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Rendezvousing at a distance

Festival planned to go ahead while meeting COVID restrictions
Miss Yukon Arts Centre Brenda Pilatzke-Vanier, centre, moments after being crowned the 2020 Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous queen in Whitehorse on Feb. 22, 2020. The 2021 Quest for the Crown contest has been cancelled with the 2020 Queen and court to continue in their roles until the 2022 festival. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival each February has long been celebrated as a time Yukoners emerge from the long, dark winter season to socialize, celebrate the return of a little more daylight and take part in a variety of events that test their skills, from the axe throw to flour packing and more.

At a time when a global pandemic has forced the cancellation, or at the very least meant major changes to events, gatherings and activities, planning for the 2021 edition of the festival is taking some creativity, careful considerations and the ability to adapt and change things up months in advance.

But it means, as Rendezvous executive director Saskrita Shrestha (aka Six Shooter Sas) put it in an Oct. 26 interview, “There will be a festival.”

Festival organizers are continuing to work with the Yukon government to determine what will and what won’t be possible for 2021, recognizing that it all may change if the territory’s COVID situation changes.

An operational plan for the festival has been submitted to the office of the chief medical officer of health that will ultimately guide how the festival runs. It has not yet been approved.

In the meantime, Rendezvous has announced a few changes already in place.

The 2021 Quest for the Crown contest, for example, has been cancelled with the 2020 Queen and court to continue in their roles until the 2022 festival.

“As the contest itself is centred primarily around close public interaction, it also seems prudent during these times to adhere to social distancing recommendations,” officials said in a statement. “We believe this is the right decision for all parties involved including sponsors, candidates and the public.”

As for the Rendezvous raffle tickets that are normally sold by Quest for the Crown candidates who make their way around town, decked out in their Rendezvous-best, selling the tickets to raise money for the festival, the sales are limited to being online and at some local business. Tickets are already being sold ahead of the usual December start to the ticket sales in light of the changes.

Those looking for raffle tickets can purchase them through or at Listers Motor Sports, Java Connection, Murdoch’s Gem Shop, Signature Home (Waterstone building), The Claim Cafe, Paradise Alley Gifts, Integra Tire, and the Rendezvous Office.

Meanwhile, the annual Sourdough Sam contest, aka Call for the Cup, will not be a competition as it normally is. Rather, work is underway that would see a virtual or hybrid show of Sam all stars.

Similarly, those who manage to catch the Rendezvous Can-Can line in action will recognize some familiar faces, as Rendezvous won’t be holding open auditions for the group this year. Rather, Rendezvous is looking for former members of the dance line interested in returning to be part of the 2021 line up that may deliver virtual and small in-person performances, where possible, throughout the winter.

“If you do see the Can-Can line out over winter, we ask that you respect social distancing guidelines by staying six feet away from them and to expect a certain level of physical distancing measures to be implemented during the show,” it was noted.

The competitions that typically happen on the snowpad in the area of Shipyards Park and the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre — axe throwing, chain saw chuck and more — are also anticipated to happen pending the approval of the operational plan. However, don’t expect to take part simply by showing up as many contestants have done in previous years. This time around there will be a process to register in advance along with a number of other initiatives aimed at keeping numbers low around the snowpad, Shrestha said.

Some kids activities are also planned along with a small snow carving display that will feature the work of six local artists. There may also be some opportunities for family bubbles to do some snow carving, again likely with pre-registration.

All events happening at the park and cultural centre will be more spaced out than they have in previous years.

As for the performances that typically draw large crowds to the festival’s main stage every year, Shrestha said performances may still happen, but not to the large in-person crowds of previous years. Instead, the shows may be performed for smaller in-person audiences and streamed for the larger virtual audience to watch from home.

“It’s going to be a smaller festival,” Shrestha said, noting that despite the changes Rendezvous officials plan to deliver events that many Yukoners will enjoy whether as a virtual experience streamed to their homes or something they can do in-person like taking in the snow carvings.

Shrestha said organizers began planning in June for an altered 2021 festival that would be designed to meet COVID restrictions. The plan has already gone through a number of edits as things have changed.

“It’s very fluid,” Shrestha said, noting her hope that this plan will remain in place with the weather now colder, indicating Rendezvous is just a few months away.

Recognizing things can change very quickly, organizers also have a Plan B for the festival if a shift is needed, she added.

Shrestha said further Rendezvous announcements will be made once the operational plan is approved.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Can-Can dancers perform as children dance along in Whitehorse on Feb. 8, 2018. Performances that typically draw large crowds to the festival’s main stage every year may still happen, but not to the large in-person crowds of previous years. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Stephanie Waddell

About the Author: Stephanie Waddell

I joined Black Press in 2019 as a reporter for the Yukon News, becoming editor in February 2023.
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