1,470-pound pumpkin crowned the lord of the gourds
EDMONTON — It’s a 27-year-old festival that started out as a friendly bet between two brothers. It’s since grown into a community-wide celebration of really big gourds.
The Smoky Lake Great White North Pumpkin Fair happened on Saturday in the community northeast of Edmonton. Thousands watched on as gourd growers from all over western Canada competed for prize money and bragging rights.
“We have a site record of 1,275 pounds,” Pat Palechuck said on Thursday, as a group of her fellow event volunteers prepared for the event.
Palechuk said that anything larger than that this year would send the crowd into an explosive celebration, so imagine the delight when this year’s winner weighed in at 1,470 pounds.
That’s one-and-a-half grand pianos worth of pumpkin, and growers will go to great lengths to raise an award winning gourd.
“Some have said that they use birth control pills, milk and all kinds of different fertilizers,” Palechuck said of the odd tactics used by competitors, “and yes, music is quite important.”
So what kind of music does a pumpkin want to hear?
“Usually country,” Palechuck giggled.
A few blocks over from the Smoky Lake Arena where the weigh off took place, a pumpkin was growing in the garden belonging to the town’s “Pumpkin Princess,” Mary Lovay.
Lovay has taken home the big prize before, and knows all the tricks in the pumpkin growing books.
“I’ve heard of injecting beer into the vine – I didn’t try it, but I’ve heard of it!”
Lovay’s gourds are usually massive in size – and to the undiscerning eye, the one growing in her garden could be a winner. But for her, it’s a disappointment.
“It’s not really huge. I expected to grow 700 pounds, or 800 pounds. And how much do you think this one is?”
Without question, considerably larger than the supermarket variety. Lovay estimated hers to weigh a meagre 325-lbs, though her son’s pumpkin a few doors down was promising.
“I can say that he’s got over a 1,000 pound pumpkin,” Lovay said proudly before refusing to give any more details or allowing any cameras to catch a glimpse of the gigantic sight.
The competitive spirit and sense of secrecy before the big weigh-off is the norm in these parts.
Lovay says that while she has never experienced foul play, other members of the pumpkin growing community say that the stakes are high when it comes to taking home the bragging rights.
“People get pumpkin crazy,” said Henia Martyniuk from her patch southwest of Smoky Lake.
“Sometimes bad things have happened to the pumpkins – people aren’t always nice when you are a very committed competitor.”
“When you plant a pumpkin, you want a prize-winning pumpkin,” Martyniuk continued, saying that many growers remain mum on what their secret techniques are as a way to remain competitive.
Pride and prizes aside, the Smoky Lake Great White North Pumpkin Festival is an event that bonds the community together by their love of gourds. The event planning takes all year and is run completely by area volunteers.
So what happens to the pumpkins after the event? A smashing good time of course.
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