With warmer weather arriving, it’s time to plan some exploration trips around Manitoba. A good beginning might be the Crocus Festival at the village of Arden, 16 km east of Neepawa, and then six km north on PTH 352. Arden (population about 150) is an interesting place to stop at any time, but particularly when the crocuses are blooming — mid- to late April — and especially on the day of the annual Crocus Festival on the first Saturday of May. This year’s festival will be on May 5 at the Arden Community Centre. Attendance is free and includes a variety of family-oriented activities, so plan to make it a day’s visit. My husband and I attended last year, and quite enjoyed it, but we wished we had gone earlier, as we missed a few events.
Last year the day began with a pancake breakfast and ended with a self-serve supper and community entertainment, after which winners were announced and prizes awarded — for the Chinese raffle (which had a wide variety of prizes) and for the crocus photo contests. This year’s program will follow a similar schedule with breakfast, a hotdog lunch, and supper all available for a minimal charge.
The crocus photo contest is one of the main attractions of the festival. In its 10th year, the contest includes four different classes and two categories (adult and youth). See the festival website at www.ardenmb.ca for this year’s information and rules. Contest entries must be entered in digital form; sponsor, Don’s Photo of Winnipeg, then prints them on 8×10-inch paper for judging. Row upon row are displayed around the community centre — over 100 beautiful photos last year, sometimes many more than that. Visitors can check out all the contest entries and vote for their favourite (the People’s Choice award sponsored by the Manitoba Co-operator). Entries must be submitted by email before midnight, April 28, and must have been taken this spring. Winners will once again be announced after supper. “We expect to see some stunning photography, and a lot of good-natured discussion in the new crocus photo gallery,” says contest organizer, John Dietz (204-368-2274).
The festival offers several other activities for visitors. One of these is a plastic duck race, which we were too late to see last year, but it sounded interesting. The ducks are “bought” by participants, released into the Whitemud River and allowed to float downstream to the finish line. The first duck to cross is declared the winner. Another race is planned for this year.
There will once again be a variety of activities for children, including the “Big Daddy Magic Show,” pony and wagon rides, and a small petting zoo with farm animals such as llamas, alpacas and donkeys.
While you’re there, take some time to check out Arden’s other attractions. Look for crocuses blooming at the north end of the village where a few acres of native grassland remain, as well as along the CPR tracks. See “the World’s Largest Crocus Monument,” a metal crocus that is 10 feet high (three metres) and weighs about 2,000 pounds. Located at the south entrance to the village, it’s definitely a worthwhile photo stop. As well, drive around the village to search out the pioneer monument with three replica crocuses.
Look for the pioneer ox cart monument (also known as a Red River cart) which is found on the north side of town. This monument commemorates the Carlton Trail (a.k.a. the Ellice or Fort Edmonton Trail), which was an early pioneer route, one branch of which followed what is now called the Arden Ridge. Check out the map beside the monument, and the information signs about Glacial Lake Agassiz, which was so important in the formation of the gravel ridge that was its former shoreline. This ridge also contains the remnants of an ancient Aboriginal burial mound.
Drive across the Whitemud River to the Lansdowne Park and Campground. There you can take a walk over the river on the swinging footbridge, or along the nature trail. That might be a good way to work up an appetite for the meal that helps wind up the Arden Crocus Festival!