lands, were treated badly and most were forced onto reservations.
The earliest reported discovery of gold was on the banks of Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River, by American prospector George Carmack and his brother-in-law Skookum Jim.
“Wait for me!”
The gold rush created a “mass resignation” phenomenon. For example, the mayor of Seattle, a dozen of its police officers, and a significant number of streetcar drivers all picked up and headed north toward the gold.
Why We Love Yukon Heritage Day
It’s a source of territorial pride
Every Canadian province and territory is unique like American states are. On Yukon Heritage Day, residents and friends worldwide can feel a sense of pride in the things that set Yukon apart and make it a great place to live.
The Sourdough Rendezvous is a blast
In all our research, we didn’t come across one instance of a person or group attending the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous having a bad time. There’s so much going on throughout the city of Whitehorse that week, it’s a literal case of “something for everyone.”
History is a fruitful topic of study
As the popular saying goes, “You don’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” It’s a facile way of saying that a deeper knowledge of a region’s history — the events, the people — can be beneficial in many ways, not to mention impressive!
Yukon Heritage Day dates