The sounds of silence

Remembering the Kimberley International Old Time Accordion Championships, now that they are no more.

Carolyn Grant

It’s summertime. The weather has finally settled into what we expect, tourists are out and about, locals are heading to campgrounds on the weekends.

It’s just a perfect East Kootenay summer.

But here in Kimberley something has been missing. At first I wasn’t quite sure what it was ­— why did I feel that I was missing something?

But then it occurred to me. I am hearing nothing when I should be hearing accordions.

This is my first summer without KIOTAC, the Kimberley International Old Time Accordion Championships.

The championships would have wrapped by now, winner of the ultimate prize, the Happy Hans trophy, would have bowed to the audience and perhaps played one more tune.

I would have spent the week reporting playdown scores like a sports writer­: “It went right down to the wire with Michael Bridge edging out Alicia Baker by a squeeze.”  Good times.

I would have wandered through the Platzl every day looking for photographs of smiling people, of which there were plenty.

And sitting behind my desk, I would still hear the faint strains of accordion music wafting in from the Platzl.

Of course, I would also be stuck behind a 55-foot RV proceeding down Wallinger at about 10 kph. It was always a little harder to get around Kimberley during KIOTAC, but that’s a small price to pay for what the Fest brought to Kimberley.

For almost 40 years — 39 to be exact — KIOTAC brought people by the thousands to Kimberley for one week in July. They camped on the streets and in parking lots and the locals grumbled. But I like to think that underneath the occasional grumble there was a real appreciation of what KIOTAC meant to Kimberley.

KIOTAC was Kimberley. While travelling I have often told people I was from Kimberley and a lot of the time the response was, ‘Kimberley? Isn’t that where they have the accordion festival?’

Yes, it is. Or rather, it was. KIOTAC put Kimberley on the map. In its first year there were two categories of competition; that grew to 23. The first year there were 16 competitors; that peaked at over 200.

A half million dollars in prize money and bursaries was handed out over the years of KIOTAC. One million dollars was paid out to performers. And $150,000 was given to local charities. And perhaps most impressive, over 100,000 volunteer hours were given. That does not include the tireless efforts of the KIOTAC committee members. That’s just 100,000 hours from community members who helped out for the week.

Pretty darn impressive.

And it’s all over now. People from the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations understand what KIOTAC really meant to Kimberley and are working hard to find ways to bring people into the Platzl. The First Saturdays concept looks like a winner and hopefully will build in the coming years. And there is JulyFest, which is coming up quickly — always a busy, and profitable, weekend for Kimberley.

But as I sit at my desk and ponder the sounds of silence from the Platzl, I miss KIOTAC — funny hats, lederhosen, snarled traffic and all.

Carolyn Grant is Editor of the Kimberley Daily Bulletin