In the back of everyone’s mind, there was always a niggling fear that it would rain.
However, last Sunday St. Albert’s record-setting picnic was blessed with non-stop sunshine as families by the thousands converged along a 9.5-kilometre strip of the Sturgeon River to party.
Parents pushing strollers, teens riding skateboards and seniors manoeuvring walkers packed the Sturgeon River’s undulating pathways to create a mood filled with an electric energy.
For the Tan family, lazing with a picnic basket under a shady Russian olive growing on the river’s banks was a perfect way to celebrate St. Albert’s 150th anniversary.
“This is a special event and we are having a great time. Summer is coming to a close and this is an event we can share as a family before the kids go back to school,” says father Mark Tan.
A major project of the Rendezvous 2011 committee, the picnic extended along the Red Willow Trail system from the Kinsmen Rodeo Grounds to Kingswood Park.
Two years in the planning, organizers dotted the trail with 10 major attraction sites that ranged from a car show, musical rides and band showcases to agility exhibitions, craft tents and martial arts demonstrations.
The estimated official count as of Tuesday morning was over 10,000. Celine Leonard, picnic subcommittee chair, had this to say: “Everyone seemed to be happy and having a good time. All members of the team are pleased with the results. We are pleased with the attendance and reaction of the people.”
At the Kinsmen Rodeo Grounds, the precision riders of the Strathcona Mounted Troop Musical Ride were kicking up dust clouds. Outfitted in snappy red period uniforms with gleaming gold helmets, the 16 riders expertly guided the muscular brown horses in a variety of formations that included ovals, figure eights and stars.
Watching from the bleachers, St. Albert resident David Appell said, “From being in a marching band and having a daughter in dance, I can appreciate the intricacies of the footwork.”
Over at St. Albert Place, a 1,000-cupcake giveaway and singers entertained the crowds. But the real action was happening behind St. Albert Place, where painters put touch-ups on their canvases, more than a dozen quilts on lines swayed gently in the breeze and roving musicians strolled along the riverbank.
Down by the trestle bridge, an Aboriginal showcase — complete with a teepee, the MÄ‚Â©tis Family Child Jiggers and Running Thunder Dancers — attracted large crowds. About the only glitch in their vibrant performance was when a freight train rumbled across the bridge, drowning out the chanting and drumming. But the Running Thunder Dancers just revved it up a notch to finish in pulsating crescendo.
For Morinville resident Leanne Boissonnault, there was nothing but appreciation for their efforts. “It was so hot. They were dancing so hard and the costumes were so bright.”
At the opposite end of town, Kingswood Park was set up for children and youth with a teen-oriented race, six mammoth inflatables and a craft tent.
At one end of Kingswood, a martial arts demonstration was in progress. In one impressive feat, three practitioners crouched on the ground while a young woman sailed through the air over them and broke a board with one foot.
Remarkable as that was, children running across the field flying kites seemed to best symbolize the nostalgic lightness of the day. As one grandfather reminisced, “My mother would prepare a picnic lunch and my dad would organize the baseball bats and kites.”
Over at the water park, the Canadian Rabbit Hopping Club’s super bunny agility was an unqualified hit while Ronald McDonald entertained kids with a history lesson of St. Albert.
As with any event of this magnitude, there were a few malfunctions that needed troubleshooting. For instance, transit buses were supposed to arrive every seven minutes. Instead, at one downtown stop, it took 30 minutes before a bus arrived.
However, most visitors took the delay in stride. Rita LeBlanc, a longtime St. Albert resident said, “This is such a wonderful event that they’re putting on. And I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful afternoon once we get there.”
“This whole event is amazing. One hundred fifty years — it doesn’t happen more than once in a lifetime and I’m proud to be part of it.”