A scene from last year's salmon festival. This year's festival takes place the weekend of September 28 to 30 in and around Fairmont Hot Springs.

Festival returns with the Kokanee salmon

The Columbia Valley Salmon Festival promises an in depth experience exploring the culture of the wild salmon.

The wild Kokanee salmon is a landlocked type of sockeye salmon found in the Columbia River Basin and its life journey is the focus of a celebration taking place in and around the village of Fairmont Hot Springs on the weekend of September 28 to 30.

In its second year, the annual Columbia Valley Salmon Festival is a community arts and cultural festival that takes place over three days at the height of the salmon run when the river brims with spawning Kokanee.

“The Kokanee have just arrived into Fairmont in the past couple of days, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of them that come through this portion of the Fairmont reach every year,”  said Andy Dzilums, one of the festival’s steering committee board members and organizers. “Definitely a sight to come see.”

The festival also coincides with B.C. Rivers Day, a province-wide event held every year on the last Sunday in September that offers British Columbians an opportunity to celebrate en masse the wealth of free-flowing rivers in their province.

“The main goal of the festival is to educate people about the past, present and future of salmon in the Columbia River,” said Dzilums. “Basically since dams were built we’ve gone from having large Chinook salmon coming through this valley, to none of those, but we’re able to celebrate Kokanee salmon that are in our rivers today.”

Taking place at noon at the Lakeshore Resort Campground in Windermere, the opening day celebrations on Friday, September 28 will feature speakers from the Akisq’nuk First Nations and Shuswap Nation Council, kids’ environmental education activities, local artisans and First Nations cultural performances including traditional pit salmon cooking, sturgeon canoe demonstrations, with pow wow dancing for the salmon celebration at 5 p.m.

Next, representatives of the Canadian Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission (CCRIFC) will host a Green Drinks event at Fairmont Hot Springs resort starting at 5 p.m.to discuss how First Nations and organizations are working together to bring wild Pacific salmon back to the Columbia River.

Then day one of the festival will wind down at the resort at 6:30 p.m. with an evening salmon buffet dinner and guest speakers — Handbook of the Canadian Rockies author Ben Gadd and Howie Wright of the Okanagan Nation Alliance Fisheries Department on how the Okanagan has restored ocean dwelling salmon back into the area. The night will end with a free live music performance by Heather Gemmell at the Bear’s Paw Bar & Grill.

Two opportunities to watch the Kokanee salmon spawning in the Columbia River, either by golf cart from 8 to 9:30 a.m., or by kayak from 10 a.m. to noon, will be offered on Saturday, September 29. Then head to the newly reopened Mountainside Golf Course at noon for Taste of the Columbia River. This first-time event is free for the whole family and runs until 4 p.m., showcasing food samples by Fairmont Hot Springs Resort chefs (tasting tickets must be purchased for food booths), local artwork, First Nations performances and live music.

The Columbia Salmon Festival Gala Dinner & Silent Auction will run from 7 p.m. until late at the Mountainside Golf Course clubhouse and will be the final event on Saturday.

Featuring wild game and salmon dishes and live music by Cranbrook’s rootsy folk rock four-piece, Redgirl, who will be singing  “Salmon Hymn” and more original songs, the gala will also include a presentation by guest speaker John Schurts  with the General Counsel for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Portland, Oregon.

The festival will move back to Lakeshore Campground — where pow wow dancing will be taking place all weekend long — on Sunday (September 30) for a pancake breakfast starting at 9 p.m. followed by demonstrations of historical fishing techniques, then the festival will formally close at noon with the Akisq’nuk Closing ceremonies marking the end of the second annual festival.

For reservations and tickets, call 1-800-663-4979 or 250-345-6070 and for more information about the Columbia Valley Salmon Festival, visit the official festival website at www.columbiasalmonfest.ca. The golf cart and kayak activities must be pre-booked through Fairmont Hot Springs Resort as space is limited. All proceeds raised by the festival over the weekend will go towards ecological and restoration projects along the Columbia River and surrounding area.