The true and (semi)complete history of Grizfest

Trent Ernst, Editor

While this year’s line-up of artists include internationally renowned musicians, the roots of Grizfest extend deep into the idea of community and in celebrating life where you live.

Before Grizfest, Tumbler Ridge had Grizzly Valley Days, a fall-fair-like celebration of the local community that started in Tumbler Ridge in the 1980s. And the roots of Grizzly Valley Days extend into the Yukon, where Sharon and Brian Bray were living before they moved to Tumbler Ridge. “It was a new community, and the people were new, and nobody knew each other, but they were getting together and sharing information about gardens. We had just moved here from the Yukon, and the small community we lived in there had a Fall Fair,” says Sharon.

“We brought the idea of a fall fair to the brand new community centre, because they were looking for programs to run,” says Sharon. “They said ‘that’s a great idea,’ so me and Brian and my girl friend started our committee. Garry Davis came and he did the Grizzly Sam mascot, and Grizzly Valley Days became something that we did every year. We had bread baking contests, chili making contests, the parade…it was so much fun.”

But the town began its slow descent towards the early 2000s, as coal prices dropped and people began moving away. “We still had people who were living here, and who were still canning peaches and canning fish and wanted to show it to others, but as time went on, our volunteer base got smaller, until finally it was just two of us putting on Grizzly Valley Days.

So the two mothers, unable to get any more help, put the Fall Fair on hold. “People started missing Grizzly Valley Days and missing the parade. This was when the houses went on sale. We were looking for a way to bring people into Tumbler Ridge. We knew that if we resurrected Grizzly Valley Days alone, that would not do it. Our little puddle-jumper parade wasn’t going to bring people into Tumbler Ridge to look at the houses, and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to get people here. So that’s the main reason we decided to do Grizfest.”

The first Grizfest happened in 2002. Rather than try and book big name acts, the focus back then was on bringing in interesting artists, and building the festival from there. The headline act for the first Grizfest was Luther Wright and the Wrongs, who had recently released a bluegrass remake of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It was such a Canadian concept, to take a British art-rock concept album and remake it in the style of traditional American Music. It was brilliant.

But the first festival suffered the summer long weekend curse, and was mostly cold and wet, with rumours of snow at the top of happy face hill (which had yet to get that designation). Ray Proulx Senior brought a number of home-made portable firepits to the festival grounds, which were basically the metal tub from a washing machine mounted on to old lawn mower with the engines removed.

The crowds were small but enthusiastic, huddled around flaming lawnmowers as the performers sang onstage. In addition to Luther Wright and the Wrongs, performers at that first festival included Uzume Taiko, Orchid Highway, Emma Wall and Fiddling sensation Yvonne Hernandez, as well as local band the Cretaceous All-Stars.

Since then, the festival has seen some of Canada’s most popular acts pass through Tumbler Ridge, but Bray still remembers with fondness those early days. “My heart belongs to Grizzly Valley Days,” says Bray. “I want our Fall Fair back. Every year I put it to the Grizfest committee, and we all just look at each other and say ‘how and where?’ I’d love to do it again; I’ve got everything in a file. All I need is to find someone to hand it over to.”