There hadn't been a mid-winter carnival since 1950. So when the Board of Trade met in October of 1961, Rolf Hougen, acting as chairman for the 30-member organization, convinced everyone it was high time to get growing Whitehorse community back into a mid-winter party mood. The Sourdough Rendezvous was born.
No-one is sure why mid-winter carnival celebrations weren't staged during the 1950s, but in the early 60s the business community was determined to re-establish the spirit of what we now know as the Rendezvous. The first Sourdough Rendezvous opened on February 16th, 1962. There was no shortage of carnival experience among the organizers. As a teenager back in 1946, Rolf Hougen had been a member of the ski tourney committee, while Bob Campbell had been the general manager in '46 and '47.
The dog races were the focal point of the first Sourdough Rendezvous although the Queen contest and the beard judging were key to community involvement. Belle Desroiser organized the dog races and the mushers included Park Southwick, Sylvester Jack, Fred Stretch, Fred Chamber, Father Rigaud and 50-year-old Andy Smith of Teslin, who had finished second back in 1945 in the first Whitehorse winter carnival. Andy seemed determined to avenge his narrow defeat of 17 years earlier. And avenge he did ... winning the three-day event in a total time of 89 minutes 57 seconds. Father Rigaud was second, trailing Andy by a mere 9 seconds over three days. There were 10 Rendezvous Queen contestants - the event won by Alice Martin, who was born in Moosehide. The weather back in '62 was described as warm and slushy ... but not too warm for Bud Fisher to grow a big bushy white beard and take the best-beard title. That beard grown that year became Bud's trade mark as he went on to represent the Yukon around the world as Yukon Bud Fisher. When my young daughter met Bud in the early 70s, she was convinced he was Santa Claus. I'm sure kids all over North America thought the same of the Yukon's travelling ambassador.
Over the years, the Sourdough Rendezvous grew in stature and size and the outside world came to know how Yukoners got rid of the mid-winter blues. Television, radio and newspaper reporters covering the event helped put Whitehorse on the international stage. The publisher of the Edmonton Journal was a visitor in 1965, when tragedy struck the Rendezvous. Musher Babe Southwick died of a heart attack after running her dogs in the first day of racing. The mushers met to decide whether the races should continue.
When the decision was made to carry on, Babe Southwick's number 8 was retired and Andrew Snaddon of the Journal sponsored the Babe Southwick throphy for the fastest lap.
And the spirit continues today, 35 years after that first Sourdough Rendezvous back in 1962.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin