By LeRae Haynes —
A small group of community members responded to complaints last fall that there was nothing to do in the winter in Williams Lake. In a few short weeks they succeeded in leaving that complaint behind in a dirty snow bank, and brought a community together in the process. They created a unique, two-day, free family event in Boitanio Park called the Williams Lake Winter Carnival, welcoming between three and four thousand people to celebrate family fun in the beautiful Cariboo.
“I got tired of hearing people complain on and on that there was nothing to do here in the winter—I’d had enough of all the whining and a bunch of us started talking about creating something unique for the community,” said organizer Derrick Boyes. “We got started on this in November and everybody said we couldn’t do it. The goal was to bring a whole community together and the response was unbelievable; turns out playing outside is a great thing to do in the winter.
The goal from the beginning was to create a free event with something for everyone—like what you do with your friends in the backyard that doesn’t cost a lot of money.”
With only 25 volunteers, they organized an enormously successful event that included tubing, igloo making with ice from Williams Lake, sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowman building contests, sleigh rides with horses, ice fishing, snow sculpting, and snow painting. There was a chili cook-off, tip is with live singing and drumming, face painting, karaoke on the main stage in the park, breakfasts by the Lions Club, and free public skating in the arena.
The Carnival took three day’s steady work to set up. “We had a giant loader from the City piling snow for the hills and clearing snow,” said Boyes. “We had Bobcats and containers to store the equipment overnight, snow machines and snowmobiles, RVs, many tents, and equipment to haul in the sleighs and horses. People supplied things like snowshoes, cross-country ski gear and equipment for the ski runs, track grooming equipment, propane heaters, and massive amounts of propane.”
He said it was entirely supported by incredibly generous local businesses.“I didn’t have to go door to door to get help from the business community,” said Boyes. “Often they would call and say, ‘come see me – we want to help.’ I believe the businesses who contributed to the event benefitted ten-fold from their generous support: whatever they gave, they got back. I had guys who donated their time and made awesome connections with the public; some businesses even expanded as a result.”
One of the biggest amazing outcomes at the Carnival, according to Boyes, were the street people in the park who came and offered to help set up the tents. “We didn’t know how to set up the tipis, and a guy walked out of the trees and helped us set them up,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without them. They stayed involved the whole time, emptying garbage and helping out.
“I couldn’t believe the numbers that first day. The Lions Club served 500 breakfasts before the event even started, and there were 200 people lined up to go on the sleigh rides. Kids got to do stuff they never did before. I could not believe how many people learned to cross-country ski: the ski club was thrilled.”
He said they had great vendors at the Carnival—there were crepes, East Indian food, bannock, chili, a BBQ, beaver tails, Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, poutines, and soups. “We had a big bonfire keeping everybody warm, a volunteer in an Ella costume from Frozen with kids lined up to get their photos taken with her, and a volunteer safety co-ordinator with Level 3 First Aid,” he noted. “This was incredible team work.
“I believe there has been a bit of division in our community in some ways, and thought we needed some inspiration to come together. I wanted us to be able to heal, and heal together—where everybody could bring something from their culture to share. When that happens, I think we really start to understand each other and remember that we’re all humans,” he explained.
Boyes said everybody brought something unique: food, music, singing, drumming, art, and history. “It was so positive and so powerful. For example, there were horses and sleighs from Nemiah. Horses and sleighs are a part of their life and they brought it here. The snowshoe volunteers shared something that’s a big part of their world—some of them hunt in their snowshoes and they had so much to teach. It was an opportunity for people to share their history and bring together a community. It’s not about how different we are; it’s celebrating what we share,” he said.
“I did this because I love Williams Lake and hold it close to my heart. There was phenomenal excitement in the air and the smiles on all the faces were unforgettable.”
The 2016 Williams Lake Winter Carnival will be held January 30 and 31 in Boitanio Park from 9:00am to 4:00pm. For more information, including how you can get involved, visit www.wlwintercarnival.com or follow the group on Facebook.
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community coordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band and instigator of lots of music with kids.