Great Canadian Picnic: a Phoenix, Arizona tradition for over 60 years
Where in Phoenix, Arizona can you find snow, a toboggan slide, a curling game, and poutine? The Great Canadian Picnic.
I attended 61st annual Great Canadian Picnic was held in South Mountain Park on February 2, 2013. The first picnic occurred in 1953. Vic Wallace and his family had moved from Ontario to Phoenix to alleviate his acute asthma. To counteract homesickness, Vic and his wife Reta connected with other expatriate Canadians and formed the Canadian Social Club of Greater Phoenix. One of the club’s first projects was the inaugural Canadian picnic. Club members went through parking lots looking for cars with Canadian license plates and left invitations to the picnic tucked under windshields. Five hundred people attended the first picnic. Today attendance numbers for the free event are around 3000.
When we arrived, we signed in at the entrance table. We were given name tags with our home province printed on top. On a stage in the centre of the area, in front of a cement pad used for dancing, a band played, mostly country music. Guests spread their lawn chairs in a semi-circle around the stage. Beyond the lawn chairs were the park’s cement picnic tables and benches under wooden pergolas.
At the outside edges of the area were the game and sponsor booths. Businesses providing services to Canadian visitors had booths with information and small giveaways. Most also offered free raffle entries to something they were giving away. Examples of the businesses included a bank, house builders, insurance brokers, currency exchange services, and house monitoring companies. The favourite booths seemed to be the ones giving away Canadian chocolate or candy.
In addition to the curling game, there was a bean bag toss, Canadian golf (on a small patch of snow), and calf roping. You could ride a flying carpet sled, which is a thin plastic sled, down a toboggan slide. There were opportunities to get your face painted with a Canada or provincial symbol or flag. Tickets could be purchased for chances to win a number of prize packages of goods and services.
Food could be purchased at one of two food trucks, but many people brought their own hampers and picnic baskets. It was a picnic after all.
The Great Canadian Picnic was located just inside the park entrance. We didn’t need to drive through much of the park to get to it. However, South Mountain Park/Preserve is well worth a visit on its own. Located in southern Phoenix, it has 51 miles of trails for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, at all ability levels. A windy road to the summit leads you to panoramic views of the metropolis below.
Many people at the Great Canadian Picnic were dressed in something that was recognizably Canadian, such as Canadian sports team jerseys. One couple’s dog sported a bandana covered with little maple leaves. A man in full Mountie dress gear wandered through the crowd, stopping and posing for pictures when people asked.
Some parts of the picnic were a bit corny and the poutine not very good. But the band, location, and weather were good, and the attendees friendly. It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.
Have you been to the Great Canadian Picnic? What did you think?