On Saturday, Piapot became a happening place again. Parked vehicles lined either side of McDonald Street for as far as the eye could see. They were also up side streets, perched on grass verges.
A constant hum of activity came from the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 12 and adjoining outside areas, like an echo from a time when this hamlet was a thriving community.
More than 200 people came out to enjoy the Piapot Lions Club’s first Cornfest. Some came from Medicine Hat, some from Maple Creek, some from neighbouring places like Tompkins.
No doubt the warm, sunny weather was partly responsible for a turn-out that delighted organizers, encouraging their belief that this will become an annual showpiece.
There was plenty for visitors to do, plenty to eat and drink, and plenty of music to enjoy.
The Legion hall, where Lions members meet, was transformed into a farmer’s market. About a dozen vendors were present, selling everything from soap, candles, bath bombs, and lip balms to Tupperware and crochet items, from KD cloths, cards and necklaces to honey and cake.
Tommy Lees Glass Creations was also there, selling popcorn, along with hand-crafted glass objects.
Every so often, Tom Munro would move from his stand to a table and give a demonstration of his glass artistry, creating the one-of-a-kind hummingbirds for which he is renowned. Wearing dark shades, he literally played with fire, bending and twisting glass into the shapes he desired.
Meanwhile, on a stage at the back of the hall, Heart of Gold duo, Roger and Rhea Cardinal, from Maple Creek, kept everyone entertained with popular standards, mainly with a country and western/classic rock feel. Their repertoire included Alan Jackson, George Strait, and even the Beach Boys.
Next door, the beer gardens were packed throughout the afternoon; they were the focal point for social gathering, for meeting old friends, and perhaps making new ones.
Some drinkers watched children standing around a nearby table, preparing for a great cookie challenge. The table was covered with baking products. When the News-Times showed up at about 12.45pm, Luke Moorhead, Maizey Cronkhite, and Alyssa Beaupre were busy baking in the 12 and under age category.
As they worked, a few yards away, on the edge of the beer gardens, Charlie Bertram, Piapot Legion president, ran the crown and anchor table, dealing with a steady stream of people feeling this might be their lucky day. His right arm did plenty of exercise, spinning the big wheel once everyone had placed their bets.
The other centres of Cornfest activity were outside, to the left of the Legion hall, and at the back.
On the left, people, mainly adults, pitched horseshoes into a sandbox area, while children swarmed over a nearby sandpile searching for hidden treasures with plastic scoops, simulating a seaside scene.
At the back, a bouncy castle constantly shook with activity as parents and grandparents looked on for an eternity, or so it seemed. What child ever tires of sliding down a chute and jumping about? Not many, judging by the cries and whoops of joy. Older children also had a great time, trying their hand at dummy roping.
It was in this fenced-off area that one of the highlights of the event occurred: the turkey shoot.
There was no shortage of people willing to have a go with a BB gun, aiming for a bulls-eye and a chance to win one of the eight turkeys that had been donated by the Ear View Hutterite Colony, east of Gull Lake. Shooters were divided into age categories.
About 20 people gathered behind the shooting range to watch and shout encouragement to friends.
It was Harvey Wasilow’s job to identify where pellets landed – at times a challenging task, especially as the number of indentations increased.
Almost as fast as the projectiles flew came the jokes, particularly about pellets landing outside the target.
As afternoon turned into evening, Cornfest culminated with a supper of hamburgers, beans and corn, which was supplied by the Ear View colony. After supper came the pie and cookie auctions.
It was a triumphant end to a triumphant day for a hamlet that often resembles a ghost town, a far cry from its heyday in the 1950s.
The event had been conceived by Alf Wakelam and Tom Munro.
Holding it in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was not ideal, but manageable since most of the activities were outside. Inside the hall, mask mandates were in effect.
Wakelam said the 31 members of Piapot Lions Club had pitched in to help with organizing.
“They make it pretty easy,” he said. “We don’t have trouble getting volunteers here. The event was pieced together late, but it seems to be working out from the looks of it.”
Speaking at about 1pm, Wakelam said about 200 people were estimated to have turned up. As the afternoon wore on, he added, numbers were expected to swell.
“We hope to do this every year, although a little earlier next time,” he said.
Wakelam said holding an attraction like Cornfest was of huge importance to Piapot, particularly during such a tough time, with COVID-19 bringing communities to a standstill.
“This will probably be the only function here this year,” he said. “It’s a great chance for people to get together.”
Piapot may be small (according to the 2016 census, its population numbers 50), said Wakelam, and the streets may be empty for most of the year, but it still had a resilient spirit.
“It’s a great community,” he said. “When we do have something, everybody gets behind it.”