The young, the young-at-heart, and everybody in between crowded almost two kilometres of Gorge Road during the 21st annual Gorge Canada Day Picnic Monday.
While organizers from Gorge Tillicum Community Association don’t have exact figures, a shorthand method helps them gauge attendance.
“You can usually tell by how hard it is to walk on the road,” said Chris Kask, chair of the event’s organizing committee, with a smile. “We don’t know for sure, but we always guess 10,000 to 15,000, and we say in a busy year, when it is crowded, there are probably 12,000 to 15,000 people. And when it is not as crowded, we get 10,000. I would say it is one of the busiest years.”
Evidence from Monday afternoon certainly favours the higher figure as Gorge Road between Tillicum Road and Admirals Road turned into a teeming promenade featuring as many stands as people, or so it felt.
Strolling through the large and lively crowd, one came across a car show, artist and artisan stands, countless food vendors selling delicacies from around the world, and any number of activities for children, be it a bouncy castle for the little ones, a goal-wall for aspiring soccer players, or a race track for remote-controlled cars.
The warm, sunny weather not only drew the crowds, but also inspired some aspiring entrepreneurs, with several roadside stands selling homemade lemonade. One aspiring entrepreneur offered a different service: a water misting machine that looked like a car wash minus the soap and rinse cycle.
As in years past, the event included a family parade, a pancake breakfast, strawberry treats in the afternoon, and a changing cast of musicians. People walking back and forth between Tillicum Road and Admirals Road could also enjoy some essential Canadian activities, be it a game of road hockey or paddling down the Gorge in a canoe.
Those with a more relaxed outlook on life could also stop for a rest and chat up local residents, who themselves have turned the occasion into a social gathering on their lawns, with tents, lawn chairs, barbecues and even bands playing in front of their homes, many adorned by Canada flags.
Kask said this aspect speaks to the community-focus of the event. “It makes it very community based, and so to have the neighbours join in like that is really great,” he said. “They have made the best of it. They are asked to close down access to their house the whole day. Most people have embraced it and joined in.”
Looking more broadly, Kask said the event shows what can be done to create a sense of community. “That’s really the goal, just to get people out and enjoy themselves in a different way that we are all used to,” he said. “We are used to screens, we are used to television. This is about getting outside and meeting people, being with your friends and family.”
For Vince Lamb, Monday’s picnic certainly offers a chance to learn more about the Greater Victoria area. A recent arrival from Calgary, Lamb said he likes the social atmosphere of the event set against the backdrop of the Gorge Waterway, with no worries about traffic.
“I like it,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of motorists don’t, but I like the idea of [the road] being blocked off so you don’t have to worry about traffic. It means that you could let your eyes wander.”
Above all, the retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces is happy to see so many people wearing red and white.
“We are a nation that normally doesn’t show its flag on its sleeve, but on Canada Day it is nice to see everybody come out. We do it quietly every other day of the year, so we can afford to do it one day.”