6 Wacky Things I Learned About the History of Edmonton's K-Days
K-Days. Klondike Days, Edmonton Exhibition, Capital Ex. Whatever you want to call it, one of Edmonton’s biggest events are upon us from July 22nd - 31st.
Why Do We Have K-Days Anyway?
While now it seems like another fun summer excuse to get outside, play games, eat ridiculously calorific food, go on rides and hit up some pretty sweet concerts, K-Days used to look quite a bit different.
“Back in my day…”
The first Klondike Days was called The Edmonton Exhibition, held at Fort Edmonton in 1879. It was the first of its kind, inspiring other cities to hold their own exhibitions in years to come. (Calgary’s first exhibition wasn’t until 1886.)
While Edmonton had an early gold rush of its own along the North Saskatchewan in the 1860’s, it was mostly considered a rowdy port at the start of 3 trails to Dawson City and the Gold Rush of the north. With all those extra people coming to town, it was the perfect place for a good old fashioned exhibition.
Back then, exhibitions were the best place to gather folks who wanted to marvel over innovations in science, industry and agriculture. Think The World’s Fair or EXPO, which were designed to draw people to one place to wow over the achievements of other nations. (Now we have the internet, which is more convenient, but not as amazing.)
It wasn’t until the 1960s that organizers moved towards the Klondike/Gold Rush theme.
The first community parade was held in the 1930’s, while the last one (to date, there may be a comeback.) was in 2019.
The parade used to have as many as 100 entries, which could be as random as a lady in a convertible with her cats. (We used to watch it from the 3rd floor of the Edmonton World Trade Center, and it was hard to tell what some of these parade entries had to do with Klondike Days.)
Random & Weird History on Klondike Days in Edmonton
K-Days used to happen all over the city. But when organizers changed Klondike Days to Capital Ex in a rebrand attempt in 2006, they focused everything onto the grounds at the now EXPO Centre.
“We want to dress up like old-timey people”
While Northland’s won a 2007 Alberta Tourism award for their efforts at rebranding, attendance dropped 14% the first year after the name change.
In 2012, a public vote, ‘Name Your Fair,’was held to change the name of the event from the unpopular Capital Ex. ‘K-Days’ won the race, edging out these extremely different contenders:
‘K-Days’ seemed to find a good balance between acknowledging the roots and history of the traditional event with the need to modernize and expand the fair to celebrate Alberta and build pride around our province.
6 Fun, random historical facts I found while researching Klondike Days
1. Anyone who went to the Klondike Days promenade NOT dressed in 1890s finery was thrown in K-Days jail - you could only be bailed out with exclusive Klondike Dollars
2. There used to be something called a ‘Fun Tubs Derby,’ where people raced in bathtubs downtown. Further information on this remains elusive.
3. There was also a ‘World Champion Sourdough Raft Race,’ where people could make rafts out of, well anything it seems, to race down the North Saskatchewan and engage in a massive water fight. This actually still happens, just not at K-Days.
4. Some history points to the gold rush starting in Edmonton, although it’s estimated that the Haida people of Haida Gwaii (The the Queen Charlotte Islands) were the first, in the 1850s.
5. There used to be a Klondike Kate every year, a young woman who served as an ambassador/mascot for the Klondike Days events over the exhibition, working up to 18 hours a day (Did they cancel her due to illegal workplace conditions?).
6. The original Klondike Kate was a Canadian legend named Katherine Ryan, who we need to learn about in school. She traveled from New Brunswick to Seattle, hitting Vancouver to join the Gold Rush and hiking along the brutal winter trails like everyone else. She later became a nurse in Seattle, and was the first female member of the Northwest Mounted Police, among other accomplishments.
These days, K-Days continues to be a fair that attracts nearly one million people over the 10 day event, with an abundance of activities showcasing Alberta history, culture and talent, including:
The old Capital Ex website has some cool back history about the event as well.