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BABE SOUTHWICK - February 26, 1965. Babe's racing number 8 was set aside, not be used ever again. Whitehorse STAR photo.

Babe Southwick: Yukon Spirit

On February 26, 1965, a well–known Yukoner, Babe Southwick, burst into Whitehorse with her Destruction Bay dog team to enter the Sourdough Rendezvous dog races.

By Whitehorse Star on February 26, 1990

February 26, 1990

Babe Southwick: Yukon Spirit

On February 26, 1965, a well–known Yukoner, Babe Southwick, burst into Whitehorse with her Destruction Bay dog team to enter the Sourdough Rendezvous dog races. A beautiful, boisterous, 40–year–old woman wearing a parka and mukluks, she added colorful joviality to the festivities.

Babe Southwick was one of the pioneer Dickson clan which lived along the shores of Kluane Lake long before the Alaska Highway pushed its way past their doors. Her father Tom came to the Yukon as a mountie during the Klondike Gold rush, married her mother Louise, then left the force to go trapping and raise a family. He was one of the Yukon's first big game outfitters.

Babe's brothers and sisters were as colorful as she was. There was Belle Desrosiers, Yukon big game outfitter, Sue Van Bibber, Grace Chambers, Ruth Donnolly of Haines, Alaska, Kluane Hash of California and Dick and Oly Dickson. She was married to Park Southwick and had four children.

That night at the Yukon Dog Mushers Association meeting Babe drew the number eight starting position. Friday morning, the first day of the three days of racing, her well trained team disappeared in a cloud of whirling snow, making good time on the 14.3–mile trail. Running just over an hour, the Southwick team finished the first day's race in the top five.  As usual she took care of her dogs after the race, then walked with her sister, Belle, to her hotel where Babe retired from activities.

Two hours later she was rushed to Whitehorse General Hospital where she was pronounced dead. The doctor said it was a heart attack, but none of the family knew she had such a condition, and they didn't know whether Babe herself knew.


The news spread rapidly through Whitehorse and a pall hung over the Rendezvous festivities but it was decided to carry on.

Speaking to the crowd of several thousand gathered along the bank of the Yukon River, J.B. Fitzgerald, Game Director for Yukon, said in part: "…Babe was a real Yukoner and a member of the highly respected Dickson family. She was an experienced musher and competed successfully in a good number of sled dog races. She was vice–president of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association and contributed very much to it and was highly respected by all  members of the organization.

"She leaves behind a great host of friends...Ladies and gentlemen, we will now observe one minute's silence in memory of Babe…" 

Ten dog drivers lined up at the starting gate, each with an arm band of black. With bowed heads and tear stained faces they stood through the silence observed by the crowd as the Southwick team sat silently in their harness nearby. Babe's racing number, 8, was then withdrawn.

Babe's brother–in–law, Alex Van Bibber, took the Destruction Bay team around the course the final two days, completing the race for the Southwick family. It would make a nice romantic ending to say that Babe's team won that year but they didn't, that honor went to a then unknown Native from Carmacks named Wilfred Charlie, and that's a different story. 

In the crowd watching the races that year and meeting Yukoners for the first time, was the editor of The Edmonton JOURNAL, Andrew Snaddon and his wife Jocelyn. They were impressed with the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous and the welcome they'd received from Yukoners. Profoundly moved by Babe's death, and desiring to do something, the Snaddons convinced the Journal (despite the newspapers policy of not giving trophies) to donate the BABE SOUTHWICK MEMORIAL TROPHY. Inspired by "Mrs. Southwick's great spirit and high reputation" it was to be awarded to the team with the fastest lap of the three heats. Although no prize money is attached to the winning of the Babe Southwick trophy, it remains the award most dog drivers desire.

Babe Southwick personified the spirit and intent of the original Rendezvous. It was a gathering of friends and relatives after a long cold winter. It was a time for stories to be swapped and old acquaintances re–affirmed. These were not professional racers, just tough, hardy Yukoner's with working teams. They were in town for a good time, and racing for the sheer fun of it.

When Babe died that first day of Rendezvous, Friday, February 26, 1965, one minute of silence the next day gave time for remembrance. Now, 35 years later the Babe Southwick Memorial Trophy allows us to remember a true Yukon spirit. And that's why there's no number 8 in the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous dog races.

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