By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre officials are getting ready for the annual Festival Days celebration like they do every year, but this year they're also bracing for more Canadians. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of them.
That's thanks to Havre Mayor Bob Rice's efforts to welcome Havre's northern neighbors. In April Rice declared the Friday that kicks off Festival Days - Sept. 19 - as Canadian Day, and extended open invitations to residents of several Canadian cities to attend a free barbecue and car show in Havre that afternoon. Rice said he's expecting a good turnout. The problem is, nobody knows how good.
"We're going to prepare food for 800 and try to have backup," Rice said. "We're hoping by next month to have some RSVPs."
Rice said he has received confirmation that the mayors of Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, Alberta, and Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, will make the trip, as well as a reporter from the Calgary Sun and David Johnston, co-chair of the Calgary Canada Day Committee. Rice accepted an invitation to attend the July 1 celebration in Calgary's Canada Olympic Park.
Rice said it is "very possible" that many more than 800 will show up.
"I've gotten e-mails from different places in Canada that I haven't even been to," he said.
That's not surprising, given the exposure Rice has had: Last April he pitched Canadian Day during more than a dozen radio interviews, including one with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that brought feedback from as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia. He was also interviewed by a television station and a few newspapers.
In June, Rice's invitation was the subject of a short feature in the Canadian weekly newsmagazine Maclean's, which has a readership of about 3 million, and a column by Rice himself in the Calgary Herald, which has a circulation of about 120,000.
Medicine Hat Mayor Garth Vallely said this morning he is planning to come down, and that he's not the only one.
"My wife and I are coming down, and a number of (other) Southern Alberta mayors are coming down as well," Vallely said, naming mayors from the Alberta cities of Lethbridge, Brooks and Bow Island.
"Mayor Rice and I have developed quite a friendship over this last couple of years and we're just trying to promote and revitalize our good neighbors policy we've had over the years," Vallely said.
Mary Lou Hansen, executive director of the Medicine Hat and District Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has chartered three 14-passenger vans to bring people to Havre. "Lots of people are driving on their own," she added.
She said the Chamber has been working to spread the news of the event and that the local newspaper and television station have also publicized it, so she is sure a large number of people are aware of it. She also said a bagpipe band from Medicine Hat will be coming down to play at the barbecue and the parade.
"There'll be plenty of activities," Rice said, between the free burgers, the car show, the beard contest, and possibly a street dance later in the evening. There may be live music from a bandstand set up on the town square during the barbecue. A few local bands have even asked if they could have a battle of the bands during the barbecue, he said.
Which raises the question: Could the convergence of Canadians turn Festival Days into a sequel to that fateful August weekend in 1969, when 400,000 people - six times the number expected - converged on Max Yasgur's New York State Medicine Hat will be coming down to play at the barbecue and the annual Festival Days parade.
"There'll be plenty of activities," Rice said, between the free burgers, the car show, a beard contest, and possibly a street dance later in the evening. There may be live music from a bandstand set up on the Town Square during the barbecue. A few local bands have even asked if they could have a battle of the bands during the barbecue, he said.
Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, said she doesn't anticipate there being more than 800 people.
"Eight hundred people is a lot of people," Vandeberg said, adding that previous barbecues the Chamber has sponsored drew 500 people. "Bob (Rice) and I thought by upping it to 800 we should be pretty comfortable in covering our bases," Vandeberg said.
But she said she can't tell what kind of numbers to expect.
"There's no way," she said.
Regardless, Rice expects the event will be a success.
"I'm anticipating it being a really great weekend," he said. A band of Canadian bagpipers will march in the parade Saturday morning, Rice said, and members of the Canadian Royal Mounted Police may also ride in the parade.
Rice's efforts to preserve Havre's relationship across the border began in April after he heard rumors that some Canadians had been denied service at a local gas station because their government refused to support the war in Iraq. Rice launched a public relations campaign of sorts, declaring a Canadian Day at the start of the annual Festival Days celebration in September and speaking with officials from Calgary, Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
By May, Rice had been interviewed by more than a dozen Canadian radio stations, a Canadian television station, and a handful of newspapers. One of the Canadian radio programs was broadcasted by National Public Radio in the United States. Rice received e-mails from radio listeners in Calgary, Edmonton and San Francisco.
In July Rice was one of the guests of honor during the Calgary Stampede, the city's annual 10-day festival. He met more people, and invited them to Havre.
The Canadian Day barbecue will begin about 5 p.m. at the Town Square, Rice said, and will probably go until about 8 p.m. There may be a street dance later in the evening, he said.
The car show will begin at the parking lot of Independence Bank about 4 p.m., he said. Registration forms can be picked up at City Hall or the Chamber office.
"You bring your favorite car, your hot rod or whatever, and the people who visit the show and shine will vote on their favorite piece," he said.
Festival Days runs Sept. 19-21. Here are some of the other events that will take place during the weekend:
The beard contest will begin on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Square. Prizes will be awarded to the winners of five categories: longest, whitest, best salt and pepper, best groomed and scruffiest. There is no entry fee. To register, call 265-4383.
The Great Northern Montana Stampede Parade will begin at 10 a.m. at Rod's Drive Inn. The parade route will go north on Fifth Avenue, but the parade route is still being finalized, Vandeberg said.
The Great Ball Drop will be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday on the steps of the Hill County Courthouse. Participants purchase numbered tickets that correspond to 3,000 numbered golf balls that are dropped from the steps. Ticketholders with the numbers of the first four golf balls to cross a line in front of the steps win a prize.
The Historical Brunch Walk, sponsored by the Tourism Committee of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, will begin with a brunch in the Heritage Center lobby at 11 a.m. Sunday. A tour of the Havre historic district led by Toni Hagener will follow about 11:45 a.m. The cost is $8 for the brunch and tour and $5 for the tour alone. Anyone interested should call 265-4383 to preregister before Sept. 17.
The Festival Run-Walk will begin with the 5K beginning at 10 a.m. on Sunday, and continue with the 1-mile at 11 a.m. Prerace registration forms can be picked up at Gary & Leo's IGA, Havre Dental Group and the Chamber.
The 48-hour softball tournament begins 6 p.m. Friday and runs continuously until 6 p.m. on Sunday. The registration cost is $150 with a $75 deposit. The slots will be filled on a first come, first served basis. For more information, contact Tammy Boles at 265-8861.
A fire hose coupling contest, sponsored by the Havre Fire Department, will be held on Saturday, beginning at 1 p.m. at Pepin Park. To register call Mike Anderson at 265-6511.
The Hi-Line Quilt Guild's fall quilt show will be held at the Holiday Village Shopping Center on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Entry forms can be picked up and dropped off at Crazy Quilters and are due by Sept. 10.