SEQUIM — The annual celebration that became the Irrigation Festival started out as a May Day observance.
But it was irrigation — namely, the opening of the first ditch channeling water from the Dungeness River — that brought the community together 109 years ago.
Months of hard work preceded the May 1, 1896, inauguration of the system that would bring water to the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, which back then was a dry prairie.
People started arriving at Callen’s Corner (now the corner of Port Williams Road and Sequim-Dungeness Way) early in the morning, traveling hilly, crooked roads in covered wagons, on horseback and on foot.
They brought a lot of food — the custom at the time, according to an account from the Sequim Bicentennial History Book Committee, was to bring at least twice as much as was needed to feed your family.
Races and ball games followed dinner, along with “much visiting among the families who saw each other seldom in those days of difficult transportation.”
The irrigation system grew significantly in subsequent years, and the festival named after it has expanded as well.
“Originally, it was celebrated by the farmers and the people who created the ditches,” said festival chairman Joe Borden.
“[Now] we get floats and bands from other communities. Lots of people come from out of town. There’s usually several out-of-town bands.”
There’s also a festival pageant, three parades, a car show, a motorcycle show, a logging demonstration, an arts and crafts show and a carnival.
But it’s still a gathering point for people — indeed, in these days of easy transportation, 10,000 to 15,000 visitors are expected on May 14 alone.
And there will still be lots of food.
Extended parade route
New this year is an extended route for the Grand Parade at noon May 14.
It will travel down Washington Avenue all the way to Seventh Street.There will also be a Super Cruz Car Parade before the main parade, featuring cars entered in the festival’s car show. The cars will caravan to the corner of West Washington and Fifth Avenue.