Preparation for the war canoe races for the fifth Seabird Island Festival, as shown in the Agassiz Advance on May 28, 1975. The caption in the paper reads “Someone sure got a good work in for the excellent weather during the 5th annual Seabird Indian Festival held last weekend. At press time Monday, we were unable to get race results, but the turnout was described as excellent and was enjoyed by all who attended. The picture above shows a couple of two-man canoes preparing to go into the water.” (Agassiz-Harrison Historical Society)

Remembering the history of Seabird Island Festival

Chief Clem Seymour and resident Siyosmot Pettis recall the early years of the 50-year-old festival

Siyosmot (Maggie) Pettis was 12-years-old and peeling potatoes when the first Seabird Island Festival came to her community.

Chief Archie Charles had started the Seabird Island Festival in 1969 to bring the war canoe races back to the First Nation. That same festival saw a soccer tournament for the men, and a salmon barbecue organized by Charles himself.

(The salmon barbecue is still run by Charles’ family.)

Pettis’ mother, working with the Elders’ Council, was in charge of preparing the food: hamburgers, hot dogs, Caesar salad and all the rest.

“ It was a lot of work,” Pettis, now 62, remembered. “We made everything from scratch, so they would have to do all the ordering, the pick up. They’d be peeling hundreds of pounds of potatoes to get everything prepared.”

Helping her mother prepare the food was Pettis’ first introduction to the Seabird Island Festival, but her own involvement would span all 50 years as she moved from food preparation to collecting payment to organizing the two-pitch tournament.

(In the early years, Pettis participated as a volunteer, but in the 1980s, the band decided to switch to having staff organize the festival instead.)

RELATED: Seabird Island to celebrate 50 years of festival

For Chief Clem Seymour, his first introduction was with the soccer tournament.

“All of us played that first year,” Seymour said. “We were all in our mid-teens to probably close to 20 years old.”

“I played goal then,” he added. “And I was only about 130 pounds soaking wet.”

The camaraderie that 15-year-old Seymour felt back then was integral.

“One thing, that’s all I understood, is I enjoyed it,” he said. “We played with men out there who were getting kind of a little rough on us, but we played.”

In Pettis’ memory, those early festivals had a big focus on competition, with the Sechelt and Musqueam First Nation teams being the most competitive in soccer. Everyone was on equal footing in the canoe races, she said.

“We used to have the whole slough full of canoes,” she remembered.

Over the years, the festival expanded from just soccer and canoe races to also include two-pitch tournaments, ball hockey and a gambling game called Slahal, which would go throughout the night.

When the St. Mary’s Residential School in Mission was still open (it closed in 1984), the drum and bugle corps would come to perform during the soccer tournament. Chief Dan George from the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation would also come with a dance group and perform at the festival.

RELATED: Seabird festival brings community together

“Back then, it was just about the participation,” Seymour said. “Having fun and just being involved.”

Pettis, who now has grandchildren participating in the 50th anniversary of the festival, agreed.

“One of the things my family taught me was helping and supporting,” she said. “We’d go and support them, whether we’d just watch and cheer them on.”

“The festival I think is all about family,” she added. “Spending time together, quality time and not on their cellphones, and getting their kids out there and being active.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

Multi-vehicle collision on highway in Chilliwack

Accident involves several vehicles, in the westbound lanes says Drive BC

Age nothing but a number for women in Fraser Valley 7-a-side soccer league

Rockers’ soccer 7-a-side league is for women 30 and older

Agassiz bus driver’s seatbelt petition heads to Ottawa

Gary Lillico is hoping his one-month petition will make a mark on the House of Commons

No crackers for quackers: Hope resident warns fellow locals to not feed wild birds

‘You should not feed wildlife anything—they don’t need it,’ Wildlife Rescue Association says

Man dead after motorcycle crash in Hope, police watchdog says

Thursday’s crash is still being investigated by the IIO

VIDEO: Quadriplegic man takes flight over Harrison Mills

Jim Ryan hasn’t moved his arms or legs for three years, but that didn’t stop him from paragliding

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Structure fire destroys Surrey tire shop

RCMP have closed Fraser Highway down to traffic from 152 Street to 88 Avenue

Carbon dioxide at highest levels for over 2.5 million years, expert warns of 100 years of disruption

CO2 levels rising rapidly, now higher than at any point in humanity’s history

Man dies after being hit by car in East Vancouver

The driver involved is cooperating with police

B.C. ferry stops to let black bear swim past near Nanaimo

Queen of Oak Bay brakes for wildlife in Nanaimo’s Departure Bay

Mother dead, child in critical condition after carbon monoxide poisoning at Shuswap campground

The woman was found unresponsive insider her tent and the youth was taken via air ambulance to hospital

Kelowna RCMP interrogation video brings home reality in ‘visceral way’: former TRC chairman

Video of Mountie interrogating young Indigenous woman disclosing sexual abuse under fire

Canada’s parole officers say correctional system has reached breaking point

About half of Canada’s federal parole officers work inside penitentiaries and correctional institutions

Most Read