Lawnmowers roaring in all directions, the village prepares for picnic day at the old memorial park down the street. Neighbours surrounding the park work hard to clip hedges, plant flowers, sweep sidewalks and wash down lawn furniture to prepare for expected visitors. Some put up Canadian flags, discreetly. A gentle sense of prideful welcome pervades. Little children, excited to the point of shrill squeals and giggles race around their parents as last-minute work is finished up. Small groups of pre-teen kids saunter up and down the village streets checking out any action. At dusk, in the cool quiet of approaching night a few firecrackers are let loose to signify that these youth are there, ready and willing to raise just a little hell as usual. All these folks are in readiness for the annual memorial and school picnic held in the park, second Saturday of June every year, rain or shine.
The park itself has been a designated memorial park since 1920 honouring the local war dead and veterans. Surrounded by towering ancient pine trees, the park sprawls to provide a couple of baseball diamonds, a long yard for footrace, a restored pioneer log cabin, a grandstand for variety shows and a covered picnic pavilion for community group barbeques. A sturdy stone cenotaph takes pride of place in the entrance area. A brick walkway and young trees are designated with memorial significance as families have purchased engraved surfaces to honour their lost loved ones and to signify their existing families. It is a place of shared fun, respect and a gathering place for all ages, affectionately just known as ” the park”.
The picnic tradition itself is long-established as a day for the surrounding one room schools to gather for a day of parades, races, baby shows, baseball games, variety shows, dancing, community bonding, contests and programs. The school children and their teachers prepared for weeks ahead to represent their little schools in the parade. Girls wearing white shirts, marching skorts (half skirt and half shorts) and boys wearing dark pants and white shirts completed their outfits with towering cardboard bandleader hats bedecked with varied coloured crepe paper school ribbons, lettering and shouldering school sashes. The tallest boy and girl led the school on the parade route holding a teacher made banner proudly heralding the name of the school in the district. On rainy days the crepe paper colouring ran all over the white outfits. This group of several little schools would circle the flag pole at the cenotaph while the whirling bagpipes and drum corps announced the arrival of the dark blazered war veterans marching in their own regimented formation. God Save The Queen and a few speeches from municipal and political dignitaries and the picnic was officially set in motion for a glorious day of eating, racing around socializing. Everybody went to the picnic and you never were late for the parade.
As the years went by, changes to the parade were unavoidable. The schools all consolidated into bigger schools and the veterans became too elderly to march in the parade or had passed away. The parade kept its place of prominence by keeping the bag pipes, drum corps and included the flashy marching band of the Shriners, resplendent in their red and gold robes and impressive red shoes. Local groups on homemade floats waved at their neighbours lining the street and tossed handfuls of candy to the kids. The school still entered a token group of students marching or dancing along behind a few parent volunteers. Vintage cars and the volunteer fire department letting the siren wail brought up the rear. O Canada is sung at the centoph flagpole and a few welcoming words from the municipal official are said as a welcoming gesture.
The last couple of years there hasn’t been a parade. That’s right, no parade. The funny thing though is that everyone was talking about the parade. The strawberry pie ladies missed the parade. The Scout leaders missed the parade. The parents gathered in groups and talked about the lack of a parade. The hot dog guys and the gate keepers all mentioned the change of not having a parade. Little kids ran their races perhaps oblivious to the change and still enjoyed their day.
Oh, and the scuttlebutt of the day is that there will be a parade again, next year.