Floating the Deschutes pretty much seems like a right of passage.
From locals, to tourists, it seems like an institution around here.
But little did I know that prior to the 1990’s, just about the only time that anything ever floated the Deschutes was on the Fourth of July.
Kelly Cannon-Miller, the Executive Director of the Deschutes Historical Museum explains:
“Fourth of July has always been probably the biggest holiday celebrated as a community, and then over time, 4th of July celebrations grew and grew and what people don’t realize is that travel and tourism has always been a thing for our local economy.
In particular, when the Great Depression hit and things were really low and slow, a group of Bend businessmen were sitting around having coffee and discussing ways that they could increase traffic to Bend during the summertime.”
One day they looked around at events like the Pendleton Rodeo and the Rose Festival in Portland and a light bulb went off.
“They came up with the idea of a water pageant, which is truly . . . we had a parade that actually floated on the river.
Dutch Stover, he was kind of the big brain behind this idea. He was very theatrical and was very much invested in the idea of the water, and spray of water, that could be illuminated with a rainbow.
Every year they built an arch over the river section of Mirror Pond, and that was where the signature floats would enter. People would gather at Drake Park to watch the festivities go by.
Not only was the parade on the river, it also took place at night, so all of the floats were illuminated and the arch that becomes the signature of the event, is also illuminated.”
The announcer would say “Let there be light!” at the beginning of the procession and all the lights would come on and illuminate the arch. Then it was off to the artistic races.
Pageant royalty and floats often worked on by local businesses would roll on down the river.
“So you have the start of the parade, it would be a procession of the pageantry court coming in, and the queen would sit on a throne at the end. So all of the floats would kind of end at the Queen’s little barge.”
But not all the glitters is gold.
“You’re up on the swan and you’re doing your wave, and your smile to all the folks sitting in Drake park watching, while you’re being bombarded by all of these bugs who are swarming around the light that’s in front of you, but you have to keep up go with a smile.”
Sadly, the will and people power needed to keep the pageant going, finally ran out.
“The Bend Water Pageant was almost all volunteer based, and it was a huge effort. It took place from 1933 to 1965. Reports in the early years were that tens of thousands visited Drake park and filled it to the brim, to sit in and watch the event.”