SMOKY LAKE, Alta. — This Alberta town really comes alive on the first Saturday of October when the Pumpkin Capital of Alberta hosts the annual Great White North Pumpkin Fair.
“We are very pleased with the turnout of people,” said Pat Palechuk, president of the Smoky Lake Pumpkin Growers Association and a town councillor.
“This year, I am sure the attendance was down because of the weather (it rained during the night before and all day during the fair) … but I think you will notice there are more and more new people. That’s the big thing. We’ve got some of the regulars and we’ve got more and more new people.”
This year, the champion was Don Crews of Lloydminster, Alta., whose 1,365 pound pumpkin was the heaviest of the 28 qualifying entries. Crews is a familiar figure at the fair, having won heaviest pumpkin eight times over the past decade.
Growers like Crews are secretive about how they grow their prize winning entries, but he said he starts his plants about mid-April and as the fruit begins to develop, he places it gently onto a padded pallet to make it convenient to transport to the annual fair.
“I had one even bigger,” Crews said, which he expects would have grown to at least 1,700 lb.
“But it developed a crack, so would have been disqualified.”
A pumpkin that size would have set a new site record and broken the record set last year by Ray Beaudin of Coalhurst, Alta., who brought a 1,470.5 lb. specimen to town.
Those are big pumpkins, but the heaviest one authenticated by the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth (of which the Smoky Lake growers are a member) checked in at 2,323 lb. on Oct 12, 2014, and grown by Beni Meier of Switzerland.
Crews’ wins weren’t confined to just his big pumpkin. A triple first place winner this year, he also had the largest field pumpkin, weighing 189 lb., and the heaviest watermelon, which weighed 111 lb.
And there are always some new growers.
This year, Nancy Hards of Nokomis, Sask., joined in the fun. She proved to be a strong contender, taking fourth place with her 915 lb. entry.
“The festival is known far and wide,” Palechuk said.
“Smoky Lake is known for pumpkins. And hopefully, what we’ve shown them is that a small community can put on a safe, friendly and fun family event.”
Smoky Lake has a population of about 1,000 but grows to five or six times that size for the pumpkin festival, she added.
The entire community gets involved with pumpkin and pumpkin-related decorations on lawns and in front of businesses. As well, the town has a row of large concrete pumpkins at the end of main street, next to the railway station and beside where the rail line used to run.
There is much more to the festival than just the pumpkin event. It also includes field pumpkins, watermelons, squash and long gourds.
The day also features a farmers market, a seniors’ garage sale, an iron cruisers show and shine in downtown Smoky Lake, a Ukrainian Showcase, a beer gardens and a threshing bee demonstration.
The big pumpkin drop, held just at dusk, drops a pumpkin onto an old car body, suitably decorated for the occasion. A large crowd always gathers to watch this unique demolition exercise.