by Linda Aksomitis
Diamond Tooth Gertie’s may feel like you’ve turned back the clock to the Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s, until you look around and see, not miners, but snowmobilers sporting their bright yellow, red, and green jerseys. Indeed, Gertie’s is the gathering place for the hundreds of snowmobile drivers that make the Trek Over the Top, Tok to Dawson Poker Run, three consecutive weekends beginning in the end of February each winter. And Gertie does know how to throw a party!
The weekend truly begins for trekkers as they check in with Canadian Customs, who set up a table at the entrance of Gertie’s. From there, it’s on to the main event–a good time!
Diamond Tooth Gertie’s opened for business in 1971, as Canada’s first and only legal gambling hall, bar, and cancan show parlour. The building however, has a lot more history, since it was erected in 1901 as a home for the fraternal Arctic brotherhood. Today the hall is a nonprofit facility operated by the Klondike Visitor Association.
There really was a Diamond Tooth Gertie though, who came to Dawson’s dance halls during the Gold Rush era–Gertie Lovejoy. The Diamond tooth part, as you might have guessed, came about because of a diamond she wore between her teeth when she danced. The Gertie from that era–as befit a woman in the time of Queen Victoria–was a lot more demure than the modern Gertie. She wore typical Victorian attire that covered arms and front, and danced, not the cancan, but a waltz, polka, reel, or schottische. Miners, for the pleasure of holding her for a one or two minute dance, paid the handsome sum of twenty-five cents! Gertie went on to marry one of Dawson’s prominent lawyers, although she never truly lived down her earlier employment in the dance hall.
Trekkers are treated to two banquets at Gertie’s: one Friday night and one Saturday night. The theme of our first night, for those who had room to squish suitable clothes into whatever bags they could strap to their sleds, was Hawaiian night.
The contest to determine the best apparel took awhile, and kept us roaring with laughter. It truly seemed to me there might have been some reincarnated gold miners having their fun with us, from the get-ups that took the stage.
Of course, one of the main attractions of a banquet is the food. Friday night snowmobile club members barbequed up some baked ham, complete with pineapple and other assorted Hawaiian trimmings.
Once the meal was cleared, Diamond Tooth Gertie and the girls came out to do a performance, so the night really started to roll. It was amazing how fast the dining tables could shove back and the gambling casino roll out, so the Yukon’s best gambling tables were soon packed.
The Saturday night banquet at Gertie’s proved to be just as tasty as the first one–this time local snowmobilers barbequed up steaks with all the fixin’s, even for those of us who were lucky (?) enough to be the very last table called. Me, naturally.
Saturday night featured some stiff competition for Diamond Tooth Gertie and her girls–the Yukon Snow Shoe Shufflers. It may seem like an odd name until you actually see the girls. For indeed, these talented dancers wear snow shoes on their feet, and as they say: “Over 100 years ago, the Yukon played host to the greatest gold rush in history. Thousands of stampeders made their way valiantly over the mountains, and through the valleys, to lay claim to the rich Klondike goldfields. Hot on their heels came the women… who mined the miners! They were a hearty breed… fleet of whit, strong of courage and thick of thigh!”
The Snow Shoe Shufflers began as a joke–one that has entertained audiences across Alaska, the Territories, and the Western Canadian provinces, for more than two decades. They’ve appeared on international television in Europe and Asia and on CTV’s morning show and Much Music, as well as on the Big Breakfast Show in Edmonton.
The current line of dancers includes: Lake Lebarge Marj (one of the original creators); Rat River Mary (the other original creator); D-9 Dori; Gold Claim Lorraine; Mystical Melanie; Gold Dust Darlene; and Tricky Vicky.
While the Shufflers originally started out with just a two-minute dance, their repertoire has expanded to include a number of different acts, all of which include their snow shoes! They currently perform the: the Charleston, the Colonel Boogie, the Snowshoe Shuffle line dance and the Half Full Monty.
We trekkers, however, were also treated to a dance that included some snowmobilers, who, needless to say, weren’t quite as adept on snow shoes as on skis!
While you may not get to meet the Snow Shoe Shufflers unless you visit Diamond Tooth Gertie’s during the Trek Over the Top weekend, you’re sure to have a good time anyway. If you’re not a snowmobiler try Whitehorse’s Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, where they volunteer.
So, when you stop into Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, tell them Sour Toe Linda sent you–they’ll know what you mean.
For More Info:
Meet the Snow Shoe Shufflers at: http://members.tripod.com/snowshoe_shufflers/id2.html
Find out more about Trek Over the Top at: http://www.trekoverthetop/
Copyright September 2006 by Linda Aksomitis. All Rights Reserved.