Horse-drawn wagons rolling slowly through town, reviving images of a bygone age. Small groups clustered around fire pits in Jasper Street, hugging cups of hot chocolate. Santa handing treats to children, the sound of carols and a guitar being strummed. Servings of apple cider and hot dogs to take the edge off December’s chill. An RCMP cruiser waiting to be filled with toys … and in the late afternoon a sprinkling of snow that would go on to blanket the community in white.
It was a day when it began to look – and feel – a lot like Christmas in Maple Creek.
From noon to 5pm, the Chamber of Commerce’s “Cowtown Kick-off to Christmas” drew people from all over the area to the downtown core.
Normally, the Chamber holds its holiday festival on the first Thursday of December, with activities running into the evening. This year, however, the event took place on Saturday during the daytime.
The changes went down well with merchants, and festival-goers, interviewed by the News-Times, although one or two missed the night-time spectacle of a lit-up town.
Norman Fiss, acting Chamber president, said it was hoped that holding the event earlier in the day would mean more children attending. The idea was also to make it as COVID-19-safe as possible.
Nola Sanderson, from Kelli Dee Floral, said feedback had been positive. She believed earlier hours benefited children and older people.
“It’s also better for the horses,” she said, adding that her business had seen a lot of traffic.
“I am very happy with the way things have gone.”
Jenae Robertson, who supervised the “s’mores” roasting at Kelli Dee Floral, pointed out that children didn’t have to worry about going to school the next day.
Credit Union receptionist Brenda Briggs, who helped serve passers-by with free hot chocolate, had a similar upbeat story.
“The weather is warmer at this hour than at night,” she said.
“It’s working well,” agreed Kathy Schneider, co-owner/massage practitioner from Northern Lights Vintage Spa. “There are more kids running around.”
Blaine Filthaut, who runs Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery, said the 5pm finish was better for horses drawing wagons. He also believed that businesses would ring up more sales.
“In the evening, people tend to do a lot of window shopping,” he said. “Today, we’ve had more people do actual shopping. We’ve seen quite a few people here, which is nice.”
Although the “Cowtown Kick-Off” didn’t start until noon, there was a lot of activity hours beforehand.
Barricades went up from 10am, closing the 100 and 200 blocks of Jasper Street, and part of 300 block.
At about 8.45am, The Salvation Army emergency response unit was positioned in the lot outside the new Thrift Store (formerly Shop Easy Foods) in #213 Jasper Street. From there, Major Ed Dean, dressed in festive colours, served hot chocolate and breakfast burritos.
It provided a perfect start to the day for those walking by – and those taking part in the annual Santa Shuffle, which was again held virtually this year (see separate story).
While the streets never teemed with people, there were enough to create a festive air and keep shops busy.
As ever, teams of horses proved a very popular attraction; the sound of clip-clopping hooves continued through the day, with no shortage of people wanting to go for a ride.
One of those who preferred horse power was Santa Claus, armed with treats for kids and ready to pose for photographs. Handling the reins was Gordie Hawrylak.
“It’s a great day for little kids,” he said.
Somehow, the sight of wagons on snow-dusted streets in the late afternoon added to the community spirit. It was like a flashback to an era before cars, perhaps the early 1800s when two-wheel carriages were fashionable.
Most locations offered something special for the day, whether freebies, Christmas drinks and treat, or customer appreciation draws.
Free hot chocolate was provided at Cypress Credit Union and Hill Country Clothing, while Cypress Motors & Abbott Realty teamed up to serve free hot dogs at the Glascock Building.
Cypress Wholesale Foods joined in the occasion by giving away cotton candy and apple cider.
“Lots of kids came in,” said Jennifer Melanson, who only opened her business 28 days ago.
At the Northern Lights Vintage Spa, Mrs. Santa played host to a steady flow of children.
She sat a table where youngsters decorated cookies, while adults were able to sample delicious warm apple cider, an appropriate antidote to temperatures that hovered around zero.
For the first time over the holiday, Kelli Dee Floral offered “s’mores”, which could be cooked over a controlled fire in a secluded area next to the shop.
A contraction of the phrase “so much more”, “s’mores” are campfire treats that consist of toasted marshmallows and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker. Unsurprisingly, many folks couldn’t resist temptation, with the bonus of being next to a fire.
At Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery, Ross and Claire Pollock, from the Diamond C Cowboy Church entertained visitors with a selection of Christmas songs.
Children also had a chance to have a picture of themselves taken with “Spoke the Elf”.
Jane Filthaut, from the gallery, said a “a ton of kids” took advantage of the photo op – as well as the offer of a free amethyst and popcorn.
“There was lots of Christmas spirit,” she said.
The Maple Creek Visitor Centre in Jasper Street also experienced plenty of comings and goings.
By early afternoon, more than half of the 40 Cowtown Christmas T-shirts had gone. Other gifts, of course, were also bought – mementoes of the occasion.
Potential Christmas gifts were available too at the Jasper Cultural & Historical Centre, where the galleries are filled with china. Donny White, Jasper board chair, is delighted with the response so far to the “Great Hall of China” fundraiser.
Meanwhile, the Maple Creek Branch Library, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, held a book sale. As reading fans will testify world over, books make for great Christmas presents.
Another option for gift-seekers was The Art House, which has undergone a recent overhaul. It was open from 11am to 6pm.
When the News-Times dropped by shortly before 5pm, Connie Phillips was making jewellery, while Geoff was working on his 10th painting based on the Gospel of Matthew, which is the first book of the New Testament and one of the three synoptic Gospels (the others are Mark and Luke; they are called synoptic because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence).
Geoff has set himself the task of producing 28 paintings, each one inspired by a chapter of Matthew. His paintings are being displayed at The Family Church.
The Chamber of Commerce thanked people who came out to enjoy “Cowtown Kick-Off to Christmas”.
“A big thank you to those volunteers that helped to make the day a success,” the Chamber said in a Facebook post.
The Chamber reminded people that there is late-night shopping on December 9, 16, and 23. The first Chamber gift certificate draws will made on Thursday, December 9.