An estimated 10,000 Girl Guides, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls from the U.S. and Canada packed Peace Arch International Park Sunday afternoon for the 90th Hands Across the Border parade.
It was the best turnout in 10 years, said a tired but happy Sue Head, the international president of the International Peace Arch Association which organizes the event.
“It was amazing,” Head said Monday.
“It seems like they all came.”
Head said it was evident early on that attendance was up, when 30 buses pulled up to unload the Canadian participants, up about 50 per cent from previous years.
And for the first time in a long time, she said, there were more Canadian participants than Americans.
Head said the previous record for attendance was set the year before the 9-11 tragedy, when 13,000 kids attended.
After the 2001 terrorist attack, numbers dropped sharply, to as little as 6,000.
Then the event was cancelled in 2008 because of extensive construction at the border crossing, and the economic downturn hasn’t helped, either.
“Over the last few years, it’s been tough for people to get here,” Head said.
But this year, to rededicate the arch that was built with funds from school kids, Canadians came from as far away as Prince George, Prince Rupert and Kamloops, while some of the Americans hailed from as far away as Idaho and Colorado.
Volunteers at the concession stands ran out of souvenirs to sell by 10 a.m. that morning and they came close to running out of hotdogs.
“We sold everything,” Head said. “We were pleasantly surprised.”
Head credits the success of the event to the many volunteers who worked long hours to make it happen.
“It’s a lot of work by a lot of people,” she said.
Jill Battie, First Semiahmoo Guides leader, led a group of six local participants to the event.
She says the high point for her kids was the trading of pinnable hat crafts or “swaps,” while for her it was the opportunity to reconnect with people.
“I see guides and friends I haven’t seen in years,” Battie said.
The Peace Arch border crossing was closed from noon till 4 p.m. Sunday to allow the participants to stage their parade and mingle freely about the park.
The organizers of the event are looking for more volunteers to help next year. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.