Trail Blazers: The Company picnic

Dressed to the nines for the CM&S picnic, circa July 22, 1933. Photo: Trail Historical SocietyDressed to the nines for the CM&S picnic, circa July 22, 1933. Photo: Trail Historical Society

There’s nothing like an old-timey picnic photo to stir up nostalgia for summer days long past.

Fitting for this week’s Trail Blazers is this 90-year old image — back when people dressed in their finest for all public occasions — from a company outing at Kootenay Lake.

“Beginning in 1931, the CM&S (now Teck Trail) hosted an annual picnic in Lakeside Park in Nelson for employees and their families,” begins Sarah Benson-Lord, manager, Trail Museum and Archives.

In those days, however, the payroll was considerably larger than the 1,400 or-so employees working at the plant today.

This image, captured on July 22, 1933, pictures a mere 12 of the 5,000 people that descended upon Nelson that year.

Given most didn’t have their own wheels back then, families were transported to the picnic by four “special trains” throughout the day, the last leaving at early afternoon for crews required to work the morning shift.

“The organization of such an event was arduous and smelter employees typically gave of their own time to pull of these events,” Benson-Lord explains.

“Volunteers galore ensured that enough picnic baskets were available and stocked for the thousands of revelers, children were treated specifically to a designated area for sugary summer treats, a host of sporting events were scheduled, and safety measures were in place including first aid, coat check, traffic control, and an increased police presence.”

Concert bands, swimming, games, and food all made this lengthy, carefully curated family day a special one for those who attended.

In its final year of 1938, the picnic drew an unbelievable 7,000 people, nearly the population of Trail today.

Benson-Lord says it may be that the war halted these large events, but many social clubs soon began hosting their own get-togethers in subsequent years.

Longtime Trail residents remember the regular Sunday Nelson-bound excursion train that left the Trail depot in the morning, returning well past bedtime.

Nelson still remains a day-trip destination for many in the Trail area, although today most hop in their own vehicle to make the trip, Benson-Lord adds.

“Although always with a pocket full of change to plug those pesky parking meters!”

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