Sour toe

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Captain Dick Stevenson steers his own ship. Locals call him the most interesting and mysterious man in Whitehorse. His main claim to fame: Dawson City’s legendary Sourtoe Cocktail, an alcoholic drink with a mummified toe in it.

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On this abnormally warm afternoon, Stevenson takes in the fresh mountain air on his regular trek along the Yukon River.

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As the inventor of the Sourtoe Cocktail, the now-retired ship captain founded an exclusive membership club with one initiation rule: to sip on a glass of the gnarly concoction, allowing the toe to graze one’s lips. Stevenson says he has shared over 2,700 drinks of the infamous salty adult beverage.

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Stevenson tells his tale as he zips along a waterfront path toward the old S.S. Klondike, a national historic site run by Parks Canada.

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It’s been about two years since Stevenson last swigged down a glass of pickled toe dipped in alcohol. But it isn’t an easy task to avoid. “Somebody will come along, and, ‘want a toe?’” he says.

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Stevenson, who worked on a 50-passenger paddlewheel boat, says he officially steered his last bow in 1995. He arrived from New Brunswick in 1956. He says he also worked as a gold miner and logger in the area.

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He still wears his pride – and a badge of honour – on his shoulder.

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And his flag flies wildly in the wind on the hottest day Whitehorse has seen this summer.

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After a 9-kilometre riverside quest, Stevenson retreats back to his cabin. Kim Hession, a Parks Canada supervisor, says she often sees Stevenson motor by the old paddlewheel. He’s a speedy fellow who usually keeps to himself, she says. “You’re lucky you got to talk to him.”

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Dana Hatherly