The Great Pumpkin Classic is among the unique family-friendly events showcased this season in Vernon.

FieldHistoric O'Keefe Ranch/Robb ThompsonWhen is a pumpkin not a pumpkin? When it’s a boat!

We can eat pumpkins, turn them into scary decorations, or even chuck them at targets. Resourceful Cinderella, of course, used hers as a carriage, but we’d never heard of a pumpkin that you could paddle around in–until now. “On October 26th, as part of our annual harvest celebrations, we’ll be holding the first ever Great Vernon Pumpkin Classic!” says Angeline Chew, tourism manager for the City of Vernon in the North Okanagan. “We were looking for an event to be the centrepiece of our Vernon Fall Festival. The city is surrounded by lakes, and pumpkin is a big harvest in the area. We thought: pumpkins float, so let’s give it a try!” 

JuggleDavison OrchardsLast year, the Vernon team hollowed out a 350-pound pumpkin, grown locally by sponsor John Deak Realty, and one brave tester (John Deak himself!) set sail... and stayed dry, so, for 2019, the event has been opened to the public. How it works: Growers show up at Davison Orchards Country Village on October 19th at 11 a.m. for the Giant Pumpkin Weigh-In. The heaviest pumpkins receive cash prizes, with first prize for adults tallying $500, while the top under-16 grower gets $100.

Adults who have a 300-pound-plus pumpkin can then sign up to participate in the Classic. They have one week to hollow out and decorate their vessel, as the race takes place between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. at Kin Beach on Lake Okanagan on the 26th. Chew hopes there’ll be an enthusiastic crowd, and there are a few rules. “Pumpkin boats must be non-motorized, but we can help racers source paddles,” she says. “Any decorations must be biodegradable so—if ‘boats’ end up at the bottom of the lake—they won’t damage the environment. Don’t worry, we’ll have safety canoers on the scene!” Pumpkins that do make it home will be donated to separate donkey and bunny sanctuaries as feed.

DivaliTourism Vernon/Shiamak VancouverChew hopes that the Pumpkin Classic will be an ongoing signature event for the Vernon Fall Festival, but there are lots of other ways to celebrate the season. "The Diwali in Vernon Festival is taking place during the same period. For Halloween enthusiasts, there’s the Walk of Terror at the Caravan Farm Theatre, and the Corn Maze and Field of Screams at the Historic O’Keefe Ranch. The Corn Maze is family-friendly, but the Field of Screams is genuinely terrifying, with actors that hide and burst out with chainsaws,” explains Chew. “The cornerstone of the festival is Davison Orchards. It’s been a family-run farm for 86 years and has a pumpkin patch, tractor rides and train rides. You can visit the farm animals and enjoy some of the pies and cakes that are fresh made on-site from pumpkins grown at the orchard. It’s a great opportunity to educate visitors on where food comes from.”

ScreamsHistoric O’Keefe Ranch/Don WeixlNew sign-ups for the Pumpkin Weigh-In and Classic are welcome, though Chew hopes potential participants are well-prepared. “It takes a long time to grow a pumpkin of that size–nine or 10 months,” she says. “We’re not sure how many people will take part on the day. Some of the local farmers have become quite competitive about it, and they’re very secretive. It’s been fantastic to see people get so involved!”

To sign up or find out more about any of the Fall Festival events, visit Tourism Vernon, email info@tourismvernon.com, or call (250) 542-1415.