What Happened to Edmonton’s Klondike Days?
Through Edmonton Exhibition, Capital Ex, and K-Days…
Ah, summertime in Edmonton. When our river valley blooms, and our canopy of dutch elm trees umbrellas over our streets. There’s so much to do in the single month that our summer in Edmonton seems to last…
However, whether you love it or not, no other event or festival seems as popular as K-Days. A 10-day long exhibition of rides, music, and so much more.
While most people understand why – or, rather how it come to be that K Days is called what it is. The name alone would be enough to make newcomers to Edmonton scratch their heads. What does K Days stand for? It’s a valid question – especially for those who have no knowledge of the history of the festival.
Well, if you look at the K-Days website, you’ll actually find that… there is no mention of why it’s named what it is.
The exhibition itself started way back in 1879 under the simple name of the Edmonton Exhibition. – when this area was a part of the Northwest Territories. It was mainly an agricultural fair, which featured livestock, crops, and local carpentry and handiwork. It took place in autumn and attracted 500 people. Not bad considering the population of Edmonton at the time was 148.
It was held annually thereafter. By 1910 Edmonton’s population reached around 24,000, and the Edmonton Exhibition had become a summer festival reaching 40,000 attendees. It was in that year that the fair was first hosted at the location where it’s been every year since – Northlands.
Fast forward 52 years, and it’s 1962. The exhibition’s attendance has surpassed 400,000 people, and has adopted a new name. If you’re a little older, or know someone who is, it’s not uncommon to hear k-days referred to as “the ex”, or “going to the ex”, because it wasn’t ALL that long ago, that it was simply referred to as the Exhibition, but in 1962, this changed.
It donned the name of: Klondike Days. Klondike days has an unofficial nickname that many Edmontonians called it for short: K-Days. Officially, Klondike Days was a tribute to Edmonton’s history as a gateway to the north during the gold rush of the late 1800’s. And that’s not a lie – back in the 1890’s, the town was buzzing with the prospect of heading north to strike it rich. We certainly do have ties to the Gold Rush.
But, there are those who believe the name was chosen for perhaps a another reason – because of the success of the Calgary Stampede. The Calgary Stampede has been an annual event since way back in 1923, with traces of the name going back a decade before that.
You don’t have to like the Cowboy and Rodeo theme of the exhibition belonging to our rival city, but you can certainly admit – it’s one that they embrace with open arms. Wearing boots, jeans, and cowboy hats to their annual fair is a act of pride for many, and tons of Albertan’s get into the spirit year after year. The stampede is a thing of celebration for many in Calgary – just look at the name of their football team.
It’s hard to tie that type of identity to a fair simply called the Edmonton Exhibition – so a name change to Klondike days made sense. Regardless of whether or not The Calgary Stampede had anything to do with it, Edmonton now had a theme to go along with its summer carnival and fair – they also had a mascot. Klondike Mike was erected in the years following the name change.
While maybe not quite to the same degree as our neighbors in Calgary, Edmonton’s theme was well received, with many people celebrating the theme. Dressing up in 1890’s attire and panning for gold in Klondike park.
The name Klondike days was used for 44 years – until it was decided that… enough was enough?
Someone decided that no one liked the name Klondike Days. Sure, people weren’t dressing up in theme as much as other exhibitions in this province, but there certainly wasn’t some mass public opinion that the name was bad. The festival was still breaking attendance record every few years, it was as popular as ever – more so even.
But, that didn’t stop those in charge. To quote one of the directors associated with the exhibition, Klondike Days was “a name that the vast majority of Edmontonians thought was outdated and didn’t reflect the vibrancy and energy of this community… a theme that virtually nobody participated in”.
With such harsh words, you know that there must have been a stellar theme coming from organizers. And then, it was announced. Klondike Days was dropped to make way for… Capital Ex.
Yup. Creative minds must have been flown in from around the world to come up with a name that basically says: This is an exhibition in the Capital City of Alberta.
Great. Awesome. So we obviously now had a name and theme which adequately reflect the “vibrancy and energy” of Edmonton. Except how do you celebrate “CapitalEx”? They criticized Klondike Days as a theme because no one participated in it – I guess the solution was to create a new name that had no theme?
The first year after the name change, the exhibition saw a 15% drop in attendance. Organizers doubled down on their name, and blamed hot weather for the attendance issues. But year after year, attendance never once reached that the last year that the fair was titled Klondike Days.
Organizers could only deny the name Capital Ex wasn’t working for so long. So, after only 6 years using the new name – it was announced that a new name would be chosen, and they would leave it up to Edmontonians to decide with the “Name Your Fair Contest”, which invited Edmontonians to submit names for the new festival.
6 submissions were selected, and Edmontonians were able to vote on the following names:
- The Edmonton Exhibition (The fair’s original name, used from 1867 – 1961)
- River City Festival
- River Summer Fair
- Edmonton Summer Exhibition
- And of course
- Klondike Days…. Was not included on the ballot. Instead, they included K-Days.
Their name change to Capital Ex was an obvious failure – it was bland. It was boring. It didn’t even have a theme. And people were still referring to the festival as Klondike Days.
So, in order to save face and not see the name switched back to what they decided Edmontonians didn’t want – organizers themselves chose which names people could vote on. And purposely did not include the name Klondike Days on the list – despite a large number of people suggesting that they submitted it into the contest.
Instead, probably to balance their complete embarrassment vs. what Edmontonians actually wanted – they included Klondike Days’ old unofficial nickname: K-Days.
Of course, K-Days won by a landslide, with the original name coming in second. It seems that that organizers statement that Klondike Days “a name that the vast majority of Edmontonians thought was outdated” was nothing but a crock of… mini donuts.
After the name K-Days won, Richard Anderson with Northlands was quoted as “”I think we’ve got a great opportunity to do something with the name [K-Days] […] I promise you this, it’s going to be great it’s going to be something people will really resonate with”.
And… what exactly that is… who knows. There was talk about doing different “k” themes every year, which never happened. And now it’s just K-days. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure people are way happier with K-Days than Capital Ex, but even today organizers and K-Days refuse to acknowledge the blunder, and what K-Days means to most people.
Even though I’m sure “What Does the K in K-Days Stand For” is one of the most frequently asked questions about the festival, at least from people new to the fair, but there’s nothing at all about the name on the website’s FAQ section. In fact, there is no history section on the K-Days website at all – Klondike Days old website back in 2005 proudly displayed all the history of the event nearly 150 years.
So, the next time you visit one of Edmonton’s most popular summer events. Look up, and give a nod to Klondike Mike. Who stands guard, in front of Klondike Park. Take a spin on the Klondike Express… and remember what the K on all those signs really stands for. Edmonton’s own, 151 year old summer exhibition, Klondike Days.