A Commitment to Canada Day
Hatley’s Lester Drew has been a volunteer organizer of the Hatley Canada Day celebration almost every year since the late 1940’s when he was only eight or nine years old. “The Canada Day celebration used to be run by the two churches in
town, the United and the Anglican. Back then we had a big open dinner right there on the Commons and dancing on the asphalt,” commented Mr. Drew who has lived in Hatley all his life, except for three years when he worked on the former Fair View Farm, in Lennoxville. Skating rink boards were used as dividers and tables for that ‘restaurant under the trees’ that charged thirty cents a plate.
“We had the parade and then we’d have a pick-up ball game in the afternoon. We didn’t have fireworks,” he added. When the fireworks tradition was eventually added to the celebration, Lester and his brother Gary were the brave souls who set them off every year. “We finally decided to get a little legal and an army captain who had experience with explosives started doing it.” Before he was twenty Mr. Drew had become the Chair of the Canada Day Committee. “Back then it was a lot of fun for young people to be involved in their community.”
While Mr. Drew reminisced, we looked at the collection of Hatley wood- en nickels belonging to the Canada Day committee which is officially known as the Hatley Municipal Association. Although it was unfortunately nowhere near complete, it was still interesting. With a different image printed on the coins each celebration, some reflected the day’s particular theme, like “Sports on Parade”, in 1989, or “The Four Seasons in Hatley”, in 1998, while others depicted local historic events such as the 200 year anniversary of the town of Hatley, in 1999.
Making sure the big parade runs without a hitch is what Mr. Drew, along with Gary Drew and Homer Cote, has been working on in the past few years. “You have to get there before 8:00 to set up the parade or you’d be walking into a bees nest. Some floats want to come early because they have to dress the floats here. They once decorated a big float on a semi-trailer in Stanstead and when it got here, not half of the float was left – it had blown off along the way!”
Asked if the parade always goes smoothly, Lester replied: “There’s never been a catastrophe! Sometimes people aren’t happy with their position in the parade. Homer, Gary and I run the parade but half an hour before the start I don’t have time to bounce ideas off the other guys; you just have to run with it.”
The configuration of the town’s center sometimes makes running the parade a logistical nightmare for the parade committee. “We have a double whammy when it comes to the traffic. There are only two entrances to get into the parking area beside the Commons and there are five roads coming into the intersection and the intersection is the parade square which you have to drive through to get parked. People should really park their car by 10:00 if they want to see the parade,” Lester explained.
The float judges also have their hands full during the popular parade. “We’re fortunate to have some really good judges. First they wander around checking the floats before the parade, then they watch the parade and they have to decide the winners fast,” said Mr. Drew.
In speaking with Lester, who has seen the make-up of the Hatley community change over the years as many small towns have, it becomes apparent that he has concerns about the future of both the event and the community where, once, everyone knew each other. “We still get a lot of volunteers from the community to help on Canada Day and many volunteers come from around the region, as far away as Mansonville, who have connections here. But it’s hard to find new members to help with the organization,” he admitted.
Perhaps a reflection of our economic times, volunteers who collect the donations at the entrances on the roads report that people aren’t as generous as they used to be. “Maybe to some people it’s not a big event but to me it’s a big event because it’s Canada Day. I hope the population isn’t losing their interest in celebrating their heritage.”
Asked if he was looking forward to the big day, Mr. Drew answered: “Oh yes. We turn our backyard into a campground for family and friends who park their motor homes and set up tents; the yard is usually full. Coming here for Canada Day is a tradition for so many friends and family. But I’m getting a little older now so by the time the parade is done and the prizes are all given out, I can’t wait to get back into this chair!”
To help with the traffic flow to Hatley on Canada Day, visitors coming from an easterly direction should enter the town on the 208 travelling west, if possible, because it is the entrance the least used. Drivers should also remember that route 143 north of the intersection with the 141 at Burrough’s Falls is closed due to bridge work, so they must take the 141 into Ayer’s Cliff and then the 208 east to Hatley.
Lester Drew, a Hatley Canada Day organizer for decades, looks through a special book about the town. Hatley Canada Day wooden nickels are beside him on the table.