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Duck Derby

by Paul Yanko

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 derby begins with a crane dumping all the ducks into the Qu'Appelle River.
The derby begins with a crane dumping all the ducks into the Qu'Appelle River.

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 Tomkins.
'Head Duck' Gerry Tomkins.

"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.

It's the 'Duckettes'!
It's the 'Duckettes'!
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.

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.

Waiting for the front runners to appear.
Waiting for the front runners to appear.
"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.''

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 community goals.

"It's like running a good company," says Tomkins. "You surround yourself with good people and good things happen."

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