Raymond Lam and daughter Aria enjoy strawberries and ice cream as two of the estimated 8,000 participants at the Saanich Strawberry Festival in 2017. Organizers expect a similar figure in 2018.  Black Press file photo

Raymond Lam and daughter Aria enjoy strawberries and ice cream as two of the estimated 8,000 participants at the Saanich Strawberry Festival in 2017. Organizers expect a similar figure in 2018. Black Press file photo

Saanich sweet on Strawberry Festival

More than 300 kilograms of strawberries on offer at July 8 event at Beaver Lake Park

If the Strawberry Festival were a restaurant, it might get terrible reviews for its long lines, the limited menu, and difficult parking.

But thankfully for everybody, it is not.

Scheduled for July 8 at Beaver Lake Park, Saanich’s Strawberry Festival will once again draw thousands for an afternoon of hanging out at the beach, listening to music and eating ice cream by the buckets.

“We try to keep the tradition of what it is, which is a day at the beach,” said Bob Phillips, special events co-ordinator for the District of Saanich.

Last year, organizers served up almost 600 kilograms of ice cream and almost 700 kilograms of strawberries, which an army of volunteers wearing red T-shirts and aprons scooped across 4,000 individual servings, each sold for 50 cents. A cohort of celebrities, often local politicians, then hand them out to the hungry masses. This year, federal Green Party leader and local MP Elizabeth May is expected to attend.

Sure, you have to wait a little bit to get your turn. Last year, three lines, each easily exceeding 50 metres, and a snarl of people hoping for a taste were still lining up for tickets well after the cut off time for ticket sales, forcing organizers to extend sales. Not surprisingly, organizers sold out fairly early in the day. So come early out lest you wish to suffer the heartbreak of not tasting ice cream, but organizers continue to refine the process, with improvements every year.

Parking can also be tricky. Depending on when visitors arrive, they may have to park on an open grass field, no small hike away from the festivities. Rumours remain that the odd reporter or two might have wandered the woods for several hours finding his way back. Visitors can also park at Saanich Commonwealth Place, then hop onto a shuttle.

Strawberry Festival once started as a celebration of Saanich’s agricultural history. From these roots, it has since blossomed into a big festival that draws not just local Saanich residents, but also out-of-towners, said Phillips.

While it is always difficult to estimate crowds, the event draws about 8,000 each year, with estimates for last year hovering around 9,000.

Part of the event’s appeal lies in the diversity of available activities. While one part of the park offered music, ice cream and beach access, the other featured inflatable playgrounds of various kinds as well as several arts and crafts stations. Various organizations were also present to reach out to the community.

“Strawberry Festival continues to grow every year,” said Phillips. “We encourage people to come out early and take part in the activities. Parking is a challenge with the amount of crowd that we have here, but it is a great event and we look forward to putting it on every year.”