The number of potatoes peeled in the village of Argyle for its annual fall supper can probably circle the planet by now.
Several hundred pounds are served every year and 2017 marks the 135th year since this tiny southern Interlake community began its yearly fall tradition.
Organizers know for sure their annual fall tradition is only 15 years shy of being as old as Canada itself.
“It’s actually in our (local) history book,” said Tracy Dunstan, a community volunteer organizing the meal.
The account records how local women began hosting the meal in 1882 and how it has been “… held every year with the exception of one, we think.”
It was once called “the anniversary supper,” then became a “fowl supper” and finally “fall” supper after they switched to serving turkey instead of chickens local farmers used to donate.
“Everyone from far and near would attend. It was one of the social events of the year,” the history book says.
Not much has changed in all those years, says Dunstan.
The main difference is volunteers from the whole community assumed looking after it, following the closing of the Argyle United Church a few years ago.
Fay Dunlop was one of the church women helping out the United Church Women (UCW) while they ran it.
About 10 people would plan it. Then they’d rally everyone else to make it happen, she said.
“It became a community affair. Otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Dunstan was chair of the Parent Council Committee when their group agreed to take over the planning role.
“That’s probably been the biggest change I’ve seen, is when we took it over from the church,” she said. “The ladies wanted to see the supper go to another group.”
Today they still serve upwards of 700 and the roughly $5,000 raised at the event is a fundraiser for community groups.
It’s also now held in the curling rink after a long stint at Argyle’s Memorial Hall.
Years before that, fall supper was served in the school basement where, according to the Brant-Argyle history book “… many ladies would be in the tiny kitchen, cooking and preparing food over a hot wood stove… (and) the men had full-time jobs too, carrying wood and water and pouring tea and coffee…”
What hasn’t changed is the food. Turkey has long been the mainstay after the switch from chicken, alongside mashed potatoes and gravy and veggies and pie, although desserts are more varied than they used to be.
During the handover from the church there was talk of serving store-bought pickles, said Dunstan. But that didn’t fly.
“It was, ‘oh, no, you have to make the pickles,” said Dunstan with a laugh. “So we had a pickle-making workshop.”
Food-handling practices were stepped up a notch over time. They worked with Manitoba Agriculture staff on how to take a new approach and today keep food before it’s served in what’s called ‘thermals.’ It keeps food at proper temperatures, said Dunstan.
“They’re basically a big heavy plastic insulated box,” she said, adding that they shared the cost of buying them with nearby towns.
“We ended up with a joint fall supper community group with Grosse Isle and Warren and Balmoral and Stonewall,” she said. “We each bought units and then we lend them to each other.”
Those communities, of course, also have long-standing fall suppers.
One can only speculate how Argyle’s lengthy history compares to other fall suppers around the rest of the province, says local teacher Rolly Gillies.
“I would say it would have to be one of the earlier fall suppers at 1882,” he said. “But I imagine there would be older suppers or events like this connected to some of the Métis and French Canadian communities that were established back in the early 1800s.”
What’s absolutely unchanged here is the special bond this meal creates for the community, said Dunstan.
They still serve a huge crowd and volunteers continue to come forward to help out. That shows how much everyone wants this meal to continue, she said.
“It’s that one time of the season where we know we’re going to see our neighbours, even if we don’t see them all year.”
“It just brings the community together.”
And they’ll be together for many more meals to come.
One hundred and thirty-five more?
“I may not be there,” she jokes. “But I’m pretty sure it’ll still be running.”
Argyle’s 135th fall supper will be held Sept. 24 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.