With the High On Ice festival starting this weekend, I am reminded of the Mukluk Rendezvous of the 1970s and 80s, and what I had participated in when I was a lot younger and agile.
Two by four a go-go races where four people strapped two 2 x 4's to their feet and all tried to move in unison. I remember the Fire Department team consisted of Wayne and Alvin Badry along with Dennis Brooks and myself. We didn't win, but boy did we have fun. I think we spent most of the race on our side trying desperately to regain our feet.
I also got my first taste of snow sculpturing that year. Dean Davis and myself built a dog and fire hydrant on the front yard of the fire hall. It was entitled “TO PEE OR NOT TO PEE” and was judged by Miss Teen Dominion whose name escapes me. We won first place in some category I’m sure they invented just for us. It was all in fun but in later Rendezvous years, people like Mrs. Wilma Robarge went to great lengths and became quite good at it.
In later years I participated in snow golf where myself and three other Kinsmen won first for our costumes, which was a good thing as our golf sure wasn’t going to. So as another High On Ice festival approaches, and while some of the events have come and gone, the spirit is the same and I urge everyone to attend part, if not all, of this weekend's festival.
Remember, the more things change the more they stay the same. Fort St. John has always had some sort of winter celebration and it was meant to break up the winter, which it still does today.
The following is the story of the 1974 Mukluk Rendezvous and the story of snow golf, which first appeared in the 1976 Mukluk Rendezvous.
A carnival of excitement
It’ll be non-stop enjoyment in a variety of sports and activities at the Mukluk Rendezvous, which was set for Friday, February 1st to Sunday, February 3rd, 1974. Miss Teen Canada, Heather Best, will be one of the many features at this year’s festivities. Although the Rendezvous is only Fort St. John’s second winter carnival, the wealth of enthusiasm for it and the great success of last year’s venture assure it of permanence.
Friday will see the start of a special mixed curling bonspiel with 54 rinks taking part. Action gets underway at one o’clock, with Miss Teen Canada and Mayor Frankiw officially opening the event. A total of $3,000 is being offered in prizes.
At 7:30 the same evening the annual torchlight parade will get underway from the North Peace Senior Secondary School. The route proceeds along 99th Avenue to 102nd Street, north to Centre Avenue, and then along Centre to 96th (the Immaculata Corner, which is now the Medical Clinic) to the Arena Complex grounds. As the parade ends, the Kinsmen sponsored Christmas tree bonfire will light up the sky. The service club collected Christmas trees from through-out the town last Saturday for Friday’s event.
Participants and spectators next turn their attention to the North Peace Rec Centre where Miss Teen Canada will again be at her regal best to officially open the Rendezvous and crown the carnival queen. Four teenagers are vying for the coveted crown: 17 year old Carol Griemann, sponsored by the Rotary Club; 16 year old Diana Bruce, the choice of the Lions Club; Lillian Harris, 18, representing the Kinsmen; and 15 year old Margaret Brown (Hammond), “Miss Rodeo North Peace”. Each has been campaigning actively for the position, hoping to follow last year’s queen, Joyce Callahan, in reigning over the three days.
There will be two dances Friday night; the first, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, takes place at the Immaculata Hall; the second, put on by the Chamber of Commerce, gets underway at the Elks Hall. Both dances start at ten o’clock. Tickets are by advance sale only.
Saturday has been dubbed “Kids Day” by Rendezvous organizers with a Bantam Invitational hockey tournament starting things off at 6:00 A.M. Games have been scheduled at both the Rec Centre and Kids Arena. Kids Day also includes events such as snow shoe racing.
At 8:00 A.M., the snow sculpturing contest, sponsored by the Women’s Institute, begins. Piled snow and water will be made available to contestants as well as coloring to put the final touches on the “works of art”. Participants have been asked to bring the equipment and containers required for the competition: pails, shovels, trowels, wooden spoons and the like. Waterproof gloves are recommended. One of the highlights of the Rendezvous will be the Dog Sled Racing. In the main events, dog teams will be leaving at 2 - 3 minute intervals for the 15 miles of race both Saturday and Sunday.
The twelve teams arriving for the event come from places like Boseman, Montana and Chelsea, Ontario as well as local entrants from Vanderhoof, Quesnel, Whitehorse, Fort Nelson and naturally enough, Fort St. John. Prize money will total $1800 with $500 going to the winning team,,er…the winning driver because it is hard to divide money among a pack of dogs. The dog sled races and a lottery being staged in conjunction with it are both sponsored by the Rotary Club. So the fun will end with the Dog Sled Derby as some lucky sweepstakes ticket holder will walk away with a cool $5,000 if the team his ticket is drawn upon clocks the best time. There will also be single dog races, three dog races and single dog weight pulling contests.
Can Can girls….games of chance….roulette…blackjack, etc. will be featured Saturday evening starting at 7:30 at Casino Night at the Rec Centre. Participants purchase thousands of dollars of house money for a minimal charge and are assured of an evening of continuous enjoyment.
Teens will have their dance Saturday night, another one sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and set for the Immaculata.
Adults get their chance to get involved in snow shoe races and other participatory events Sunday morning at the Rec Centre. The Oilwives have issued a challenge in 2 x 4 “a go go” racing also at the Complex grounds.
At one o’clock, the figure skaters will perform inside the Centre. Their show will be followed by an exhibition hockey game between the Flyers and the Golden Hawks.
The Light Horse Association grounds will be the site of snowmobiling races at 11 A.M. Finals start at two classifications for racing with stock 250, 340, 440 and powder puff and super stock 250, 340 and 440.
At two o’clock, a ski meet will be held at the Big Bam ski hill near Taylor. There will be seven different levels of racing; midget, boys and girls, junior boys and girls, men, ladies and veterans. All will be downhill slalom and each offers first, second and third place prizes.
The final games of the Bantam Invitational hockey tourney is expected at 4:30 Sunday and it will be followed on the ice by sport of a lighter vein; our Mounties versus the nurses in a challenge broomball match.
At eight o’clock on Sunday, the Rendezvous’s final wind up will start. Awards will be presented and the three prizes which can be won by program holders: A trip anywhere in CPAir’s world (to Grande Prairie, Guadalajera, Watson Lake or Tokyo if you wish), a two minute Overwaitea shopping spree, and a type writer from Hamilton Stationers.
It will be a fitting end to a delightful weekend.
In later years other memorable events were added to Mukluk Rendezvous such as the Fort St. John Snow Golf Championship which was first held in January 1976. The game was played where the Totem Mall sits today, in bright but bitterly cold weather. Some people used hockey sticks, plungers, golf clubs, etc. for clubs. The championship was won by Roger Brandl with Daryl Essoloff second and Joe Blanchette third.
So Mukluk Rendezvous lived on for many years evolving into what it is today, a first class ice carnival called High On Ice.
Larry Evans is a former fire chief, city councillor, and lifelong historian living in Fort St. John.