For four decades, the Williams Lake Harvest Fair has showcased the many gardening, preserving and quilting talents of local community members while also giving residents a place to gather and reconnect after the summer months.
Over time the fair has grown in size and offerings to rival that of any fair, thanks to a core group of volunteers and a collaborative approach that harnesses the volunteer power of several local community groups.
“You have to build those collaborations,” said Harvest Fair president Tammy Tugnum of their success.
“For example, we have a very active quilt club, the Cariboo Piece Makers. They organize and take care of the quilting section and have over 100 quilts on display every year — that’s just unheard of. We must have the biggest quilt show of any fair in the province.”
Add to that a dedicated group of longtime volunteers who truly love Williams Lake, and are willing to accept new ideas and new people, and you have a winning combination.
“We partner with many local organizations, that way you can bring the best events forward with the highest quality,” Tugnum said. “We so appreciate when individuals come forward to help.”
Tugnum has been involved in the Harvest Fair for almost 30 years now, bringing her no-nonsense approach to getting things done that need to get done.
“My dear old auntie always said ‘rather than complaining about what someone else isn’t doing for you, do for yourself,’” she said.
“I’ll never forget that. I come from a long line of fiercely independent women which is good because when you’re married to a logging contractor you learn to do a lot of things because they are not necessarily always home.”
Tugnum has been married for 40 years to her husband Tim. The two both spent part of their childhoods in Quesnel before their families moved to Williams Lake, where they later met in high school.
Tugnum said she and Tim had a lot in common, with her father working as a logger and his father with the Ministry of Forests.
“I’m always such a big advocate for the forest industry because it’s such a renewable, sustainable industry,” she said.
“We’ve been here so long that there are areas my dad logged that are ready to be harvested again.”
The Tugnums married in 1978 and had twin sons Ryan and Trevor. Except for a six-year stint owning and operating a parts store in Penticton, the family has stayed in the Cariboo, deeply connected to the community and the logging industry with the family business Progressive Harvesting where both sons work.
“The people here are so friendly. When we had the opportunity to come back, we did.”
As soon as Tugnum returned in 1990, she was asked to help with the fair by laying out the floor plan for the exhibits and has volunteered ever since, even as she worked full-time for 22 years as the general manager of Cariboo GM.
These days Tugnum is retired from that career, but still works the family business and enjoys the flexibility that offers her to continue her volunteering with the fair and also, for the past 15 years with the Cariboo Foundation Hospital Trust, which fundraises to provide hospital equipment. She is also currently an Interior Health Authority board director.
This year Tugnum was honoured with the Hugo Stahl Award at the Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards for her extensive volunteerism and contributions to the community.
“It’s such an honour,” said Tugnum, who was home babysitting her grandchildren when the award was announced.
“I felt terrible about not being there but I had already committing to watching my grandchildren. In fact, we were sleeping when the phone started going crazy. I saw it in the morning.”
Keeping the fair fun and appealing to children is one of the reasons Tugnum keeps volunteering at the fair, which offers a robust children’s section.
“It’s the little kids, they get so excited for the fair,” she said “I guess that’s why I keep doing it, because it’s a lot of work. It’s kind of like planning a wedding. Will it rain, will anyone come, will people show up who said they were going to show up?”
Tugnum attributes the growth and success of the children’s section to her partner in crime, Williams Lake Harvest Fair’s vice-president Leslea Destree who came on board seven years ago.
“What I appreciate about Leslea is she brings that young, fresh perspective.”
Destree was attending the fair with her daughter Payton went she ran into family friends who asked if she could come on board to help.
“I said ‘yes, I love this,’” said Destree, adding she loves that the fair brings families together, and brings generations together.
“My passion is getting families out to enjoy the fair. There are so many aspects of the fair that are beneficial.”
Destree said the fair highlights the value in food that is homegrown and home-preserved, offers fun, family entertainment at an affordable price and is a great reason to get out with your family.
From a close-knit family herself, Destree grew up in Williams Lake and moved to Calgary as a young adult after meeting her husband Dwayne.
As a couple, the Destrees chose to move back to Williams Lake and raise a family.
“To me Williams Lake is just home. I always recognize people when I’m downtown, and just feel a close connection with the community and that there are all these people standing behind you, supporting you,” she described of the feeling of living in Williams Lake.
“I want to give back. And I’m just that kind of person who enjoys talking to people and being involved and learning from them. I’ve made a lot of close friends volunteering at the Harvest Fair.”
At this year’s fair, residents can expect more than 120 categories in three age groups in the children’s section alone as well as live entertainment that includes singers, a clown, a ventriloquist and more.
Destree is also following up on the success of the Mini Makers Market she started last year, allowing eight children to set up tables and sell homemade items in a mini craft-fair environment.
Destree said running the fair is almost a year-round job “a few hours per month” but she gets a lot of support from her husband and daughter, who are also hands-on helpers.
Both Destree and Tugnum enjoy gardening, noting they find it “therapeutic” and “relaxing” and do enter some categories in the fair themselves.
For them though, it’s more about the friendships made and giving back to the community that makes the fair so rewarding.
“I do believe the fair is a strong part of our community and I enjoy being a part of that,” Tugnum said.
Destree added it’s so nice to see all the families coming back year after year.
“I’m just happy that everybody appreciates it.”