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Penticton  

Penticton's first Peach Festival in 1948 boasted a parade, a midway and a Hollywood film star

The very first Peach Fest

As Penticton's 75th Annual Peach Fest kicks off on Wednesday, it's time to take a look back at the very first celebration, which took place in 1948.

The Hope-Princeton Highway had just opened, which meant crowds of people were coming out to the Okanagan, and particularly Penticton throughout the summer.

The Chamber of Commerce wanted to make sure that there were lots of things for people to do now that the area had become more popular.

Brian Wilson, archivist and executive director of the Okanagan Archive Trust Society, said that the Peach Festival was just a natural progression for the city at the time.

In his piece in the 2010 edition of the Okanagan Archive Trust Society newsletter, Wilson explains that it came into being as the culmination of several other festivals popular in the war years.

"The Gyro Club held a festival on July 1, the Knights of Pythias had theirs on Labour Day. May 24 was Rodeo with the Rotary Club Exposition. The entire community was involved, as was the case in all the other communities up and down the valley with their own festivals," he wrote.

And this was an expansion from the Blossom Fest, which generally was on the May long weekend.

"They wanted to do something bigger and better. And of course, the rodeo grounds were getting changed around to more of a multi-use area with big grandstands and stuff. Even had a racetrack there. So they wanted more things to go in on Queens Park, which is where the arena and event centre is today," Wilson said.

"It turned out to be a great success. And what they do is they just close off Main Street, all the way from the lake down to about the 400 to 500 blocks."

Businesses and locals would come out and set up displays, the streets would be filled with music and dancing and entertainment.

"There was a parade and kiddie races and there was a little midway that was set up," Wilson said.

Another special feature was the very first Peach Festival royalty.

"Named for varieties of peaches, the Val-Vedettes are Norma McDonald, Screen Actress Alexis Smith, Beverley Ann Young and Moira Latimer."

Wilson explained that having Smith was a big deal that really made the first year exciting. Smith was a Canadian-born stage, film and TV actress and singer who appeared in several major Hollywood films.

"She was the honorary queen of Peach Fest. She was to bring everybody in town and every single person in town came out," Wilson said.

"I mean, if you'd wandered in the neighbourhoods, there wasn't a soul. It was completely deserted. Everybody was there to see Alexis Smith because she'd been in some really good movies that actually been on in town here. So people recognized her name."

Smith had been filming The Woman In White in Edmonton at the time, according to Wilson, and she managed to take the time away to come down for the inaugural festivities.

Brian said some unknown histories about the event include that it wasn't even going to be called the Peach Festival, and that the majority of the funding came from one citizen.

"He was a Gypsy Jew from Europe. And he was really discriminated against in Penticton. He moved here in the 30s, there's quite a good story about it, and he's never mentioned when it comes to Peach Festival and things like that. Even though he gave all the money."

But his funds allowed for Penticton's festival to kick off.

"As the first one, it was kind of hit or miss. They wanted something bigger and better. And I think they made it, I think they did it."

Penticton Peach Fest today begins with the Jennifer Casey Memorial Peach Bin Races at noon.

For more information on the Peach Festival lineup, click here.



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