The town of Willow Bunch began planning its 150th anniversary celebration in 2018 — after four years of planning and delays, organizer Sharleine Eger was thrilled to say that the three days went off even better than anyone expected.
The celebration began at 4 p.m. on July 29 and the party went late every night, with Saskatchewan bands 3rd Degree Birnz, Rock Candy, La Famille Campagne, and Badlands Country. Special guest Aaron Pritchett performed to huge excitement on Saturday night.
Eger reported that the pancake breakfasts, catered suppers, entertainment, parade, fireworks, and more — it was quite an event — was all amazing. The town of 300 swelled to a temporary population of at least a thousand over the weekend. A final count is still being tallied.
While she had trouble pinning down just one thing to highlight, Eger said the reunions and reconnections that happened were very memorable.
“The biggest takeaway for me was seeing people you hadn’t seen in 30 years,” she said. “I watched people who hadn’t been here for 50 years run into people they hadn’t seen in 60 years, you know? People coming home to Willow Bunch to celebrate together.”
Preparations started in early 2018 with an application for federal funding, which was obtained with written documentation of the town’s history.
Willow Bunch was first permanently settled by a group including Jean-Louis Légaré, several Christian missionaries, and many Métis families who had long hunted in the area. Légaré was a prominent community leader who became a friend and ally of the Sioux and their chief Sitting Bull after the Sioux took refuge in the Wood Mountain area following the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
“The original celebration was supposed to take place in 2020,” Eger explained. “Of course, COVID hits, so we put it off until 2021… and then again, so we went one more year.”
The four-year wait resulted in a party not to be forgotten. Many attendees said that the fireworks show in particular was the best they’d ever seen — surpassing any big-city show they’d seen.
The parade had over 100 entries, causing the organizers to worry that there wouldn’t be any spectators.
“The beginning of the parade eventually met up with the end of parade, it was so big,” Eger laughed. “We were so worried. In a small community of 300, you’re thinking, ‘Well, if everybody’s in the parade, there’s going to be nobody on the streets to watch.’ But the streets were full of people! It was phenomenal.”
A 13-person committee divided up the duties according to their interests and experience. Eger said the stress of organizing was kept down by doing it that way, and everyone did a great job.
Other features included a tractor pull competition, children’s face-painting, bouncy castles, a petting zoo, the unveiling of a memorial bench, an art auction, performances by the Qu’Appelle Valley Dancers and the SaskExpress troupe, a craft sale and quilt display, food trucks, and a car show.
“The whole weekend was great, start to finish,” Eger concluded.