David Gray shows off one of the two floats has created for Country Grocer for this week’s Buccanneer Days parade at his workshop near Galey Farms. Tim Collins/Victoria News

Parade float expert builds with passion

Buccaneer Days takes place May 11 to 14.

By Tim Collins

When David Gray gets a call to make a new float for one of Victoria’s many events, his eyes light up and his imagination starts to work.

Gray is the architect of most of the animatronics featured at Galey Farms and over the years, has been called upon by a variety of Victoria companies to prepare their floats for parades and events throughout the year.

“I guess I’ve made about 20 floats here in Victoria,” said Gray. “It’s a lot harder than it looks.”

When we caught up to Gray, he was busy putting the finishing touches on two floats for Country Grocer for the upcoming Buccaneer Days parade and later for Canada Day celebrations. He had his head deep inside the inner workings of a life-size animatronic bull, working to connect the controls of the beaver perched on the bull’s back.

“It’s a combination of pulleys and springs and electronic control systems in there that all have to be working properly for you to get that beaver to look like he’s riding the bull down the street,” said Gray, smiling broadly. “It doesn’t look as nice on the inside as on the outside.”

The cost for a float can vary considerably, but each of the Country Grocer floats in the Buccaneer Days parade had an initial cost of approximately $20,000. In addition, those floats require about $10,000 of refurbishing annually as, with some tweaking, they can be repurposed for different seasonal events.

Gray received his initial training in design and animatronics in California when Walt Disney funded a program at the Institute of the Arts. After coming to Canada as a young man, he went to work fishing for more than 20 years, before retiring and going back to work with animatronics.

“You have to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, and fishing certainly helped with that…you learn how to improvise. You have to know about welding and electronics and mechanical,” said Gray. “For a float, you combine all of that with the training I got at Disney.”

Gray built both the Country Grocer floats for Buccaneer Days by hand and improvisation played a big role in creating lifelike depictions of fantastic scenes. The fully leafed tree on one float, for example, was fashioned from wire framing, fiberglass sheets, auto-body filler, and artificial foliage. Animals and other moving figures are far more complicated.

On Saturday, May 13 the Buccaneer Days parade winds its way down Old Esquimalt Road to the Archie Browning Recreation Centre.

The parade is only part of the Buccaneer Days festivities as the usual midway rides, pancake breakfast, evening dance, free stage and children’s activities are once again a large part of the event.

Still, Gray likes to think that when the little ones head home, they’ll still be thinking about seeing a beaver riding a big, old bull down the street-right there in front of them.

Buccaneer Days run from May 11 to 14 with a main focus on the Archie Browning Recreation Centre and grounds. The midway opens at 3 p.m. on Thursday and Friday and at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information visit esquimaltbuccaneerdays.com.


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