Secret Days of Spring

When questioned about their favourite time of year in Fernie, a lot of locals will answer spring or fall. This may sound odd– outdoor amenities are closed in the earlier and latter parts of the seasons. Outdoor pursuits are limited due to muddy trails and seasonal restrictions. Few bands visit the bars. So if we love the vibrancy and liveliness of our little town so much, why are these cool, quiet changeable months so popular? Perhaps it’s because for those who live here year round, there’s no merry-go-round of volunteering or crazy schedule of activities, or maybe because there’s time to work on a regular training schedule for that race or event or just catch up on all the things that have been put aside. Or possibly it’s because when there are events, we get to keep them all to ourselves- our own little secrets that everyone just knows to turn up for. It’s not that we don’t welcome all the big summer and winter events and the visiting crowds they bring- we have a blast at those and there’s no doubt that they’re hugely valuable to our standard of living and thoroughly enjoyed by all who participate. But sometimes it’s nice to turn up and know every face at an event, and those events generally happen in our quieter months.

So I’m a little torn about telling you about this June event, although I think the cat may already be out of the bag. The annual Community Raft Race has been one of the most popular spring events for 15 years. Despite an almost non-existent amount of promotion, Fernie’s two river rafting companies have no trouble filling every raft they can put in the water (14 last year,) and providing an evening of friendly, family fun for just $10 per person. Since 1999, Blair and Lynn at Canyon Raft Company have quietly organized this community event almost single-handedly. They plan and schedule the evening’s activities, take registrations and co-ordinate guides and boats with Mountain High River Adventures. They painstakingly paint the rocks that will be used as trophies- you can see several of these around town as doorstops at local businesses. And they stockpile kindly donated prizes. I’m going to throw a little request out for them here and say wouldn’t it be great if they didn’t have to ask for a single prize this year? Maybe some of those businesses that never get asked could take the pressure off those that get asked all the time and just drop off a little donation or a gift item to save them this one job…

The event begins at 6pm sharp at the Coal Creek put-in when Blair jumps on the hood of one of his rafting shuttles to throw down a few rules and explain to any newbies how the race works. Make sure to register in advance by calling Canyon Raft Co on 250-423-7226 and show up with your team early. As Lynn says, this used to be a last-minute event but in recent years all boats have been booked well in advance and the chances of getting in on the day are slim – although you can bring your own boat for the same fee – all proceeds will go towards supporting the planned Fernie Whitewater Park. Costumes are welcome- pirates, ninjas, and Hawaiian boats are popular but anything goes. Families are encouraged and there’s no set age limit. Blair enjoys getting everyone out to have fun on the water so he wastes no time getting everyone on the buses so they can leave for the Dicken Road put-in. Leave your car or bike at Coal Creek as this is where the race ends. After a short drive, it’s off the bus again and a scramble for all teams to find their favourite guide; competition is fierce, which is amusing as all the guides are equally popular. Then it’s into the water for some serious (ahem) team training. After a gentle float to the East Fernie Bridge and under strictest controls, the race begins in an orderly and courteous manner. Well, reality has a way of messing with protocol somewhat, but after a few little friendly challenges, one raft will manage to run the gauntlet and make it out in front. The first raft to make it under the West Fernie Bridge is crowned the winner at the awards ceremony held later that night at the Bridge Bistro, with various categories up for grabs. Fittingly, the event will be held on the very last day of spring this year- June 20; the eve of summer. So we’ll celebrate our secret spring as long as we can but in the spirit of community that Fernie is so famous for, everyone is invited to join in. Just don’t tell anyone.