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Remembering the Daughters of the Midnight Sun

Christine Grimard
Northern News Services
Wednesday, March 02, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - While doing some research on vaudeville in the North, artist Ann Timmins came across a special group of performers.

These women were not wanderers from the South, passing through to entertain the boys. These were Northern pioneers living in Yellowknife, looking for a way to entertain and raise money for charity.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Peggy Radcliffe, Jenny Neil, Kathy Eccleston, Pat Winter, and Pat McMahon put on an act with the Daughters of the Midnight Sun in an undated photograph. The women's group started in 1948, performing floorshows and raising money for charity. - NNSL file photo

In 1948, 15 women got together and formed the Daughters of the Midnight Sun (DMS). While the miners had their social groups, the DMS was formed to give the women in town a group of their own.

"Originally all the gals here decided that they needed a place they could all get together," said Pat McMahon, a former member of the DMS.

Carolyn England joined the group in 1946. She had heard about the group one day while buying a loaf of bread.

"So I thought, well, it's a good way to get to know people," she said.

From then on, England was caught up in the circle of the DMS. The group was largely known for the floorshows they would put on twice a year. Always held at the Elks Club, the group would sell tickets to fund their charity work.

The show would carry some sort of theme to reflect what was going on in the city, or just for a laugh. England remembers when the city was considering legalizing prostitution. The ladies put on a skit, dressed up as prostitutes waiting in line for their licences.

McMahon said they would always have a few "smaller costumes for girls with legs."

"It was a real hot commodity," said McMahon of the shows. "That was live entertainment when you didn't have live entertainment in town."

Timmins has created a tribute in the form of an art piece, The Miner's Moll, which is on display at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. The painting, inspired by a photograph from one of these floorshows, is part of the city's Heritage Art Show. The Miner's Moll pictures a woman dressed as a miner, dancing with another woman.

Mary Bryant, who joined the DMS in 1975, remembers the group's many word-plays on PWA (Pacific Western Airlines). One year they nicknamed it Piggly-Wiggly Airlines, piling all the characters of the North onto the plane throughout the skit, including one giant polar bear.

"I think we had more fun rehearsing for those things," said England.

To sell tickets to the floorshows, the women would travel to the bars in groups, demanding drinks and making themselves known in town. The group once cornered a politician on Franklin Avenue and covered his balding head in lipstick kisses. McMahon said the man had a hard time explaining it to his wife, who had an even harder time removing all the lipstick.

Beyond all the fun, the group was a charity organization. The money raised from raffles and the floorshows would go towards sending candies, oranges and other treats to NWT communities at Christmas, to foster children, and to whomever else they could help. When families had no money for heating oil over the winter, the DMS would help them out anonymously.

The DMS faded in the '80s as Yellowknife continued to grow and entertainment became more readily available.

"There just became so many things to do," said Bryant.

"New people came in from Ottawa. I don't think they understood us," said England.