Fireworks light up the sky to celebrate the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Festival on Feb. 24, 2018. Thanks to an anonymous $15,000 donation, the festival will have fireworks in 2019 too. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

An anonymous donor steps in to save Rendezvous’ fireworks

The anonymous donor will cover what’s remaining of a GoFundMe campaign

A $15,000 donation from a local business is going to finance the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous fireworks show.

Dave Blottner, executive director for Rendezvous, said his office got a phone call around 3 p.m. on Nov. 22, from a business owner saying “we’re going to put a smile on your face.”

“They definitely did that,” said Blottner of the donor, who wants to remain anonymous.

The festival had started a GoFundMe page to help finance the fireworks show, which Blottner called the centerpiece of the February festival.

“I think it’s the part that brings everyone together,” he told the News on Nov. 22. “The cherry on top of the ice cream if you will.”

Blottner said Rendezvous usually pays for the fireworks display out of its surplus from the previous year.

The total cost of putting on Rendezvous is $650,000, which comes via federal and territorial government grants, corporate donors, and fundraising.

However, he said the festival is operating at a deficit after a local company it hired in 2018 didn’t fulfill a contract, costing Rendezvous an unexpected $25,000 last year.

This year, Blottner said Rendezvous tried to fund the fireworks by applying for grants, and going to local businesses to see if anyone wanted to sponsor the fireworks, but he said it was a tough sell.

“It’s a lot of money for not a lot of time,” he said, calling the fireworks a double-edged sword that brings people together, but not for very long.

He said the whole city comes out and huddles together along the Yukon River while Warren Zakus leads a team in setting off the fireworks to coincide with music that’s streamed on CKRW.

Blottner said the fireworks have been an on and off component of Rendezvous, but said that it’s been constant since the event’s 50th anniversary in 2014.

“Since then, we’ve brought it back in a big way,” he said.

Within a day, $600 had been raised on the GoFundMe page. He said the anonymous donor will cover the remaining $14,400, because GoFundMe doesn’t have a great mechanism for refunding money.

He also said he was grateful to the people who did donate and who shared the campaign online because he doesn’t think the donation would have come in without that exposure.

That’s not the only change to Rendezvous this year.

Blottner said the festival heard from the city that the snow sculpture competition isn’t taking place.

Myles Dolphin, communications for the city of Whitehorse, said that the event was a joint effort between Rendezvous and the Snow Carving Society. Prior to 2009, he said the event was “heavily supported” by the city’s tourism department.

In 2017, after Don Watt stepped down as longtime organizer, and the Snow Carving Society folded, Rendezvous took over the competition. This year however, it’s not taking responsibility for the competition.

“In the fall of 2018, (Rendezvous) informed the city it wouldn’t have the capacity to host a snow-carving exhibition for 2019,” said Dolphin in an email. “Council ultimately made the decision, this past fall, not to intervene because it would be setting a precedent for the City to host other events that are potentially folding due to lack of community support.”

As well, Blottner confirmed that Rendezvous is moving out of Shipyards Park, and into space in front of Lumel Studios, and indoors at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.

Events such as flour-packing and axe-throwing will still take place outside, but the cultural centre longhouse will give people a place to warm up while listening to music and participating in some of the kids activities (some kids activities will still take place outside).

Not only will this move strengthen the festival’s relationship with the First Nations, said Blottner, but it gives people a place to escape the cold.

“We know how fickle kids can be when they get cold,” said Blottner, noting this gives them a place to warm up. “Then they can go outside and be wild.”

For updates and announcements about the festival, visit yukonrendezvous.com.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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