KOMMENT: Kill K-Days, bring back the Klondike

K Days GigCity EdmontonThere were korn dogs, ice kream and Karly Rae Jepsen at K-Days this year – but any evidence of the former Klondike was hidden behind the rustic fences of the park that bears its name.

Northlands hasn’t done much with Klondike Park over the years. The place has been there since forever, overlooked by the weathered visage of the giant Klondike Mike, looking a little sad these days as he ponders the bygone age of Klondike Days that had been so cruelly neutered to make way for a festival that stands for nothing. Poor Klondike Mike.

Surrounded by midway chaos on a recent Saturday afternoon with line-ups for everything, Klondike Park is a quiet and cool oasis with line-ups for nothing. Klondike Kate sings karaoke while five people watch. A troupe called Guns of the Golden West puts on daily shows. A human version of Klondike Mike is nowhere to be seen. The main attraction here is gold panning. People actually did this to make money? It is not the most boring activity at K-Days. There are Tupperware demonstrations in the cavernous generic trade fair in the Expo Centre, also including an endless corridor hung with garish representational paintings and for a small donation, snake watching.

Gold panning is fun. It involves getting your butt wet sitting by a fake stream with a wok full of sand and little rocks and tiny gold nuggets hidden within. You swish the scree around, sploosh out the silt and look for the little bits of gold shining at the bottom. Half hour of toil on Saturday yields three specks of paydirt. Where in times of yore one could take one’s gold to the Klondike Park Assay Office to exchange for hardtack and sidemeat (toys and candy), the place was all boarded up on this occasion.

“What are we supposed to do with our gold?”

“Just keep it, I guess,” replies the K-Days staffer – who was not dressed in Klondike finery. None of the staff here are in Klondike attire except for Klondike Kate and the Guns of the Golden West. It is beyond sad.

Klondike Mike GigCIty EdmontonFor the love of Mike, why can’t they just scrap K-Days and make it Klondike Days again?

The answer, says Northlands spokesperson Jennifer Sheehan, is that the Klondike Days theme just doesn’t “resonate” with younger generations.

Horse feathers! They’re not trying hard enough!

You know what resonates with younger generations at K-Days? Going on rides and winning stuffed animals and eating junk food until they puke. That’s it. That’s the carnival midway experience. This midway is exactly the same as it ever was during Klondike Days, exactly the same as it was during Captial Ex, and exactly the same almost everywhere you go throughout the history of midways. They’re all designed to suck up your money as quickly as possible. All the rest is backdrop. Even Disneyland. So why not take the effort to make it interesting? There is nothing interesting about the letter “K” by itself. Whoever suggested this is an idiot. Oh, right, it was the public. Never mind.

It remains to be seen if the one “Klondike Day,” where fairgoers are “encouraged” to dress up on July 28, the last day of the festival, will be a hit. It doesn’t look promising. Northlands isn’t expending any more resources on this day beyond the desultory Klondike programming already inside Klondike Park.

Where are the costumed interpretive performers roving the site to provide Klondike encouragement? There aren’t any. There are stilt-walking performers who pose out next the giant “K”s scattered around the K-Days site and they look like minstrels from a Renaissance faire. Observers desperately hoping for some meaning to come from the 11th letter of the English alphabet are likely to be disappointed, as the stiltwalkers also appear to be mimes.

Back in the day, they made a big show out of “arresting” and “jailing” citizens caught not wearing their Klondike Sunday best. All in good fun. Media personalities played along. The Mayor wore a silly hat. The whole city got involved. Even the hipsters participated by merrily hating it together. Merchants gaily decorated their storefronts with festoonery and gimcracks of a Klondike nature as Klondikean celebrations spread to venues across town. We looked ridiculous together. What’s really funny is how Northlands used to complain whenever the newspapers shortened Klondike Days to “K-Days.” How ironic.

Is this an old man editorial calling a return to the good old days? Hell, no. Trying to duplicate the history that didn’t exist would be lame. Edmonton needs a new history. To make Klondike Days “resonate” with the younger generations will take creativity. They could incorporate “steampunk” fashion, hire actors as ushers to pose as post-apocalyptic snake oil salesmen or old time carnies. How about a Klondike zombie parade, or an extreme Klondike sideshow starring Ryan Stock as Snidley Whiplash? Burlesque dancing seems to be all the rage again. That’s a no brainer. Vaudeville shows could be fun, or an Ultimate Fighting version of King of the Klondike. Or maybe you could recruit a team of Klondike Kates from the local Hooter’s. Just trying to help here.

Meanwhile, for real, a team of Edmonton’s top actors are busy preparing for an all-improv production of the old-fashioned Klondike melodrama at Fort Edmonton Park. In a woeful scheduling snafu, it runs Aug. 1-3 – after K-Days is over – and they’re calling it The Full Mountie, featuring actors from the popular Die Nasty show with the new Fort Edmonton Park artistic director Dana Andersen at the helm. An award-winning comedy actor and filmmaker whose work has resonated with the younger generation on more than one occasion, Andersen was born and raised in Edmonton, and remembers being dressed up by his parents for that very special time of year that was uniquely Edmonton.

Andersen takes a bold stand, “I’m calling it Klondike Days. I don’t care!”

Who’s with him?! The generic K-Days name must be put out its misery before it catches on, not that it would. The only thing to for Northlands to do now is admit defeat, swallow their pride, commit rhetorical hari-kari and create a Klondike Days that resonates with everyone.