ON SALT SPRING FALL IS NEAR
Celebrating autumn with flair on Arthur Black’s island.
Ahh, autumn. Could the gods possibly offer up a finer season? The berry’s cheek is plumper, Emily Dickinson wrote. The nuts are getting brown … The maple wears a gayer scarf, the field a scarlet gown.
All that, and fall fairs too. Canada’s dance card is speckled with autumn celebrations from the Trinity-Conception Fall Fair in Harbour Grace all the way across to the Sooke Fall Fair on the southwest tip of Vancouver Island. We love ’em. As entertainment, fall fairs are defiantly rural, endearingly innocent and just a touch hokey. Jake and the Kid country. They make you want to pop a straw hat on your head, stick a wheat stalk between your teeth, kick off your shoes and feel the dirt runnelling between your toes. And I live just a pumpkin toss from one of the finest in the country.
The Salt Spring Island Fall Fair has roots that go back to 1896. Ever since — aside from a couple of World Wars and a few fallow years in the middle of the last century — Islanders have been coming together each September in a community do-si-do to celebrate summer’s gentle demise and to mingle with the neighbours in full relaxation mode.
The Salt Spring extravaganza nails all the usual fall fair familiars, along with a couple of offerings you won’t find anywhere else — the Gumboot Dancers, for instance. Thanks to the buckets of liquid sunshine we’re blessed with, gumboots — the Brits call them Wellies, you may know them as rubber boots, rainboots, barnboots or muckboots — are standard footwear on the Wet Coast for much of the calendar year. Gumboots are to Salt Spring as mukluks are to Pangnirtung and Manolo Blahniks are to Yorkville. A true Salt Springer is as comfy in gumboots as Karen Kain in ballet slippers or Sidney Crosby in a pair of Bauers.
A gumboot dance isn’t a solo performance. It’s a choreographed extravaganza involving up to a dozen performers and featuring rhythmic calf-slapping and syncopated foot-stomping. It’s high energy, exceedingly merry and oddly beautiful. It is impossible not to grin idiotically when the Gumboot Dancers explode onto the stage.
And then there’s the Zucchini 500. It operates under more or less the same rules that apply to the marginally more famous Indianapolis 500 — there’s an official track, designated pit stops, even “mechanics” on standby — but instead of race cars, you’ve got wheeled zucchinis. Anyone can enter, providing they show up with a modified zucchini under their arm. Just add a couple of axles and a set of miniature racing slicks (roller-skate wheels are popular) and proceed to the elevated track. There, gravity and design innovation will determine who gets to stand in the winner’s circle. Our most overrated vegetable has never been more nobly employed.
There is a midway for the kids, but it’s the old-fashioned kind — beanbag tosses, ring-the-bottle, a fish pond with no water and “catches” for all. One year, organizers rustled up a bunch of oversized cardboard cartons from island businesses, set them up in a maze and let the kids go crazy. Simple still works.