LUMSDEN – Anywhere else on the planet the word 'duck!' is cause
for concern. When someone yells 'duck!' in this town, however, people
come runnin' from miles around.
They've done this every long weekend in September
since 1988. That's when the Town of Lumsden (pop. 1,500) began hosting
its annual Duck Derby.
The Lumsden Duck Derby started out as a creative way to raise
money to build a new skating rink and it's grown to become one of
the most successful annual fundraising events in the province.
"I get calls all the time from people looking for (fundraising)
ideas – I've had calls from all over North America," says Gerry
Tomkins, one of the Derby's founders. "It's been really good for
the community and it's helped put us on the map."
For months leading up to this day, Derby volunteers
led by the 'Duckettes' have been selling tickets throughout the province.
For $5, each 'Derby participant' receives a number that corresponds
to one attached to a plastic duck that's entered in the Derby. Prizes
for the first 10 ducks to finish the race include mountain bikes,
computers, barbecues, and (1999's) grand prize: a new minivan or $25,000 cash.
|'Head Duck' Gerry
"We help promote the Derby, we serve as mascots and we sing and
dance," says Susan Grant, a veteran Duckette. "You can
get away with almost anything when you put one of these costumes
on, at least on the day of the Duck Derby, anyway!"
Derby day begins with a parade, an event which, like the Derby
itself, has evolved over the years. Originally intended to resemble
the 'parade to the post' associated with horse races, it now features
bands, vintage cars and guys in a go-cart shooting giant water pistols
at kids. This natural and easy evolution may well be part of the
Derby's formula for success.
"You can't contrive these things, you just have to let them happen,"
explains Tomkins. "Once, we went out and painted duck prints on
the street late at night – now they do that every year.
"Things just keep happening, and that's the real fun of it."
Following the parade, everyone walks through the beautifully-treed
streets of Lumsden to the river's edge, located on the west side
of town. It's here where a large metal cage filled with the plastic
ducks – about 13,500 this year – is ceremoniously hoisted 20 metres
into the air.
The crowd's attention focuses on the crane and
the metal cage that will soon spill its precious cargo into the normally-calm
waters of the Qu'Appelle River, which bisects this picturesque Qu'Appelle
Valley community located 20 minutes northwest of Regina.
|It's the 'Duckettes'!
The cage opens, the ducks drop and the Derby begins in earnest.
Everyone watches carefully as the ducks float downstream for a little
over a kilometre. The first 10 to reach the finish line are collected
in order and placed into a yellow wooden box with the word 'Nest'
written across it in black marker.
This year's 'race' is over in under thirty minutes, a far cry from
last year's 'marathon' where unfavorable winds stretched the race
to more than five hours in length.
While organizers verify the identities of the winners, the family
fun swings into high gear as everyone converges on the ball diamonds
to await the announcement of the lucky duck owners – this year's
grand-prize winner is Murray Edmonds of Lumsden.
"The kids love watching the ducks go down the river,”
says Wil Kehler, of Lumsden. "My wife and I grew up in bigger cities,
and it's events like this that create a small-town atmosphere that's
perfect for raising kids.''
|Waiting for the
front runners to appear.
It's this community spirit that allowed the Derby's organizers
to pay off the $1.5 million arena in 1998. Now the funds are applied
to other projects.
Half the money raised this year will go to the proposed expansion
of the local seniors home, while the other half goes towards operating
the rink. The Derby has become a way to raise money to accomplish
"It's like running a good company," says Tomkins. "You surround
yourself with good people and good things happen."
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