It’s the same every year, thank goodness. For 15 years now, the four of us Hays have made the epicly enjoyable journey to Canola. Or, as it’s known in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley and the rest of the world: Kelowna.
Early on when this happy habitual journey was in its infancy as a true family tradition, my smallest rotten kidlet used to stand on a step stool and draw colourful pictures on the whiteboard in my office. (She still does when she’s around, only she doesn’t need a step stool anymore).
One summer long ago just before our trip to B.C. she drew a picture of a very familiar smiling elementary schoolgirl with long golden hair and she put her name underneath and some hearts all around and wrote: “I’m so happy becoz we are goeng to canola!”
Although the local canola fields of brilliant yellow are truly lovely and everything, being a relatively experienced parental unit by that point, I cleverly deduced that she meant Kelowna. And sure enough, we were soon there and she was happy and smiling just like in her drawing.
And now, somehow, every summer for 15 years us two parental units and the two offspring siblings have found a way to put together four or five days in the same place at the same time together and managed to survive the rare experience of family bonding.
Apart from soaking up the sun and gobbling up peaches, cherries and apples, we go every year to visit good friends who live there, and of course to keep a sharp eye out for the Ogopogo — the famous Canadian version of the Loch Ness Monster, who also lives there in Lake Kalamalka.
For me, it’s a history that started when I was just a young punk with a can of oysters, a set of drums, and enough good fortune to share a big blue bus with my band buddies.
We had this Herb Alpert Tijuana Brass kind of instrumental band called The Brass Theme, and even though most of us were barely in high school, we were a pretty popular dance band far and wide and had converted an old yellow school bus into a sparkling blue band bus with a couch and a table and bunk beds that we got second hand at the Army and Navy.
We were somehow hired to play a dance at the Kelowna Yacht Club of all places — a very ritzy gig for a bunch of teenagers who’d barely been that far from home before.
I remember we played a crazy dance at a hall at Pine Lake and as soon as we packed up at about 2 a.m., we piled in our bunks and Donny our bus driver pointed the old bus towards Kelowna and rattled off towards the mountains.
I was so excited I couldn’t sleep, so I went up and sat beside Don on the upended wooden Coca Cola crate placed there for the purpose of looking out the front window and keeping the bus driver company, and I opened a can of oysters. I’m not even sure why I had a can of oysters with me — I’d never even tried oysters before, but then again, I’d never been to Kelowna before either.
So Donny drove and I watched the sun come up and the mountains envelope us while I ate the entire can of oysters.
Unfortunately Donny didn’t like oysters, so I ended up eating them all myself (which I wouldn’t recommend) and by the time we hit the Rogers Pass I was a green as a frog and felt like one and had to retreat to my bunk and hope I never saw another oyster as long as I lived. If I lived.
I don’t like oysters any more, and not just because I missed seeing most of the trip.
But I sure liked this cool place called Kelowna when we finally got there, partly on account of I was feeling much better oyster-wise by that time.
The Yacht Club patrons weren’t so sure about us, though. When we trooped in with our spiffy matching leather jackets, and hair almost covering our ears there were audible murmurs and mumblings of the negative variety and many evil eyes cast in our direction. They were already convinced we were too loud, too young and too “heavy metal,” and we hadn’t even played a note.
But when we launched into Tijuana Taxi and Lonely Bull, the skeptic yachters flooded the dancefloor, and stayed there all night. For the entire weekend, they were so relieved that we weren’t The Who or The Animals, they treated us like kings and fed us a five-star steak dinner I still remember to this day.
Jump ahead several years and several bands later and we’re back in Kelowna again. This time it’s a big rockin’ group called Gaetz Avenue Dance Band and we ended up with a regular house band gig at a club called The Old Cannery, which was a funky building on Ellis Street that (surprise!) used to be an actual cannery.
Kelowna partiers loved us so much there that they pretended we weren’t even from Alberta.
We would play there regularly throughout the year, and lived in a band house provided by the club. I won’t even tell you about the time we put a hole in the wall fooling around and had to go and buy a mirror to hang up and cover it, or the other time we put a different hole in a different wall in the same house.
Luckily a couple of the band guys were good at fixing stuff and they drywalled and painted over the hole, good as new.
And in the midst of all the mayhem an amazing thing happened. An “older” couple showed up at the club and not only lasted more than one song, they stayed all night, and came back the next one, too. They turned out to be our biggest fans and practically adopted us.
They invited all of us longhaired reprobate musicians and roadies for supper that weekend, and it turned out to be the first of many memorable suppers, parties and visits, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship — a friendship that our family took up where the band left off.
And last week my whole fam-damily was back at the Marks family house in Kelowna for supper again, like we’ve been every year for the last 15. Mrs. Marks is alone now but she still throws the best parties in Kelowna or any other place, and both my rotten kids have said many times that she’s the coolest, wisest and happiest person they’ve ever met.
And this winter she’ll be 90 years old.
“Just think!” she said to us with a laugh and the ever-present twinkle in her eye. “In just 10 years I’ll be 100!”
Excellent. Another 10 trips to Canola. I can’t wait.
Harley Hay is a local freelance writer, award-winning author, filmmaker and musician. His column appears on Saturdays in the Advocate. His books can be found at Chapters, Coles and Sunworks in Red Deer.