WILLOW BUNCH - Willow Bunch is a quaint and picturesque little French community nestled quietly in the hills near the Big Muddy Badlands in southern Saskatchewan. Established back in 1870, Willow Bunch is one of Saskatchewan’s oldest and most enduring settlements. Until recently, it had a dedicated population of some 300 people.
That all changed quite magically, however, at the end of July, when its population blossomed and ballooned to more than triple its normal size. Although the final numbers have yet to be tallied, celebration organizers believe that as many as 1,200 eager visitors may have descended on their beloved little town.
Said Sharleine Eger, chairperson of the Willow Bunch 150th celebrations that occurred the last weekend of July: “When we started planning this event back in 2018, I never dreamt it would be four years in the making. After four years of planning and continued uncertainty around a pandemic, we — the organizing committee — were blown away by the success of [this] event. We are just so happy and grateful to have had everyone [finally] together in Willow Bunch.”
Registration for the weekend began at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoon, July 29, ending with a cabaret under the big-top tent in the evening. The cabaret began at 9 o’clock Friday evening, lasting until 2 o’clock Saturday morning.
Saturday’s events got underway with a pancake breakfast at 8 a.m., followed by opening ceremonies at 10 a.m. The parade — which boasted more than 100 entries — began at 11:30 a.m. much to the delight of the many spectators who lined the streets.
The remainder of Saturday’s events and activities featured bouncy castles for the kiddies, balloon sculpturing, horse-drawn wagon rides, a magician and a petting zoo. The antique tractor pull that began at 2 p.m. drew a huge and enthusiastic crowd. Due to the popularity of this event, organizers say they will hold yet another event of this kind again next year.
A catered supper began at 5:30 p.m., followed by the Qu’Appelle Valley Dancers at 7 p.m., and a cabaret at 9 p.m., featuring the music and entertainment of Aaron Pritchett and a group known as Rock Candy. A spectacular display of fireworks lit up the skies at 10:30 in the evening, which many spectators agreed, was “first-rate” and “second-to-none”.
Sunday’s activities began with mass at 9 a.m. in the Catholic Church, followed by a pancake breakfast from 10 a.m. until noon. Face-painting and Create-a-Bear activity for the kiddies got underway at noon, while yet another antique tractor pull, a sportsmans’ car show and hot dog sale, a craft fair and petting zoo, all began at 1 p.m. At 3:30 p.m., the ever-popular SaskExpress performed for a large crowd in the big-top tent, followed by supper at 5:30 and closing ceremonies at 7 p.m. The evening’s entertainment got underway at 8 p.m., featuring the music of La Famille Campagne, a popular local folk group, and ended with the Badlands Country Band.
Said organizing chairperson, Sharleine Eger about the 150 Event celebrations: “In speaking with people who attended, I was so happy to hear how much they enjoyed the weekend. Many people commented on how amazing the fireworks display was and how great the entertainment was, from start to finish!”
“I’m truly happy they felt that way, but one of my biggest takeaways was the people. I didn’t care about impressing them. It wasn’t just about the ‘wow-factor’ and putting on a big show. It was [about] the people. Seeing people who haven’t been back to Willow Bunch for 30, 40 or even 60 years, watching them meet up with former classmates and old friends they haven’t seen for decades, being able to be together again, in person ... that is what truly made this event a success.”
In conclusion, Eger summed up the weekend: “It was time to celebrate.”
Organizing Committee members of the highly successful 150 + 2 celebrations were: Sharleine Eger (Chairperson), Wayne Joyal (Mayor of Willow Bunch), Rita Joyal, Jasmine Deblois, Yvonne Drouin, Marissa Gellner, Nichole Gellner, Shirley Karst, Claire Lesperance, Carla Pinfold, Denis Bellefleur, Michel Cayer and Carter Martin.
Said Willow Bunch Mayor, Wayne Joyal, about the weekend’s celebrations: “We waited a long time to celebrate our 150th but it was worth it. Every event — from the parade to the spectacular fireworks, car show, entertainment, tractor pull, and delicious meals — was a great success. He continued: “I would like to thank every volunteer who took registrations, who served food and drinks, and who helped prepare Willow Bunch for [everyone’s] arrival. We couldn’t have done it without your community pride and spirit. Special thanks to Shar Eger who headed the 150th committee.”
Concluded Mayor Joyal: “We made memories last weekend that will stay with us for a long time.”