He was an ideas man, many would agree. So when Ken James decided to start a massive three-day event to give Hope residents something to celebrate after a gruelling tourist season, it didn’t seem out of character for him.
“Ken had the idea that, after a busy summer for Hope and the tourists, they’d have a little celebration,” said Bud Gardner, who has been involved in Brigade Days from its inception. “A local celebration for the local people after working hard all summer with the tourists.”
So Brigade Days, running Sept. 7 to 9, was born and has remained a constant in a town which has seen immense changes over the 50 years since the event was founded.
“He was an idea man, more than anything. He came up with all kinds of stuff. He was a bit of a maverick,” said Hank de Meulder of founder Ken James. Right up until James’ passing, de Meulder said the pair would spend time together and have fun making light of life.
De Meulder is organizing the trade parade this year, akin to a local business trade show, and has been working on various aspects of Brigade Days for 30 years.
Funny inventions included painting James’ docile blonde dog with stripes — creating the Spuzzum Tiger — or inventing steel wool sheep because, well, steel wool has to come from somewhere. One such fantastical invention was meant to keep the rain away from Brigade Days, with the help of the children of Hope and a load of bananas.
“The banana was very important for Brigade Days,” de Meulder recalled. “Kids were taught that they all should get a banana. And then on Friday night, peel a banana just before going to bed and put the banana peel under the pillow and then recite ‘banana peel, banana peel, now I appeal, do not let it rain on our parade’. And when the kids did this, then it would be nice weather.”
Those ideas, and there were many, needed a huge amount of volunteers to accomplish them. For most of its history, Brigade Days was a fully volunteer-run endeavour assisted by the many service groups who took on different functions.
“If you start totalling the volunteer groups, it’s enormous,” de Meulder said.
Some endeavours which were very hard work, such as the raffling off of a car each Brigade Days, are no longer a part of the event. Others which were more about the fun than anything else, such as the Keystone Cops who would check if attendees were wearing their Briggie Buttons and put those who didn’t have a button in a makeshift jail, have been replaced by wristbands.
Some parts of Brigade Days — Saturday parade and the Sunday demolition derby, as well as fireworks — have persisted each year.
Yet each year there is an effort to bring in new ideas. All manner of races have graced Brigade Days, among them lawnmowers, soapboxes and potato sacks. Some events from Hope’s industrial past return for another go around this year.
“In some ways, like as I say the logger sports coming back, I think that is good. It’s a move back to the olden days and I think that’s a good thing. Change is good, but we also should hang on to the traditions,” de Meulder said. It seems unlikely that an event which has always had a great turnout would ever be under threat, but this was the reality Brigade Days faced 15 years ago. Around this time de Meulder and Gardner got involved, bringing in musical acts to revive the event. They started with tribute bands and off-beat musical acts such as the Kamloops Rube Band.
Costumes were another custom which has faded with time. In previous years the entire Brigade Days committee would stay dressed up in pioneer fashion throughout the weekend. Juanita Alexander remembers her father and past president of Brigade Days Ray Legault wearing the same outfit each year — a top hat, dress coat and a white dress shirt with frilly ruffles bursting out its front.
“Brigade Days was his passion,” she said, recounting the parts of the event Legault was instrumental in. These included bringing the midway to the event and his participation in the Keystone Cops fun.
Both ‘old time’ Brigade Days organizers Gardner and de Meulder agree they hope the event continues, yet are concerned about the new generations not flocking to volunteerism as readily as in years past.
“It’s probably becoming more and more difficult to get people to volunteer for that kind of a commitment,” Gardner said.
“I hope they go for another 50 years, and I was going to say I hope I’m still with them then. But that’s unlikely,” de Meulder laughed.
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