First Saturday in June
By Kalen Marquis
Dedicated with love and inspiration to: my late Godmother, Joan Norris, the first woman councillor in Pitt Meadows; my good-humoured 'Gracie,' the late Mrs. Grace Sutton of Pitt Meadows, and my dear uncle, Alan Lonneberg, the most amazing father figure and Cub Scout leader a young boy could ever wish for.
For as long as I can remember, there has always been a banner across Harris Road during the month of May. The banner has changed a few times through the years but it always reads, as the newest one does: PITT MEADOWS DAY First Saturday in June.
Pitt Meadows Day is the big spring celebration for all the citizens of Pitt Meadows and many others in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia as well. Pitt Meadows is just one of many communities that lay along the main arteries through the Lower Mainland--the Fraser River by boat, the Lougheed Highway by car, or the West Coast Express by rail.
Pitt Meadows is now pretty well all grown up. It had once been a small town but as more and more people began to call it home and larger businesses set up shop, this began to change. And just like adults who reach the age when they begin to downplay the importance of their birthday, there have been times when people debated the idea of marking its growth each spring. "Pitt Meadows is getting so big." "It's not like it used to be." "What about the trouble makers?" "Do we want to celebrate?"
But each year the familiar banner goes up: PITT MEADOWS DAY First Saturday in June.
Although I no longer live in Pitt Meadows, I pass under that banner to visit my mom who does. I visit her once a week, usually while coming or going to my teaching job just ten minutes away. Depending which way I am headed, I travel east or west down Lougheed Highway, turn at the McDonalds at the corner of Lougheed and Harris, and proceed south until I get to her block.
Although I am not that old myself, each time I pass under that banner I cannot help but revisit the Pitt Meadows of my youth. My mind and heart wander back to the 'good old days' and that very special first Saturday in June.
Pitt Meadows Day would always start with a long parade which began on the other side of town. Actually, it would start with the big pancake breakfast on the Lions Club right beside the old fire hall, but kids never paid much attention to things like that.
The parade, a highlight for adults and kids alike, would start way across town, at the crest of Hammond Hill. It would wind its way from its starting places along Blakely and Bonson onto Hammond Road. From there, it would make the right-hand turn onto the main drag, Harris Road, right where the park used to be. It would travel past Pitt Meadows Elementary School and there, on the corner, the Community Church with the roof my grandfather helped fix.
The parade would rattle--bumpety, bumpety, bump, bump--its way over the railway tracks and down to the community hall where the playing fields, outdoor swimming pool, and woods all waited. It was there that the fun was yet to begin.
The beginning of the parade, turning into the fairgrounds as it eventually did, would be ending before the end would even begin. I used to think about that with awe, racking my brains to see if there was some way I might circle back to watch it all twice. My brain became all twisted and it hurt just thinking about it. I never did figure it out.
There were always fantastic floats of every size, shape, and colour and all the people on them would throw candy to the excited crowd. There were marching bands, baton twirlers, and the high school band in colourful and noisy display. There was the Vancouver Police motorcycle team circling in and out, doing crazy eights, heading straight for one another before, WHOOSH, darting to left and right to avoid a crash.
There were antique cars with cloth signs draped over their side, caring smiling people like the mayor, councillors, and visitors from other towns. For many years, there was fancy Casa Roma restaurant float with its big barbecue so that some lucky diners could enjoy a traveling barbecued steak lunch with all the trimmings. Steak-scented smoke would billow up from the barbecue and every so often diners would stop, put down their knife and fork, and wave to the drooling onlookers from their tables with the bright red tablecloths.
There were tall, tall teams of Clydesdale horses with silver-studded black leather blinder to shield their view of the excited crowd. They were hitched to buggies and old stagecoach wagons with drivers in old-fashioned suits or long, fancy dresses. There were mounted cowboys and cowgirls in blue jeans with big, buckled belts peeking out from under Stetson hats bigger than they were. Sometimes the horses would whinny and rear, their iron-shoed hooves clickety clacking as their owners tried to calm them.
There were, of course all the clowns under heavy make-up with frilly costumes and cherry-red noses who gave out helium balloons that shined like floating pearls. They were string together in bunches of cand cane red, bubble gum pink, canary yellow, and the lightest pastel green. Other clowns, not nearly as lucky, would push wheelbarrows or use 'pooper-scoopers' to pick up what the horses left behind.
The highlight, of course, was the big red fire trucks with volunteer fire fighters throwing handfuls of cube-shaped Kraft caramels in clear cellophane wrapping from huge rubber pails. There was always plenty of the toffee kind but, if you were lucky, you might get some of the chocolate ones as well. The shiny red fire trucks with their freshly polished chrome would honk their horns and flash their lights, letting the sirens wail and scream every so often. Every once in a while, when the crowd least expected it, a couple of the firemen would spray the shrieking crowd with their hoses. School-aged kids old enough to go on their own, followed along, scooping up caramels and egging them on. "Spray me, spray me," they taunted as the firemen flashed 'you're asking for it' grin
Many of the kids would gather on their bikes along the parade route, just at the corner of Ford and Harris Roads. There, just across from the church, in an area that was all grass and gravel, they had bikes and trikes of many colours and sizes. They had all been decorated for the big contest. They were to be registered and judged before the parade marshal would stop one of the floats so that this wobbling flotilla could join in for the final stretch of the parade.
Some of the kids had brightly coloured spoke covers made of hard plastic that slid up and down, clinking and rattling rhythmically as their wheels turned. Many others wove paper or plastic streamers through the spokes or tucked long, flowing streamers under the handle grips which twisted and twirled behind them as they rode. Some even used decorated boxes to turn their bikes into cars, planes, spaceship, turtles, bumble bees. . . just about anything you could imagine. There were bicycles of every description and riders in full costume and make-up.
Many of the kids had learned bike safety at school and a few even practiced their signs and safety rules as they made their one big turn into the fairgrounds at the end of Harris Road. The Cub Scouts were quite content to sit this one out having just had their annual bike rally in the parking lot of what used to be the old library and Pete's Barber Shop. They marched in the parade or, as they got older, watched from the sidelines like everyone else.
But watching the parade was the easy part. It was always the wait before that was hard. I remember as all the kids sat on hoods or cars as adults pulled lawn chairs from trunks or through the open back of station wagons. We would all sit in the hot sun for what seemed like hours, waiting to catch a glimpse of the parade. The sidewalk and the grass all along the route were littered with people--friends, neighbours, and kids from school.
And just when we had become bored or distracted enough to almost forget why we were there. . . there would be the distant sight of the police car with its flashing lights and the light, murmuring howl of its siren. Behind it would be the first float as it turned the corner onto Harris from Hammond Road.
The first float was always the Miss Pitt Meadows float. It was a beautifully decorated trailer with colourful boughs of spring flowers pulled by a clean, modern tractor. It carried the local royalty, Miss Pitt Meadows and all her attendants. The Miss Pitt Meadows float would always lead the way, flanked on each side by three uniformed Cub Scouts known as honour guards. The first honour guard on each side also served as flag bearer. One would carry the bright red and white Canadian flag with its single proud maple leaf and the other would carry the red, blue, and white British Columbia flag with its golden rays of sun.
Each year, one Grade 6 girl was chosen to be Miss Pitt Meadows. I remember my own Grade 6 year when one of my classmates, Brenda Campbell, now all grown up and a model seen on billboards around Vancouver, was chosen to be Miss Pitt Meadows. She and I had been in many of the same classes since kindergarten when she had started out with a head of perfectly curled ringlets and the prettiest smile you could imagine. I could not believe it. Someone I knew, someone from my class, was going to be royalty.
The preparations began months in advance with mothers arriving at the school for dress fittings. There was sewing to be done, pictures to be taken, and stories to be written for the local newspaper. Miss Pitt Meadows would have luncheons to attend and speeches to give. When the day finally came, Miss Pitt Meadows would carry fresh flowers and wear a beautiful dress, polished white shoes, and of course, her flowing white cloak. On top of her softly curled shoulder-length hair would sit a gleaming tiara which, if not securely pinned, would keep sliding off her royal head. That one day each year was like no others as a local girl became a storybook princess.
One year I had my turn as the Cub Scout honour guard that walked along beside Miss Pitt Meadows on her majestic float. I got to march, in my carefully ironed uniformed, by the royal float. There I was, right at the beginning of the parade, far up ahead of the rest of the Cub Scouts and the other floats as well. I was also the flag bearer. I took the responsibility very seriously, keeping a proud, ceremonial face and always keeping my flag pole at a smart-looking angle--even as the float ran over my foot as we made the final turn into the fairgrounds! This, I figured, was beyond the call of duty and was proud of my unflinching nerve.
When the parade was over and most people had made their way to the fairgrounds, there was always the big opening ceremony on the mobile grandstand which had been rolled onto the baseball diamond the week before. The grandstand sat, as it always did, facing the crowd between second base and the pitcher's mound. The tall, white-washed wooden maypoles only went up a couple days ahead but I always remember the mobile grandstand with its tall, sloping roof and its stairs arriving much earlier. It would sit off in the corner of the far playing field in the month before and after Pitt Meadows Days. I always fel both sad and excited to see it there, untended and with no sense of the importance it would hold on that special Saturday in June.
On Pitt Meadows Day, the mayor and the dignitaries, including Miss Pitt Meadows and her attendants, were piped onto the grandstand by bagpipers in tartan kilts while all the adult citizens watched from the stands. They gazed through the diamond-shaped mesh on the backstop as their children ran between them and the concession trucks and ice cream vendors--the first of many trips to be made that day. The former Miss Pitt Meadows would always make her farewell speech before crowning the new Miss Pitt Meadows who, in turn, gave her teary-eyed and quivering acceptance speech. The kids from Pitt Meadows Elementary and, in later years, Davie Jones Elementary, would dance the maypole dance that they had practice so often in the school gym. The now familiar music would start and they would skip to and fro, beautifully weaving and unweaving the metres and metres of red, blue, and white cotton strands which the moms had spent weeks sewing.
I remember helping my dear Godmother, Joan Norris, the first woman on Pitt Meadows Council, to unload her car of baked goods for the Pitt Meadows Day luncheon which was held in the basement of the hall. Unlike every other special when she would, without fail, give me a beautiful book wrapped in coloured paper which she had secured with tight ribbon and no tape, it was this day when she always gave me money. "Be sure to save enough for the salmon barbecue," she would say. She would always say this just as she would always encourage me, a 'Welfare kid,' to work hard in school so that I might become a bilingual lawyer or maybe even a Supreme Court Judge like her husband, Justice Norris.
Pitt Meadows Day was always the day to hear of the many important, long-established Pitt Meadows families. Being a kid, I didn't really know many of them or how much they had given to the community through the years, but I remember some of the names. There were the Augustines, Meekers, Williamsons, Suttons, and Sharpes. The Whites, Stones, and even us, the Lonnebergs.
There were always the regular season and 'Old Timer' baseball and soccer games that took place on Pitt Meadows Day afternoon. There was the dunk tank in which kids took turns throwing balls against a target that, when hit, would dunk some sorry adult in a huge pool of water that started off cold and clear but became warmer and dirtier as the day wore on. And there were always the relays that so many of the little kids took part in. There were running and hopping races, bean bag races, potato sack races, and, of course, the wheelbarrow races. There were races, races, races, and more races.
I remember the fun we would have sneaking into the hall to fill balloons with water, dropping them from balconies and tossing them at each other, trying not to get caught by fuddy-duddy adults concerned about 'safety.' I remember the excitement over the bright red rolls of paper caps for cap guns. They would ring out like gun shots as we tore one or two off, set them down, and pounded them with a rock. I remember buying dried peas, popping five or six in our mouths to shoot through large bright pink or yellow straws with white stripes, unconcerned as kids too often are, about hitting someone in the eye. I remember the old kids who would set off fire crackers and fireworks and always knowing how really and truly unsafe that was.
I remember all the trips we would make off the fairgrounds. One year we went for a 'proper lunch' at the old Suzy Q Drive-In, a tiny little cafe on Harris Road between the utilities yard and the Co-Op. The old Suzy Q has changed hands thirty or forty times if it has changed once, but old-timers still, to this day, laughingly give it a try each time it opens up under a new name with bright new signs and menus. Our 'proper lunch,' by the way, was a hamburger and fries with plenty of ketchup and a light dusting of pepper. This was accompanied by a good, old-fashioned chocolate shake served in a frosty metal shaker. That chocolate shake, made from big scoops of hard chocolate ice cream, was the best part of our 'proper lunch.'
We only went for a proper lunch one year. Usually, we would just make repeated trips to the three Chinese grocers in town, comparing prices and spreading our childhood wealth around. We would buy bottled pop and chips from Quong-On near the corner of Harris and Lougheed Highway, ice cream bars and licorice at Consolidated Grocers just over the railroad tracks, and chocolate bars and peas for the pea shooter at Davie Jones Market, just a five second bike ride further down. We would buy all this and then start again, making our rounds, asking prices, counting out change, and generally making a 'kid-in-a-candy-store' nuisance of ourselves. Bazooka bubble gum with comics, orange and cherry flavoured crystals with a candy stick for dipping, packages of hockey cards with hard, pink sticks of gum coated in fine white powder, sticky long-johns with chocolate icing and a bulging centre of fresh, whipped cream . . . You name it, we ate it all, several times over, on Pitt Meadows Day.
But that wasn't all. I remember the salmon barbecue in the late afternoon. Everyone would line up for what seemed like hours to get a piece of salmon from the huge barbecue. Volunteers, usually men wearing big aprons and gloves, flipped gigantic racks with huge fillets of salmon sandwiched in between. The salmon with its dark skin, was a soft, fleshy peach colour, milky grey and soft along the edges near the skin, as it roasted over small mountains of burning briquettes. This was always served up with a good-sized portion of potato salad, a white dinner roll, and a wedge os fresh lemon on paper plates. Later on, through the years, chicken was added as well. People would walk around eating or find a place to sit in the wooden stands.
We used to always sit on the wooden steps leading up to the second floor of the hall. As teenagers, we might show up long enough to have our parents buy us supper but we wouldn't stay. . . walking off with our paper plate full of food to find friends. Eating with family was never the 'cool' thing to do on Pitt Meadows Day.
After dinner, but before the dance, there was always the talent show with a local performance group called The Merry Makers. They performed a variety of old-time songs, dances, and skits involving people of all ages. The dance would always follow upstairs in the hall. Miss Pitt Meadows, looking as regal as ever in her long cloak and crown, would always have the first dance with her father. Everyone's eyes followed the towering father and his miniature princess as they waltzed in one corner of the large dance floor until the other attendants and their fathers would, on cue, join in as well.
The dance always went from 8:00 to 10:00 as preparations were being made outside for the big fireworks display. Some years it was the band and some years it was disc jockey, but gradually, as the evening wore on, the music tended towards the younger, louder variety so the teenagers and young adults could have their fun.
People who had not joined in the festivities all or day or who had gone home and returned all came out at sunset, toting light jackets, blankets, and chairs to watch the fireworks. The fireworks were set off from the centre of the playing field in showering, fizzing, and banging rainbow colour. They would shoot high in the air and then, CRACK! BANG! Crackle. Pop! BANG! They would cascade in waterfalls of fiery beauty.
Cars driving east along Lougheed Highway to Maple Ridge, Mission and beyond would always pull over to watch. The highway bordered the fairgrounds and the travellers could not resist the temptation as the fireworks cracked and screeched like mad in the dark sky. These passers-by would crouch down in their cars and crane their necks to see the man-made thunder and lightning in such brilliant, chilling display through foggy windows. The more daring, who did not fear being shooed away by patrolling police, would get out of their cards, cross their goose-bumped arms against the chilly spring time air, and cast their eyes way, way, way up.
Most everyone would stay until the end, the Big Finale, my mom's favourite, when a string of firework gunshots would blast and smoke in one final, ear-popping protest. Finally, it was all over with scores and scores of people surging upon Harris Road, feeling that sudden urge to get home that they had not felt all day. But we never hurried. What was the rush? Someone would buy a package of five sparklers and we would share them all around, setting them on fire with a match and watching them fizzle and spark towards our fleshy fingers below.
The streets would be full, one neighbour calling to another, with pedestrians swarming down the sidewalk between log-jammed cars. The occasional horn might honk as impatient adults or excited teenagers with loud music blasting would begin gearing up for the big party planned in one of the fields. It was the same big party in the same big field that would last only as long as it took the police officers to break it up as they did most every year.
For Grade 12 students at Pitt Meadows Secondary School, Pitt Meadows Day marked the beginning of a month of intense studying and grad celebration. For the citizens, Pitt Meadows Day was the official recognition of spring and a sunny, sugary excitement-filled welcome to summer.
Not living in Pitt Meadows any longer, I have not beent o Pitt Meadows Day for the past few years. Living in another community along the Fraser River that has its celebration just two weeks prior and with all the other obligations of adult life, I simply haven't had the time. Mom and her dear friend, Grandma Jean, still go every year. They tell me that Pitt Meadows Day is just as magic as ever. "Sure," mom admits, "the crowds are larger. Venues have changed and planning must be more difficult. But take one look in the yes of your two-year-old cousin Alex as he joins the children who line Harris Road like you did. . . or stand in line for the salmon barbecue and you realize how very little has really changed."
I drove down Harris Road and I am instantly transported to another world--another time and another place--when I was just a kid growing up in Pitt Meadows. I think of baby Alex's excitement, his starry-eyed wonder, as he watches from his driveway on pudgy, dimpled legs as the first of many floats turns onto Harris Road from Hammond. This thought makes me feel content and even a little smug. I am forever grateful to sense that although this is now his world--his time and his place--we will always share it.
The banner, with its wind holes, stretches taut across Harris Road. It reads, as it always has: PITT MEADOWS DAY First Saturday in June.
(First written in 1991 with edits as needed)