Nancy Edmonds Hanson
A parade of decorated canoes and costumed paddlers brought smiles to the Red River Sunday, as Folkways sponsored what should have been its fourth annual canoe and kayak parade.
“Should have been,” because the ever-fickle Red has sometimes thwarts the best-laid plans. “We always set a ‘rain date,’ but sometimes that isn’t even enough,” explains Simone Wai, events director of the local organization. Launched in 2017, the watercraft parade has been rained out and forced to switch to its backup date at least once. But rain isn’t the only challenge. In 2019, the event had to be canceled entirely because a very rainy fall raised the river level too high for safe paddling.
This year, the challenge was wind. The first-choice Sunday of Sept. 20 was scrubbed at the last minute when the stiff breeze exceeded 20 mph, the upper limit set by the canoe and kayak rental concession run by River Keepers and the Moorhead Parks Department. Instead, participants and spectators turned out on Sunday, Sept. 27, the make-up date. Rescheduling cut the number of expected parade entries by nearly half, from 13 to seven.
Even so, the parade made quite a splash. Groups of spectators watched from both banks of the river as it floated from the boat launch beneath the First Avenue North bridge past Viking Ship Park to the pedestrian bridge crossing to Oak Grove Park, then back again.
“Our goal is to create a family-friendly way to get people down to the river,” Simone says. “We hope to improve the river’s reputation, showing it in a more positive light instead of its negative connotations with floods and problems.
She says about half of this year’s participants were first-timers, while at least one pair of paddlers – Vijay and Anu Gaba – have taken part since the beginning. The Gabas won the first year’s trophy, awarded by a team of judges based on costumes, decoration of the canoe and “a positive attitude.” Their theme that year was world peace; this year they focused on face masks and precautions, flying a flag proclaiming “Be safe.”
The 2020 award went to the S.S. Floss, a canoe done up as jaws full of pearly whites piloted by Mike Little and Ashley Blazek of the North Dakota Dental Foundation. Costumed as a tube of toothpaste, Little proclaimed as they floated up and down the river, “Be sure to brush for two minutes every day!”
Folkways principals Simone and Joe Burgum floated along in a canoe outfitted as a loon, complete with a massive papier mache head and beak. Others included Vikings, a supersized yellow rubber duckie and other themes.
Back on dry land, Simone returns to managing the Red River Market in downtown Fargo, which continues through Halloween. “We have a few more things cooking,” she hints, “but we aren’t quite ready to announce them.”
As for the canoe parade, she says, “We’re going to keep doing it. Everyone has a good time. These days, we all need a good laugh, and the parade is nonstop giggles.”