NEEPAWA — The recent heat wave has been hard on the lilies in Neepawa, but it hasn’t deterred the more than 200 volunteers helping to host the 16th annual Lily Festival in Neepawa.
“The lilies are a little bit wilted with the hot weather and we had a bit of a rain storm the other day, but there are still lots of lilies to see,” said Audry Heffell, festival administrator.
There were 110 entries in the competition this year, though there have been more than double that number in previous years.
Both the Town of Neepawa and the festival invest money in keeping up the lily gardens throughout town and residents and businesses also get in on the lily-growing action. There are more than 2,000 varieties of lilies grown in Neepawa.
“We get lots of our lilies from the lily growing field just outside of town that’s looked after by Ernie Mauthe,” volunteer Ruth Hanke said. “He spends a lot of his time volunteering and has done a wonderful job replanting many of the lilies around town. There are also many people from the community who donate some of their lilies.”
Rose Anderson sat with two of her grandchildren in the shaded park beside the historic town hall where some of the vendors were set up. The sound of a fiddle seeped into the park from the main tent down the block. This was the third time Anderson travelled from Gladstone for the event.
“We left the men working at home,” Anderson said. “Me and my daughter came down to show the grandchildren the festival. It gives them something to do. It’s really peaceful here — I like the music.”
The Neepawa Lily Festival started in 1996 when local residents convinced town council to take advantage of the 1,500 lily varieties being grown at the Lily Nook, a business located just outside of Neepawa.
Eleanor Nicholson was one of the people who pushed for the festival. She was the festival’s chairperson for the first seven years and even helped to buy a pickup truck that was raffled off to raise money for the festival.
“I thought we were going to lose our shirts because the tickets weren’t selling at first. That’s how much we believed in the festival.” Nicholson said. “I just thought we needed to promote our town. There wasn’t much going on here, but when you went out to the Lily Nook it was breathtaking. So I thought why can’t we bring this into town.”
The festival is now one of the biggest summer draws in rural Manitoba and local residents proudly tout Neepawa as the lily capital of the world.
It is difficult to get an exact number of how many people take in the free event because there isn’t a gate, but organizers estimate that between 6,000 and 9,000 people attend every year.
Saundra Gorman travelled from Winnipeg with her friend on a bus tour for the festival.
“My girlfriend and I decided to do some things in Manitoba this summer. This has been a really nice event. The garden outside town was beautiful, I’ve never seen so many colours. This is a beautiful little town — it’s the first time I’ve been here,” Gorman said.
The festival includes live music, beer garden, bus tours, a fiddlers contest, lily shows, quilts shows, children’s events, arm wrestling and historic and family horse tours.
The 16th annual Lily Festival continues through Sunday. For more information and a full schedule of events visit lilyfestival.com.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 21, 2012