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125th anniversary celebration kicks off in Park River

PARK RIVER, N.D. -- This Walsh County town long has been a popular destination on Independence Day. The variety of events and a mammoth parade has resulted in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 16 miles of North Dakota Highway 17 between here and Gr...

Ryan Bakken
Ryan Bakken

PARK RIVER, N.D. -- This Walsh County town long has been a popular destination on Independence Day. The variety of events and a mammoth parade has resulted in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 16 miles of North Dakota Highway 17 between here and Grafton.

Park River Mayor Dan Stenvold claims the Fourth of July activities regularly attract more than 7,000 people, a number that would be quintuple the town's population. Like all mayors, Stenvold is a big civic booster, so his numbers may suffer from inflation. But the two-mile parade route is lined with watchers six-seven deep. So, you do the math.

Saturday's Fourth of July hoopla was even bigger than normal because it was part of Park River's 125th anniversary celebration. A parade of 300-plus units and 2½ hours was anticipated.

Despite those impressive numbers, it's not the fastest-growing celebration/parade in Park River. That was held Wednesday evening, July 1 -- Canada Day.

The fourth annual Canada Day parade down four blocks of Briggs Avenue had 16 units. No floats or bands were involved, but it included two Corvettes, five golf carts and a rusted-out Ford pickup to balance out the Corvettes. With the parade's pedestrians following along, the celebrants numbered in the 80s, double last year's entourage.

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Improvement

Sixteen units may not seem like many. But it's a big improvement from the 2006 inaugural Canada Day parade, which had two units -- John Blair and Travis Roche.

"They scotch-taped Canadian flags to the back and fronts of their shirts and walked to the American Legion, singing "O' Canada" all the way," said John's very understanding wife, Audrey.

John, a 60-year-old human fun machine, is originally from Montreal but is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He moved here in 2000 when he married Audrey. "I moved into her house and became a kept man," he said.

Roche, a UND All-America hockey player eight years ago now playing professionally in Switzerland, is married to Darcie Ludtke, a Park River native and Audrey's niece. The warm-up for the parade was a two-hour gathering in the Blairs' backyard that included a potluck and the consumption of Molson, Kokanee and Bud Light.

"Ah, we're Canadian and Canadians let people do what they want," Blair said about the unpatriotic folks sipping American beer. "The crowd has eight to 10 Canadians and the rest are wannabees."

Canada Day

Qualifications for celebrating Canada Day are not stiff. Attending the Assiniboia Downs horse races in Winnipeg is sufficient. So is a heartbeat.

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The wannabes sporting maple leaf logos continue to multiply. "It's getting embarrassing because it's something that started so simple, and now, we're getting all this attention," Audrey said.

Declined offer

The mayor declined an offer for a maple leaf stick-on tattoo on his forehead for fear of being accused of treason during his Thursday morning meeting with Sen. Byron Dorgan. But Stenvold was confident enough to drive a convertible in the parade without being branded a traitor.

John dreams of having a real live bagpiper in the parade. Until that day, a CD player supplies the parade music.

Spectators have grown along with the participants. Fifty children lined the street for the candy tossing and customers of the recently reopened Club Bar spilled onto the sidewalks. For the first time, parade spectators outnumbered parade participants.

"We had two kids scoop up all the candy the first year," Roche said. "Now there are a lot of them because word has spread that we throw some pretty good candy."

It took perhaps three minutes for the parade to pass. Adam Johnson, 10, noted the brevity: "It's over already? That was boring."

He was half-right. It may be a short parade by Park River standards, eh? But boring? Nay.

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Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 125; or send e-mail to rbakken@gfherald.com .

Park River Parade
James Larson, 1 1/2, plays in the street with his sister, Megan, 4, before the parade in Park River, N.D., on Saturday. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg

Related Topics: WALSH COUNTY
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