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History Festival

Keystone Kops at Pioneer Home.

Alaska Day Festival, Incorporated, was formed as a non-profit organization in 1954. The Alaska Day Festival annually commemorates the Transfer of the Russian claim of Alaska to the United States of America at Sitka on October 18,1867, and celebrates the diversity of cultures and historical perspective of our people.

As we focus on the annual commemoration of Alaska Day, we hope to inspire a deeper exploration into the cultures and history of that era. We aim to stimulate the imaginations of our current generation, and to look beyond our own histories, and to better appreciate the experiences of others.

1949 dedication of "The Prospector"

The day has rapidly grown from a local celebration to a widely renowned occasion and each successive year attracts more guests from all parts of Alaska and the Lower 48.

The first recorded celebration of Alaska Day, in 1949, was highlighted by the unveiling of the bronze statue of "The Prospector" on the lawn of the Pioneer's Home. Molded by sculptor Alonzo Victor Lewis is the image of William Fonda, better known as "Skagway Will", the two-ton statue is a tribute to Alaska's pioneers.

Ladies at the Ball Ladies at the Alaska Day Ball.
Photo by James Poulson

US Army Band
Color Guard from the US Army at the National Cemetery
Sitka, Alaska
Photo by James Poulson
The festival spans several days and typically includes: the costume ball, with prizes for the best period costumes; a concert with a variety of local and visiting performers, usually including the Gaaja Heen dancers, the New Archangel Dancers, and a U.S. Army Band; long distance races; an air-sea rescue demonstratation by the Coast Guard; open house on board a Coast Guard Cutter or Naval Vessel; and a tea at the Pioneer's Home.

On Alaska Day itself, many dignitaries and representative groups from all branches of the armed forces join in a memorial service at the Sitka National Cemetery and in a parade through Sitka's business district. Local school bands, marching units, and costumed celebrants also participate in the parade, which ends near the site of the major event of the festival, the re-enactment of the 1867 ceremony atop Castle Hill.