Hodge: Funny how one thought can trickle into another

My brother's picture I remember best was one that has been seen by thousands of Kelowna residents and other Canadians.

I was checking out my brother’s Facebook page the other day and was both surprised and thrilled to see him posting a series of top quality photographs he had recently snapped.

While that may not seem like a big deal to many readers, it was huge in my mind because it meant my brother was back doing something he loved.

As a teenager and young adult, Vic made a pretty good living as a professional photographer shooting weddings, special events, portraits and the like.

Looking at his most recent shots of flowers, Niagara Falls, and some neat macro shots flashed me back to other memorable photographs Vic had snapped in the past.

As the youngest member (ever) of the Professional Photographers Association of Canada, Vic was commissioned to take a number of other well known personalities over the years. He photographed the Queen, our former governor general Roland Michener  and numerous others.

However, the picture I remember best was one that has been seen by thousands of Kelowna residents and other Canadians.

It is the iconic 1960s shot of the old wooden Regatta bleachers and building in City Park engulfed in flames.

Anyone living in Kelowna when the old water-front structure in City Park burnt to the ground probably still remembers that infamous summer day.

It changed the face of City Park, and in many ways it was the beginning of the end to a truly wonderful place and time for Kelowna residents. It was almost the end of innocence, so to speak.

As a youngster, I spent hundreds of hours at the structure where thousands of other kids, teens and adults gathered daily to swim in the outdoor pool, complete with racing lanes, starter boxes for swim races, and of course the popular Athens diving tower.

Life was grand for Kelowna kids in those days as we’d gather at the Regatta bleachers and hang out for the day in the water.

The basic, uncovered, outdoor structure also played host to various events during the old Regatta event in City Park.

Regatta was a wonderful four- or five-day festival in the park geared towards entertaining locals with a very distinct family feel. Local children would flock to the park and take part in swimming and diving competitions, open to all ages and, best of all, free. In the evenings, the bleachers would jam pack with families taking in the popular Regatta shows that featured musical acts, comedians, clowns, diving and synchronized swim shows, fireworks, and all kinds of other great events.

When the fire burnt down the structure, it also ended that small town feel to the festival.

Years later a series of riots (two in fact) put an end to Regatta and—though it made a brief comeback—eventually the event died.

Like a number of other long-time Kelowna residents, I would love to see Regatta return to Kelowna and to our City Park.

While it is fine and dandy to have money making, tourist generating events take place, I know I’m not alone when I suggest what is missing is the family fun, participation-for-all event like Regatta used to offer.

Instead, the wrong things are planned for our park. I shudder when I hear that city council is supporting the concept of having Tourism Kelowna relocate into City Park, complete with vehicle access.

The idea lacks logic on a number of levels, especially considering the traffic flow problems it would create with tourists attempting to get in and out of City Park so close to the entry onto the bridge.

Common sense says a tourist information facility assisting tourists needs to be easily accessed along the side of Highway 97—not in a community park which includes passive pathways, flower gardens, and our cenotaph.

Numerous years ago the road that traversed through City Park was removed to make the park safer for families and foot traffic. Putting a road back into the park makes no sense.

For half a century, City Park was a place designed for locals to enjoy.

But over the past 20 years or so, it seems that the shift has gone towards using the park for entrepreneurial reasons and not families.

Far too many times the park has been fenced off and locals charged admission to enter their own park while a money making festival catering to tourists had taken over.

It’s time that Kelowna City Park is truly dedicated back to serving local residents first and tourists and the almighty dollar second. It’s also time that Regatta returned, giving our youth and families something to truly enjoy without having to take out a bank loan.

And maybe then I could take a few pictures of the event and send them to my brother. I think he would like that.


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