dawson city part 1

We were on the fence about staying in Dawson for more than a day. We figured we’d check out the town and then ask the town office if they needed us for any volunteering since Canada day was around the corner. Oh and the prime minister was coming. When we returned from the Dempster we made our rounds to see Dawn at the NWT visitors center to give her our Dempster experience and then we went on a mission to crush all the nightlife touristy stuff Dawson had to offer. We got some intel from the visitor center guy (who happened to be the ex director of the art college) on how to drink at the ‘pit’ in the Westminster hotel. “They have happy hour that ends at 6, go now, left side is the snake pit that’s where all the old drunks like me hang out. The right side is the arm pit that’s where the young folks go from 12-2am to dance. You’d better get there before happy hour is done.” We did and it was excellent. We started with the left side, right side is for later. Soon it was time to line up for the toe.  The sour-toe cocktail is a tradition in Dawson. Ol ‘Captain Dick found a severed toe in an old hunting cabin back in the day. He kept it and carried it around with him-it was basically mummified and preserved from frostbite and ice. Sooner or later he decided he could make money off it by charging people 5$ to have it touch their lips in the form of an alcoholic shot. He keeps it on a mound of salt next to him so it looks fancy and when he goes to the bathroom he puts it in his front shirt pocket wrapped up in a napkin. So here we are in line for an hour chatting it up with the holland-American tour group waiting for our turn to kiss the toe and get our official sourtoe certificate. Captain Dick is working overtime at this point as it’s 11pm now and we are next. “You can drink it fast you can drink it slow but your lips must touch the toe”, he says to everyone as he presents it to them waving it in front of their faces. You have your shot on the table, he plops it in after you agree to his rules of not tonguing or swallowing it. It’s a hearty $2500 fee and you’re banned from Dawson City if you do. And then you drink the choice of alcohol you purchased, making sure to shake it a bit so the toe wiggles down touching your lips. Captain Dick approves, you shake hands, get an official sourtoe certificate AND membership card (no idea why haha), then move on for the next person to sit in the chair. That was that! Oh and some local rang the bell and everyone in the bar got a shot of Sailor Jerry’s! On our way to drunk town!

We moved onto Diamond Tooth Gerties next which is basically an old saloon casino with an old timely sing & dance show. The later in the night you go, the more ‘burlesque-y’ it gets, we happened to show up for the midnight show. It was excellent-super talented singers and dancers and very drunk bachelor party type dudes screaming at them in the front row.

We saw our holland-America pals from the toe bar and all headed on over, finally, to the last stop of the night: the pit. This time we were on the right side; the lounge area. A description of the snake pit: low ceilings, a lovely array of terrible portrait paintings from the 70’s, and a small dance room with walls covered in reflectix called ‘the microwave’—perfection. We danced to a repeated playlist of Will Smith songs from the 90’s, we drank terrible cheap beers, and we ended our evening really appreciating the terrible portrait art. We stumbled back to the van parked on the most Main Street of town and passed out. Successful 1st night in Dawson city. 

We woke up slightly hungover, had an excellent breakfast and cleaned ourselves up enough to go to the city office and see if they had any need for volunteers over the next few days. At first they said no, but then as we got to talking they realized they actually needed help with the Yukon river quest and with face painting on Canada day! That sounded perfect to us, so we were in—that meant we were going to stay in Dawson for another few days.

We spent the next 3 hours washing the car at an RV Park, Yes 3 hours, that’s how long it takes to just wash the Dempster off your vehicle. Then we spent about another hour taking literally every piece out of the van and shaking the dirt and dust off of it. We got our windshield crack fixed by this local guy, Brian, who happened to be the ex-director of the town office and who was also building an artist residence house out of an old brothel.


The people in this town constantly keep amazing us. He fixed the crack in like 20 minutes and gave us a small tour of the brothel apartment. It was beautiful, refurbished wood and modern appliances in basically a tiny house. We decided to have a quick walk to the dog park at the end of the town, and found ourselves hiking up hill toward the moose hide slide. It's so quick and easy to get up into the mountains that we went up for about 45minutes to have a look at the slide and the town and river below before heading back down to town and to start thinking about a place to sleep.

This town is so rich, we spent the rest of the evening at a local art show and then caught the tail end of a women’s wrestling fundraiser dedicated to Ru Paul. It was at Bombay Peggy’s, a place known for its martinis. Glitter was everywhere, lots of people were wearing wigs or in drag, and the martini was excellent. It was time to find a spot to sleep so we drove up to midnight dome overlooking the city, the river and the mountains. We snagged a clutch camp spot on the top of this mound close to the lookout. It was private and it had a spectacular view; at this point one of our top sites. We watched the sun not go down and met some other travelers while we shared the small nip of gin that I brought back from the Isle of Islay in Scotland.

The next day we got this great tour of the art college in Dawson by this sweet lady who dabbles in women’s wresting. We also got to check out another local show and meet the lady artist named Baisa. She’s rad and works with kids at the local school as a sub and now an art teacher (she’s also a drummer)! Dawson is full of bad ass ladies.

We started our shift with the Yukon river quest at midnight. More info on the volunteer blog post.