Dawson bids winter goodbye

The Weather Network predicts temperatures as cold as minus 22 Celsius, but this weekend Dawson City is celebrating spring.

The Weather Network predicts temperatures as cold as minus 22 Celsius, but this weekend Dawson City is celebrating spring.

Thaw-di-gras is the annual “end of winter is near, spring is here,” festival, said organizer Cameron Sinclair.

“There’s probably a good 50 or 60 people who are putting their own time into these events. It’s a very community orientated festival and it’s our way of saying ‘goodbye winter, I am so happy the spring is here.”’

And while it may not garner as many Outside guests as the summer’s Dawson City Music Festival, Thaw-di-gras helps maintain the small, Klondike community’s reputation as a town that knows how to party.

Annual mainstay events include the tea-boiling competition, the humane society dog show, the lip-syncing contest on Friday night, snowshoe baseball on Saturday and Sunday and the road hockey tournament that takes over Third Avenue all weekend long.

The road hockey tournament, made up of teams of five or six, is always a hit, said Sinclair.

“We all play hockey together during the winter, so this will be like our big, spring tournament for a lot of the guys,” he said. “I am sure there will be jabbing and name-calling, but I don’t think there will be too many rivalries, per se, because everyone is sort of all split up from last year.”

Hockey is one thing that helps get you through the winter, said Sinclair, who spent his first winter in Dawson this year.

“It’s just hockey,” he said. No one holds grudges, there’s no real violence and everyone hangs out after the games together, he added.

Third Avenue will stand as a central location for the Thaw-di-gras festivities, as the Westminister – better known as the Pit – stages its own ridiculous events.

Yukon’s own Sasquatch Prom Date will travel up from Whitehorse to play both Friday and Saturday night.

During the day they will hold tricycle races, youth lip sync, bartender olympics, the famous chili cook-off out on the street on Sunday morning before the hockey playoffs and then there’s the wiener run – that’s right, a rotating hot dog grill, rigged on an angle that allows crowds of people to watch and speculate on which one will rotate to the bottom first.

“It’s pretty funny,” said Paul McDonagh. “It’s pretty silly, that one.”

A new addition for the Westminister this year will be the Xbox Games.

“We’ll connect an Xbox to our big screen and just let people go nuts,” he said. “So it’s between that and a whole whack load of live music, that’s what we have planned.”

McDonagh has lived in Dawson for 11 years and has survived the same number of Thaw-di-gras.

But that could be because, like many others, McDonagh tends to wind up working most of the weekend. But he doesn’t mind.

“It’s just about getting out and having fun,” he said. “It’s a hopeful time of winter and time for everyone to get a little nutty.”

“We got hockey playing out right in the middle of the street, outside the bar for three days and people cooking up some pretty nasty chili, those are all pretty Dawsony things,” said McDonagh.

Other new additions this year include snow sculpting, which will be open to everyone and has both child and adult categories, said Sinclair. And for the first time, Thaw-di-gras will be “going into the wild,” he said. On Wednesday, Kim Joseph with the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation will be taking anyone who is willing across the river and past the campground on an ethnobotany hike called “From Our Land.” It will focus on finding plants traditionally used for medicinal purposes.

There’s also the one-dog pull and the Sunday dog classic on the river for both full sled teams and skijorers.

Plus there’s ping pong at the Downtown Hotel, arm wrestling at the Eldorado and there’s the annual cat show with many “hilarious cat-egories,” said Sinclair, apologizing for the pun.

And finally, at approximately 9 p.m., the fireworks will close off the weekend.

While the festival is largely a community event, Sinclair expects there will be more visitors than usual this year, thanks to the Renewable Resource Council’s fur contest on Saturday, complete with jigging music and traditional aboriginal dancers.

The fur contest is expected to draw people from Mayo, Faro and Whitehorse, Sinclair said.

“At the same time, they’ll be in the thick of everything,” he added. “Even though it is mainly a community event, we like as many people coming as possible.”

And after a month and a half of planning, Sinclair is happy to see the festival kick off, but it’s a bittersweet goodbye to his first winter, he said.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “It had its ups and down with minus 50, but it’s gone by so fast, it’s almost like a dream. I know I’ll do it all over again in a heartbeat and I will be here next winter.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at