the guessing game

It could be May 7 at 9:44 a.m., like it was in 1904. Nobody can ever know for sure when the ice on the Yukon River at Dawson City will decide to move along after a long, dark winter.

It could be May 7 at 9:44 a.m., like it was in 1904.

Or maybe April 30 at 3:12 a.m., like in 2010. Or May 18 at 7:45 p.m., as it did in 1920.

Nobody can ever know for sure when the ice on the Yukon River at Dawson City will decide to move along after a long, dark winter.

Only that it will, and that taking a stab at the Dawson Ice Guessing Contest, a.k.a. Dawson Ice Pool, may be the best toonie you’ve ever kissed goodbye.

The odds of choosing the winning date and time aren’t great, and even if you beat those odds, the jackpot won’t pay off your mortgage, but as far as gambling goes, it doesn’t get any better than the ice pool.

First held in 1896, and run every year since, the contest is older than the territory itself. Even if you’re not a history buff, you have to admire its longevity. More than 100 years and still going strong.

It provides a tangible link to the guts and glory of the Klondike gold rush, a connection with the days when waiting for the ice to go was serious business.

The contest is also refreshing. In a world now dominated by sophisticated gaming with its high-stakes, largely mechanized lotteries and mindless one-armed bandits, putting pen to paper, after a little bit of reckoning, to jot down a time and date seems elegant in its simplicity.

Buying a ticket is also a bit of a contribution to science. To climate change experts, the faithful collection of data over such a long period of time from one place is an information motherlode.

The contest also serves a social function, bringing people together whose paths may not otherwise cross.

Since the Second World War, it’s been organized by the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.

The women’s group leads the charge on tickets, tripods and timers.

And once the ice moves and the clock stops, its volunteers move in to sift through more than 4,000 tickets to find the lucky guesser.

Half of the money raised goes to the winner; the other half the IODE spreads around the community.

The breakup of the river may not grip people the way it once did, but it’s an annual rite of passage and a sure sign of spring.

And it’s not too late to get in on the Yukon’s great guessing game. Tickets are on sale around the Yukon until April 25 at midnight.

So roll the dice, count the stars or mix up some other magical combo of science and superstition and try your luck at the territory’s best little lottery.

You won’t be sorry you did.