The dog show at the first Lee Creek Harvest Festival, held in 1976. (Jim Cooperman photo)

The dog show at the first Lee Creek Harvest Festival, held in 1976. (Jim Cooperman photo)

Column: Remembering the famed Lee Creek Harvest Festival

Shuswap Passion by Jim Cooperman

By Jim Cooperman

Contributor

Part one of two.

Imagine you and your friends spending three, joyful days every fall filled with fun, including much laughter, music, dancing, skits, games, feasts and even a parade.

That is what it was like to experience the Lee Creek Harvest Festival that was held from 1976 until the year 2005 in the alternative North Shuswap community located on the hillside above Indigo Bay.

A few years after my partners and I settled on 80 acres in 1969, six more families joined us on another adjacent 80 acres by homesteading the land, which was still allowed at that time. In the early years, the focus was on building our homes and outbuildings, planting gardens and raising children. Despite the lack of grassland, many of us purchased horses, which we used to explore the local logging roads and sometimes to skid logs or plow our gardens.

In addition to work parties, our community came together for meals and gatherings filled with homemade music. Every summer, we met at the local beach in the late afternoons to swim and there was an annual trail ride into the backcountry. Two of the families had arrived at the “hill” in school buses and one was purchased by the group for use as a community bus for shopping trips to town and to attend events. Once a week during the winter, many community members boarded the bus and went to the Celista school for an evening of volleyball followed by showers, which were most appreciated as most homes were still without running water.

Community members also attended North Shuswap events at the Celista Hall, including the annual Canada Day festivities, which inspired us in 1974 to hold our own event at the hall to celebrate the harvest time with a potluck and dance. As the years progressed, the community grew larger as more people purchased adjacent and nearby properties and the circle expanded to include other, like-minded, fun-loving folks.

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In order to complete the homesteading process, it was necessary to clear a portion of the property and a portable sawmill was purchased to mill the logs. In the late summer of 1976, a group was keeping watch over a slab fire when, in an effort to entertain the crew, someone jumped on the back of a flatbed truck to do some tricks. This spontaneous act sparked the idea to hold a festival on that site during Thanksgiving. Plans were made and a crude stage was constructed for a weekend of fun.

The first Harvest Festival on the hill was a blast. Friends came from neighbourhood communities to join in the festivities, that included music and a potluck feast. There were kid’s races, a high-jump contest to see who could jump higher than one of the horses, a chili eating contest (that may have resulted in the outhouse burning down that night!), a dog show, attempted chicken races, vegetable judging and a parade.

We often jokingly distinguished the two parts of the community then as the upper and lower commune, despite the fact that we were definitely not living communally. Our property was the lower one and we performed a skit that first year, which was a take-off of Samuel Beckett’s Theatre of the Absurd play, Waiting for Godot. After this first festival, skits became a key part of the annual event. Our homegrown theatre benefited when some community members, including myself, joined Shuswap Theatre and acted in a number of the early shows. In addition, as the years progressed, actors and stagehands from the Caravan Farm Theatre moved to Lee Creek and added their professional skills to the shows, including playwriting.

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