Boler Festival celebrates Manitoba’s iconic little camper trailers’ 50th anniversary

Bolers are eye-catching and iconic campers.

They’re tiny, weird-looking and utterly loveable.

The made-in-Manitoba Boler trailer was born in the brain of inventor Ray Olecko in 1968.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, more than 450 of the campers from across North America will ramble into Winnipeg on Wednesday.

I am just totally in love with the little beast,” said Winnipeg Boler enthusiast Ian Giles.

“They’re a phenomenal Canadian invention, they’re recognizable. I refer to them often as memory-makers. You set one up in a campsite and pretty soon your campsite is full of people, reminiscing about when they were children and the camping trips they took with relatives, parents, their families and so on.

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Giles has organized a large birthday party for the trailers and those who own them, happening at Red River Exhibition Park just west of Winnipeg Aug. 15 through Aug. 19. While the party is a closed one, it will open to guests on Saturday for people who want to come look through the trailers and see what owners have done to them.

“You buy a Boler, you become part of this group — or this, almost a cult — that loves these trailers,” said Giles, describing the Boler subculture.

“The trailers themselves are blank canvases. People decorate them, outfit them, modify them and make them their own.”

The trailers were born in the age of new plastics and technologies, said Giles. In the ’60s, fiberglass was everywhere and heavily influenced design.

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Olecko originally sold fiberglass septic tanks, until one day he had a thought if he turned the tank over and put wheels on it, the tank would make a nice little camper trailer.

Light, watertight and easily maneuverable even by one person, the campers soon became popular, despite their expensive (at the time) cost of about $1,400 new. Their durability is why many are still on the road 50 years later, said Giles.

Prices for the retro campers have gone through the roof, he said, but noted some deals can still be found.

“A fella found the 19th one made, the 19th one, and it was in a barn and the farmer sold it to him for $500,” said Giles.

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In addition to the campers themselves, Olecko also invented the process to manufacture the campers, a process still used by more than a dozen manufacturers in North America today, said Giles.

The event  is open to the public at Red River Exhibition Park on Saturday only. Admission is $10 per person and most of the trailers will be open to explore, said Giles. There will also be food and live entertainment.

-With files from Hal Anderson


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