‘Twas a Season of Tradition for these Powell Riverites
We were fortunate in those years.
We had a good many friends and most of those who went away after high school would come home for the holidays. In that first year or two of coming home, we filled that week over Christmas with many activities that stuck and became traditions for us. I can’t say our parents were always that pleased, as we’d be out on the town just as quickly as we’d gotten off the boat, but we had so much to fit in and so many people with whom to fit it all. Some of our parents softened over the years, but they all came to learn that this is how the holidays would be for us in those days.
Our season of tradition began around December 23 with the Max Cameron indoor alumni soccer game. Tony Rice, long-time coach of the Max Cameron senior boys’ soccer team, concocted this idea in the early 2000s as a way to bring together his former players. In essence, this afternoon of friendly competition and catching up – in which players from each year’s winning team, designated by grad class when numbers permitted, would sign their names on a ball that Ricer now has safely locked away in an office deep in the bowels of Brooks – merely preceded an evening at TC’s Pub or the now-defunct Kane’s Bistro, where we’d order jug upon jug and recount from our playing days moments of glory and despair, humour and humiliation.
It’s been a couple of years now since we last played the alumni game. It might be done for those of us who graduated 15 or more years ago, as we reach well into our 30s and fewer of us come home each year, but as long as the ball that carries our names sees the light every once in a while, and kids keep playing soccer at Brooks, then perhaps there’s hope for a later generation.
Our longest-standing tradition occurred on Christmas Day. The Christmas Bowl – a football game that took place on the old Grief Point Elementary field, starting around 1pm once everyone had finished with their Christmas morning obligations – began in 1995 with a handful of elementary-schoolers just chucking the pig skin and tackling one another.
CBowl, as we affectionately came to call it, evolved over its two-decade existence.
Once we started getting at least eight guys out, we progressed from catch-and-tackle to a proper game. We implemented a four-down rule per possession. We didn’t play field goals. We didn’t kick extra points, except once the game was over in a contest of accuracy. Because we rarely had enough guys for any semblance of an offensive or defensive line, we utilized a Mississippi count before the defence could charge the quarterback. We also only allowed one running play per possession.
Competition necessitates reward, and in 2001 our Bowl acquired a trophy. We named the teams in honour of the Belgian EDM group known as the D-Devils.
Our numbers grew steadily each year until the high point of the mid-2000s when we stacked up nearly 10-a-side. Players spanned five or six years from oldest to youngest and the tackles came in as hard as ever. We didn’t warm up that much, didn’t wear any protective gear, and didn’t really know what we were doing as none of us had played organized football, but I suppose when you’re young and pliable you can fling yourself into these kinds of situations and bounce back out, none too much the worse for wear. Over the years guys suffered fat and bleeding lips, bleeding noses, sore and bruised midsections and legs and arms, the odd jammed finger. But never anything that kept us from enjoying Christmas supper later in the day. It helped, too, that our halftime and fulltime breaks included a couple of beers and often a shot or two of something stronger. Liquor on a cold day keeps the aches at bay.
But even still. By 2010 several guys had fallen off, the thought of retirement had permeated even the most stalwart. We clung to it for a couple more years – the numbers waning further, the lumps and knocks lasting a little longer, all the while trying to empower the younger players make CBowl theirs – until last year, on the eve of the 20th anniversary, the trophy fell from atop a vehicle and shattered. However, a handful of youngsters showed up and played a small-sided game nonetheless. We shall see in a few days’ time whether the torch truly has been passed.
Two more long-standing traditions take place on December 26, neither of which were our making.
The Steve Steele Memorial Boxing Day soccer match takes place between the Powell River Villa and the “Steelers”, a team of local selects and players who come home for the holidays. For anyone who grew up within the town’s soccer community and either played in the local men’s league or had the chance to represent Villa, this game holds a lot of significance. Steve, who passed away from cancer, was a key figure of the soccer community as a player, coach and official. The Memorial has been played since 1993 and raises money for the BC Cancer Society.
For a lot of years the tightly contested match could get feisty. The guys took pride in winning and playing well in front of everyone who came out to support. Regardless of result, however, the importance of the match is that people come together to remember Steve and donate to a crucial cause, and afterward players and supporters alike get together for a drink and a toast at the Soccer Centre.
But the drinking rarely ended there and the Regals’ Boxing Day Dance was always a big night. A melting pot of Powell River demographics, the dance brought together the young with the old into a loud, hot, pulsating mass. Usually sloppy, the dance was never short on spectacles, and some stories that came out of that place have lasted for years.
Socializing aside, however, the dance served another purpose for us…
In 2004 while away at school, Reid Philip decided that we and our friends needed an outdoor adventure that would get us away from the materialism of Christmas and deep into nature.
He proposed hiking up to Confederation Lake, spending a night in the BC Forestry cabin there, and then coming back down the next day. He named this quest “Wine Hike”, as everyone was to bring a bottle of wine and enjoy it together.
He pitched his idea to many of our friends and they were quick to commit. The problem was, he knew, accommodation. The cabin had six bunks that could fit two people if they squished together, and room for two, maybe three on the floor. Plus, depending on conditions, it could easily take us six hours to reach the cabin, a good chunk of that through gruelling incline, especially if we had snow to contend with. We determined early on that Wine Hike would have to take place December 27 and 28 to ensure that participation in the dance the night before would weed out the non-serious.
The premise of Wine Hike was simple: “Friendship, unity, laughter.” The execution, particularly in that first year, was less simple.
Until you have done that hike at least once in the winter, you cannot be prepared for it. Not mentally, anyway. Until you know whether the yellow gate on the Inland Lake turnoff is going to be open or closed, and whether you will have to walk an additional two kilometres or not, you cannot appropriately gauge the time it will take. Until you have climbed the gradually steepening base of Mount Mahoney until your legs burn, only to realize that you’re at the switchbacks – the most gruelling part of the ascent – you cannot understand the importance of pacing yourself.
Until you have trudged through nearly three kilometres worth of thick snow, wearing inadequate footwear, to reach the cabin soaking wet and exhausted only to learn the stove doesn’t work, and that even if the stove did work you wouldn’t have any dry wood to burn, you cannot understand the importance of not winging it and planning for all scenarios. Until you have tried to fall asleep on a hard wooden bunk, shivering under a shoddy sleeping bag, wondering if that’s a wolf you hear in the distance, you cannot understand the importance of packing enough wine.
But, once you have done this hike at least once in the winter, and you’ve developed that frame of reference, then you’ll understand why it’s worth it to get up – eyes bleary, head hurting – after only a couple of hours of sleep to head out into the cold, wet bush with a few friends. Because once you’ve trekked through the sleeping forest and the untouched snow, and you’ve watched the pale sun set twice behind the twin hills at the head of the lake, and you’ve made a fire in the cabin stove and have another one blazing in the pit outside by the lake, and you’re passing around a bottle of wine with eight close friends, then you realize how much you miss it once that changes.
We hiked up to Confederation Lake for 11 straight winters until we let it go in 2015. The years have waned and so too the droves of friends who once flooded back. Alas, traditions such as these are better suited to youth. Before the careers and the families and the aging.
Yet, having enjoyed them for so long, the memory of them and the stories we can recall all become part of the holiday fabric.
All photos provided by Reid Philip
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