Birds of a feather flock to Winterfest

Half-BakedSo, this picture popped up on Facebook after the Tonasket Winterfest last weekend. It showed me and another white-bearded, jacketed dude with a newspaper, and someone asked if we were brothers.

George Elliott and I are not brothers – we only met last Friday – but within seconds it was obvious we are kindred spirits.

Elliott is the owner/publisher of the Similkameen News Leader, the newspaper in Princeton, B.C., which is Tonasket’s sister city. The paper is similar in size and scope to the Gazette-Tribune; the city itself is about twice as big as Tonasket.

The sister city relationship between the two has been around for some time. George was in on first sister city meeting, originally brought together by the two rodeo clubs. Representatives from the two cities would visit during civic events such as last weekend’s Winterfest. Somewhere along the line – all before my time here – the relationship faded a bit. George hadn’t been down from Princeton for about 10 years, but after Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb took part in Princeton’s Racing Days last June, his hope to revitalize the sister city relationship caught on.

Between Plumb’s ebullient personality and ceaseless advocacy for all things Tonasket, and Elliott’s own easy-going fun-loving antics (he’s an avid “planker,” known to show up in the most unique spots lying stiff as a board, hence the term …) the two hit it off.

Elliott, his wife Brenda, Princeton Youth Ambassador Carmen Brodie and her parents all traveled down to share the Tonasket Winterfest experience.

George, Brenda and I spend some time Friday afternoon swapping stories of the small-town newspaper life, most of which sounded quite familiar to one another. (Our newspapers aren’t related, but we do share printing press time in Penticton.)

They spent two days visiting bazaars, getting a tour of North Valley Hospital, eating at local establishments and being awed by the Armed Forces Legacy Project.

Despite wind chills approaching minus-30 degrees (Fahrenheit … George and I couldn’t figure out the Celsius equivalent in our heads, but it was still bad), the Princeton contingent joined more than 100 locals at Founders Day Park for the culmination of the evening that featured Santa, the Hydes’ A Cavallo, chestnuts roasting over and open fire and live Christmas carols provided by high school students brave enough risk having mouthpieces frozen to their lips.

I even arranged a prime opportunity for George, who “planked” on one of the logs set up for the log cutting contest, with Miss Tonasket Rodeo Brisa Leep and Carmen preparing to put the saw blade to good use on the pranking, planking publisher.

Lots of Tonasket highlights made their way onto the News-Leader’s Facebook page, and I even helped with a few video highlights to help George and Brenda explain some of our unique traits. (You try explaining the A Cavallo carousel / pirate ship in a minute or less!)

Brisa and Carmen accompanied a big group of kids on a slow but frigid fire engine ride, while we all took turns mix-and-matching under the propane heaters and fire pit, and roaming over to see which kids loved Santa and which are doomed to Christmas Eve nightmares.

Elliott dedicated a nice spread in his paper to this week to Winterfest, including a column similar to this one.

“We made some new friends in Tonasket,” George wrote. “And I discovered that we really aren’t ‘sisters’ as we are really all just one big family. Regardless of where you live.”

Looks like I should be planning my trip to Princeton Racing Days.