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Salmon festival to adopt online presence

By Don Fennell

Published 12:46 PDT, Tue June 16, 2020

“Canada’s Biggest Little Birthday Party” won’t be held as usual this summer. But, rest assured, there will be an alternate celebration.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Steveston Community Society to cancel this year’s Steveston Salmon Festival for the first time in its 75-year history. Organizers hope to be able to celebrate the 75th anniversary with a public gathering next year.

This year, in place of the July 1 tradition which coincides with Canada Day, organizers including the City of Richmond are working on plans for festivities that will be largely online.

“The decision to cancel this year’s event was not an easy one to make,” Steveston Community Society president Alan Sakai said in April. “There are hundreds of volunteers, artists, vendors and support staff required to host this event that has been attended by up to 80,000 visitors in recent years. In light of the current COVID-19 protocols put in place by BC provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, cancelling this year’s event was determined to be the most responsible decision to make at this time.”

While the festival has grown in leaps and bounds through the years, it has managed to retain its grassroots atmosphere. Indeed, its appeal can be traced to neighbours meeting neighbours for a day of family fun.

The historic fishing village of Steveston hosted its first salmon festival in 1945, a year after hosting a community sports day as a fundraiser to build a playground in Steveston Park.

From the outset, the festival has paid homage to its heritage. One of the most popular attractions, the salmon barbecue has been a staple since day one. A recent estimate suggests more than 544 kilograms (1,200 pounds) of wild salmon filet is grilled over the open fire pits each July 1.

A pancake breakfast, which kicks off the day at 6:30 a.m., is another long-standing tradition, followed by the raising of the Canadian flag at 8:40 a.m. A visit to the historical Gulf of Georgia Cannery and climbing aboard the interurban tram have also become must-do activities. And a boatload of food trucks offers up just about everything your taste buds can imagine.

Of course, the annual Steveston Salmon Festival parade is mandatory viewing—even if you’re one of the participants like Sammy the Salmon (the festival’s official mascot). Nearly every community group is represented.

The salmon festival is the signature event of the Steveston Community Society, a volunteer-led association dedicated to maintaining Steveston’s pioneering spirit by providing cultural, social and recreational opportunities for all the community. That mandate is further represented at the annual fair by the many community-organized performances highlighting local sports and arts—from demonstrations by local martial artists to a Japanese Cultural Show. As well, live performances fill the stages throughout the day, typically capped by a well-known musical act. Finally, no July 1 is complete without the traditional fireworks display over the Fraser River.

However, even before the big day comes around, anticipation begins to build with the traditional Bullhead Derby. Organized for the last 20-plus years by the Richmond Rods and Reels, it’s a relaxing opportunity for anglers young and old to join forces at Garry Point Park early on the Sunday preceding the festival.

“Just seeing the expressions on their faces is magic,” said one former co-ordinator.

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