As far back as Barry Frech can remember, there’s been some type of celebration for Ladysmith Days. He believes it started in 1964-65’ as “Dogwood Days”.
Frech has been involved in planning Ladysmith Days for around 30 years. Before he was an organizer, he was a participant in Dogwood Days. There’s an old photo of Frech from the Ladysmith Historical Society that shows Frech anchoring the line in a tug-of-war. According to Frech, he and his team won.
Frech said that the Town and other Island communities were very involved in Ladysmith Days. Merchants would run sidewalk sales throughout the weekend, and host their own competitions. Some held 24-hour rocking chair competitions, and a mattress jumping marathon. There would be beard growing competitions and awards given out for “most beautiful legs”.
“Constantly, the whole street was busy,” Frech said. “We used to have a triathlon. Horseshoe pitching was going on. There was all kinds of involvement.”
Over time, attachment to technology has disrupted participation in Ladysmith Days. Frech said that the celebration has also seen challenges since it moved from mid-July to August long weekend. Sunfest has been a competitor to Ladysmith Days, as has other events on the Island. August long weekend is also the last long weekend of the summer, and many families go away on trips.
“We were getting a lot of rain when we used to hold it in July. The committee and myself decided to move it to August. Well people knew it was happening in July, so I had boats anchored out there in the harbour in the third weekend of July waiting for it to happen. I had to send the police out there and tell them Ladysmith Days had changed,” Frech said.
“And then when I changed it to the same weekend of the festival, it showed that people are dedicated to Ladysmith Days. We get anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people at Ladysmith Days over the weekend, so what does that tell you? The ones that want to take Ladysmith Days in, their kids are happy, and that’s a good thing,” he added.
Frech hopes that other communities will embrace Ladysmith Days in the way they used to. He’s working alongside Dave Key with the Ladysmith Celebration Society to put Ladysmith Days on the map once again.
Despite modern day challenges to the celebrations, Frech says there is no other celebration like Ladysmith Days. It’s an event by the people of Ladysmith, for the people of Ladysmith, put on by the people of Ladysmith.