Fun and Games
A grand time is had by all when Vernon goes cow-town, Kelowna has a regatta or Princeton runs a ski-meet
E. Lambert Sharp
A SMALL town can be a place in which to stagnate, or it can be a fascinating meeca for a whole province, an exciting annual rendezvous for thousands of sportsmen and funseekers. It can entertain celebrities. It can bring trade to its merchants, it can make money for its charities and its war effort if it will learn how to play.
Its success depends upon the individual citizen, on his ability to throw his full weight into hundred per cent co-operation, to forget the boundaries of his own church, his own lodge, his own circle of friends.
Once begun by one town the thing becomes contagious. In and around British Columbia’s Okanagan district there are three towns whose citizens have learned how to have fun on a community basis. They are Vernon and Kelowna on Okanagan Lake, and their southwesterly neighbor, Princeton.
Once a year the Vernon Kinsmen meet in someone’s office and decide that they emphatically cannot and will not put on the big two-day "Frontier Nights” show. It is too much trouble. It absorbs every Sunday and half holiday for two months prior to its opening. The terrific accumulation of detail work is a headache and the result of unaccustomed horseback riding is a pain, too. The decision is thumbs down, no.
When that necessary preliminary is over they throw aw-ay their razors and get down to work. Two months later Vernon, at the head of the Okanagan Valley fruit country, goes cow-town.
Among the towns of this British Columbia valley and district, "Frontier Nights” is distinctly and uniquely Vernon’s own attraction. “Frontier Nights” draws its crowd from a two hundred mile radius. During ’thirty-eight, ’thirty-nine, and ’forty-one the visitors arrived in increasing numbers with mounting enthusiasm. The fun-seekers crowded into the little city until the population was tripled. The horses ran, the fans bet, the hotels overflowed, and the midway did a roaring business in a boisterous, carefree revival of pioneer days.
But back of this were the weary and grim-faced men of the committees, drawn from every organization and business in town and chosen for just one reason, their efficiency. Men who were not afraid of hard work, or of discussing the expenditure of the show in terms of four figures.
When this western show was handed over by the city to the Kinsmen Club in 1937, it was a sick baby. A fund of one hundred and thirty dollars did go with it. With this sole aid the Kinsmen faced their problem.
It had to be big. It had to be economical to put on and inexpensive to enjoy. It had to be novel, colorful, romantic, gay. It had to be fun.
They wrote to the Vancouver Exhibition and the Calgary Stampede for entertainment ideas, but in each case the costs quoted were prohibitive. The cheapest advertising they could find was in themselves, so they grew beards. By two weeks previous
to the show practically every man in town had grown a beard under penalty of sheer social ostracism. They wore plug hats, ten-gallon hats, buttoned boots, claw-hammer coats, lumberjack shirts with vivid handkerchiefs knotted at their throats. Many of the costumes were authentic, treasured possessions of the old-timers who first settled in the sunbaked hills.
The girl clerks in the stores and the Colonel’s lady donned an amazing number of petticoats and floated about demurely like earth-bound balloons of crinoline, starched cambric, and ribbon.
Every store on each side of the main street for its entire length was faced with bark slabs. A jewellery store advertised light blacksmithing. There were hitching posts, buggies, buckboards, and the constant clop, clop, of horses’ hoofs in the street. Vernon had stepped back a half century.
It was advertising of the most potent type. It worked so well the first year that it became standard technique. In the weeks before the carnival’s opening each summer Vernon sends bearded delegates, romantic cowgirls, and sweet ladies in crinoline to every sports day in the valley and points north. A crew of pretty girls goes along to sell tickets on the Derby Sweepstake. Vernon’s advertising committee is made up of men who are constantly travelling about the country, propa-
gandists for gaiety armed with billboards, programs —and tickets.
For three or four Saturday nights prior to the opening, a Kangaroo Court is installed on the platform uf a large truck. The court moves up and down Vernon’s main street in search of the beardless male. A paid victim is seen in the crowd, the "officials” close in on him. There is a spectacular fight, the "prisoner” is duly tried and dunked in a bathtub of water standing on the truck platform. The crowd cheers. Another offender goes under, and clean-shaven visitors begin to look uneasy Finally there is a roar of "Who’s next?” and men can be seen ducking for the back alleys. It always works.
During this advertising campaign the men become deeply attached to their horses—one so much so that he refused to go into the "bar room” unless he could do so mounted on the back of his favorite horse. The floor wasn’t quite equal to the strain. They crashed through, and horse and rider had to be pulled out of the basement.
With careful regard for payday, the "Frontier Nights” show is always held the Wednesday and Thursday most closely following the fifteenth of August.
The "Frontier Nights” show begins with a milelong parade. Soldiers march, bands play, a squad
of pretty Drum Majorettes from the U.S. flash by in their blue, white, and gold uniforms. There is a rattling stagecoach that has known the romance of the Cariboo Trail. There is an old auto, vintage 1900, a tandem bicycle, a penny-farthing bicycle, buckboards, wild Indians, rangers, trappers, loosejointed cowboys, three-cornered, U-necked cayuses, and some good horseflesh. This vivid panorama of swashbuckling swagger and historic charm winds through the streets in the early evening and draws the crowd with it to the park where the midway raises a noisy welcome.
The carnival provides the most work, the most noise, and the most money of all “Frontier Nights” attractions. No purchases can be made except with “phoney money” bought at the entrance. Everyone becomes a “millionaire” and the expansive spirit grows until a man is ashamed to show a mere “tenspot.” Ten thousand dollar “fortunes” slip through people’s fingers like water in Vernon’s land of make-believe. The midway is hired from concessionaires but for greater profit the Kinsmen and their assistants operate it themselves. The club’s canny finance committee, discovering dances profitable, now ties up every hall in town “so no one can chisel.”
Artificial whiskers, professionally applied, are sold to visitors who feel uncomfortably modern. A
prize of twenty-five dollars is given for the best genuine beard. The head of the beard committee is a barber. The hair lies deep on his floor when “Frontier Nights” is over. Last summer one competitor so far outdid the others in hairy growth that his position was assured, until a “dark horse” emerged from the bush country to claim a cut in the prize money, after which he and his magnificent foliage disappeared back into the hills. The man remains a complete mystery.
“Frontier Nights” is not regarded from a mercenary angle. The net proceeds in the past have run from $1,800 to $2,300, and these profits were previously directed to such club activities as the Crippled Children’s Fund and the Kinsmen’s pet enterprise, the improvement of a beach purchased as a holiday resort for underprivileged children. Last summer, of course, everything was earmarked for the war.
However hopefully viewed, the racetrack is definitely not a paying proposition. But—no
horses, no people. So a thousand dollars in purses is put up, the horses run and the pari-mutuel operates under government supervision. An unwritten law prescribes that there shall be a number of races for Indian riders and their mounts. These entries provide a dash of vivid color for the spectators and intense grief for the race committee. Every
second Indian becomes afflicted with the idea that he is left holding the dirtier end of a particularly dirty stick and, to complicate matters still further, develops a sudden stubborn ignorance of the English language.
Vernon plays naturally and spontaneously. With a welcome whoop of "Howdy Stranger!” the town tosses its ten-gallon hat in the air and plunges headlong into boisterous frontier-style entertainment.
WHEN the Kelowna Regatta began thirty-five years ago from an old C.P.R. wharf it was just a small splash in the Okanagan Lake.
Today it is a three-ringed show of international interest staged in a setting of lawn, garden, and beautiful aquatic buildings. Across the clear lake is a background of rolling mountains.
Kelowna’s annual regatta is claimed to be the biggest aquatic event of its kind west of the Great Lakes. It has become a huge, two-day water gala to which fifteen outside organizations regularly send their best entrants. Twenty-five B.C. championship events were run in 1941. Canadian marks have been established. In the last seven years $10,000 has been spent on the buildings alone, for permanent improvements. During 1940 and 1941 $4,000 was raised to help Canada’s war effort.
It is still called a regatta and it hasn’t missed a year in the thirty-five; but it didn’t just grow, it was built. Ten years ago it showed signs of developing rigor mortis. To save it the town’s younger men took it over and reorganized it along more businesslike lines. They put an end to pestering merchants for prizes. They fought the prejudice that did not permit U.S. amateurs to compete for B.C. championships. They let down the bars against outside competition and took a whipping, watched all the prizes leave Kelowna while they quietly, persistently went on with the expert training of home talent to win them back.
They made the thing stand on its own feet. They invigorated it with good sportsmanship and genuine hospitality. They timed it with rigid precision. They illuminated it with fireworks and floodlights. They injected humor in stunts, and beauty in the charm of lovely girls. They groomed it, smoothed it, and worked over it twelve months in the year.
Finally Kelowna aquatic aspirants stopped taking a beating. Home talent was able to offer keen competition to all of western Canada as the town began reaping the benefit of free swim classes, of months and years of turning school children into water babies. Championship material was developed only because a great number of swimmers were brought under the searching eye of an expert coach. The most talented were selected for intensified training. Healthy and tanned, the children learned their three “R.’s”—relaxation, rhythm, and respiration—and Kelowna looked ahead to greater victories.
From the free classes the best swimmers graduate to the Ogopogo Swim Club which has developed such outstanding amateur competitors as Dot Smith, leading Western diver, and Alice Thomson, holder of the British Columbia titles for the hundred yard, two hundred yard, and mile swims, and winner of the prized Hiram Walker trophy for the ladies’ aggregate during 1940. All Kelowna swimmers of importance were developed during the last ten years by Kelowna coaches. It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but for the past four years Kelowna has led in points in senior events.
Outside competition has been the greatest single factor in building this water show. Kelowna’s own athletes and coaches are keen for it. Increasingly they are getting it. In 1939 the University of Washington sent rowers to the Kelowna Regatta for the first time. Previously only the Vancouver and Nelson Rowing Clubs had competed against the “Orchard City” oarsmen.
The best swimmers and divers in the Pacific Northwest have taken part, coming back summer after summer. Last year Percy Norman, one of Canada’s outstanding swimming coaches, brought in fifteen of his stars from the Vancouver Amateur
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Swimming Club. Archie McKinnon, of the Victoria Y.M.C.A., arrived a day or so ahead, with fifteen of the Island City’s best aquatic stars. Fifty competitors arrived from across the line. From Spokane, Washington, Jim Burns brought up a contingent of swimmers and divers that included Al Worrel and Virginia Panabaker, men’s and women’s diving champions of that section.
When war was declared the Aquatic Committee decided, not on a halt in the annual schedule, but on an increased effort with added incentive. The regatta became a part of the war effort. Public response was magnificent. Visitors poured into the little city. Never before had the advance attendance from far points been as large. The CBC’s Jeff Davis, special events commentator, was sent to Kelowna to put the program on a western hookup, and the official printed program took on the proportions of a small magazine.
In the front of the program each year appear these words: “Events
will commence on time.” That is no mere statement, it is an inexorable law. As many as four events take place at once. The whole aquatic panorama unfolds with smooth precision. The winged grace of the divers, the flashing speed of the swimmers — these close to the pavilion. Beyond that the distance swim, the war canoes, water skiing, surfboard riding, aquaplaning, log rolling, and all novelty events. And in the distance the white wings of graceful sailing craft move against the far shore line and the dark bulk of the mountains. There are thirty different types of boat races.
At eight-thirty p.m. there begins the Pacific Northwest’s most spectacular illuminated aquashow. This includes log birling by world’s champions from the New York World’s Fair, fancy diving, and the famous fire dive, in which the diver’s clothes are soaked in gasoline. There is water skiing from an eight-foot jump, said to be the highest in the world. The daring performers are Kelowna’s own Gordon Finch and Bruce Paige.
For added spectacle last year there was a mock battle between a “British convoy” and a “German cruiser,” while the band played “Rule, Britannia!” and as a lusty bit of melodrama the beautiful Lady of the Lake
and her pretty attendants were aboard the menaced ship. On shore “Hitler” was burned at the stake, while citizens threw sacrifices of war saving stamps on the flames.
Individual absorption in the Kelowna Regatta is the town’s outstanding characteristic. The spirit of hospitality lingers like a charm. Permanent improvements for the show are constantly being made, and correspondence is already going out in preparation for the 1942 meet. For there will be another regatta this August, next year, and the year after that.
On Skis By Night
AS FAR as is known, the wild,
■ Norselike hills of the Similkameen, had not been marked with the trail of skis until a night in March, 1913. Hans Frieding was working in the mine at Copper Mountain, B. C. He received a message that his wife was ill. He strapped on his skis and travelled by moonlight the twelve steep, treacherous miles to his home in Princeton. Hans’ son was born a few days later.
A story like that takes hold in a mining district. It had drama, and daring. It revealed a swift, practical way to travel when all trails were impassable. The Scandinavian had shown them.
But it wasn’t until Hans’ son was fifteen years old that skiing really became an organized sport in the valley.
Meanwhile the Phoenix mine closed down, and the Phoenix Ski Club moved to Princeton in its entirety. Andy Johnson, still in Princeton today, was the first president of that first club. With these men came a world of talent and good stubborn determination. They started the Princeton Ski Club.
The first meeting was taken up with the election of officers. The second was concerned with an interesting debate as to the language to be used. It was unanimously agreed that English should be the language of the Club. That members should have the privilege of using any of the Scandinavian languages if they found this a better medium of expression, but all languages should immediately be translated into English. The day following this second meet-
ing the first public display of ski racing was held.
Gordon Frieding, son of Hans Frieding, placed first in the Juniors. Blood tells.
By the end of the month the membership had passed the hundred mark. Ten years later a doctor declared that the only individuals in Princeton who did not ski were under a year in age. The town’s present population is about two thousand, five hundred.
There follows an extract from a letter distributed during the club’s first year: “It is the ambition of the officers and members of the Princeton Ski Club to make the Similkameen Valley the centre of attraction for winter sports . . . for the Province at large . . .
“The Ski Club has the jumping hill well under construction, and when completed no other ski hill in Canada will compare with it. The hill was selected by the well-known Ski Jumper, Mr. Engvald “Minnie” Engen, and it might be said that he is the daddy of ski jumping in B.C. The hill is of a natural jump curve, and the jumper can be seen from start to finish . . . There is plenty of hill to jump 200 feet, and it is hoped that the world’s record of 240 feet will be broken on this hill . . .”
The sky was the limit.
Financing was involved and spectacular, but the thing went soundly on. Thousands of dollars worth of volunteer work was put on the hill. A spacious chalet was built.
Setbacks were encountered. During preparation for the first really big event the Similkameen Hotel burned to the ground. Princeton’s reaction was to put its children three in a bed and offer visitors the warm hospitality of private homes.
During this time a man named Bert Irwin spent his winter evenings
making and mending skis for girls and boys. Bert smoked Amber tobacco, and the tins in which it came were often used in ski repairs. Soon the children demanded the name-piece of the tin on their skis as Bert Irwin’s signature. They formed their own “Amber” ski club, and the moving spirit of it was the man who spent his evenings making and mending skis. His two sons have become famous in the West as the “Skiing Irwins.”
Since the Western Canadian Ski Championships were first held there in 1938 Princeton’s ski meet has become an annual three-day snow frolic offering keen sport for all competitors, with thrilling and colorful entertainment for the evergrowing hundreds of spectators who come in from the coast, from the Okanagan Valley and the Kootenays. Visitors fill their eyes with the beauty of the Similkameen Valley a dazzling sweep of sunlit snow encompassed by silent pine forests—and rub their eyes to see Princeton’s eightand ten-year-olds racing down the steep slalom course with the nonchalance of veteran skiers.
There’s always a big dance Saturday night during the meet, with everyone in ski togs. Hospitality seems to reach a new high each year as visitors of other years return with new enthusiasts and all are warmly welcomed by Princeton’s slightly skimad citizens.
But love of skiing doesn’t entirely explain the Princeton spirit. The folks in Princeton have something in common with the folks in Kelowna and Vernon and other towns like them. They’ve discovered how to have fun in true community fashion, how to welcome the stranger to their streets and break down the tight little cliques that can stifle smalltown life.