I grew up in a smallish farming community that happened to rest between two lakes. For most of the year a sleepy little place; but in summer – the population nearly doubled with vacationing sun seekers and transient farm workers. Summers were crazy – not for the Peach Festival or Square Dance Jamboree – but for my first taste of one giant street festival. I use the term “street festival” loosely as activities were far from sanctioned or organized. All the same, it was a time when many like minded people gathered for one purpose. In reality there were several reasons my town became a summer destination. First we had the “hippies” who hitch-hiked across the country to pitch a tent and pick fruit. Next college students from the coast and neighbouring Alberta looking for a few days of fun. Families on road trips, and last but not least – the Hells Angels.
The Hells Angels had a private festival. Every year on the August long weekend hundreds of them roared into town. With nervous anticipation we waited for the rumble of Harleys to echo through the valley. One year they dragged picnic tables to the centre of Main Street and set them on fire. This was beyond exciting; we were after all small town dreamers, starved for worldly distraction. At least I was.
Not nearly as exciting yet certainly the “festival” most vacationers attended was “floating down the channel” and the “Main St. water fight”. Both activities required moving between the two lakes, drinking way too much beer, and eating watermelons that had been filled with vodka. The channel was a slow moving waterway connecting the lakes; inner tubes, water mattresses, anything that floated – tossed into the slimy “river” at one end, spitting you out at the other lake a few hours later – sunburned, far drunker than when you started, and itching for a water fight.
The water fight began as soon as visitors snapped out of off their hangovers. From early afternoon until well into the night vehicles cruised Main Street soaking anything that moved. Tactics were considered weeks in advance; beds of pick-up trucks transformed into moving water fortresses. Holding tanks and clever pump devices fuelled by beer, watermelon, and the carefree days of summer. A tap mid point outside the Dairy Queen turned DQ into the staging area; it was from here word of another “festival” was spread – the “bush party”.
Bush parties served as a destination once the local RCMP had enough of drunken water warriors. A simple premise; the location secret until the day of, then passed by word of mouth. Kegs of beer, amplified music, and bonfires attracted hundreds of fun seekers into the surrounding woods. Smaller festivals took place at the roller rink, or race track, sometimes an impromptu party sprang up at a secluded beach or camp-ground.
I still view each one of these activities as a festival. People gathered from everywhere to blow off steam, take part in a ritual, or simply stumble upon something a little peculiar. A lot has changed since those days; the towns population still doubles in summer, but a city by-law bans water guns within city limits Another by-law sees the Hells Angels met on one side of town by the RCMP and escorted to the other. The channel now taken over by enterprising businessmen renting banana and peddle boats for the ride between the lakes.
Summer always ended; motels and camp-grounds boarded up for the winter, gray hair replaced blonde, we settled in for the winter. In the back of our minds we knew it was only 10 months until festival season would once again turn our little corner of the world into something fantastic.