How late is spring this year?
It's so late people in Arden, the Crocus Capital of Canada, are predicting the first crocus won't bloom until May.
Last year? March 31.
"We have a little competition here where people try to guess when the first crocus will bloom," said Leonard Paramor, who runs a century-old store, Cleo's Grocery, in Arden, population 140.
People put in a dollar and write their prediction on a calendar kept in the store. Normally, the first crocus blooms somewhere between April 1 and April 15. But this year will be different.
"Looking at the long-range weather forecast, there's virtually no chance of one in the month of April," said Paramor. That's the educated opinion of someone who has been tracking the first crocus bloom since 1948. "I've been looking at crocuses all my life," said Paramor, 72. "The latest I've ever seen them before was April 28."
What the robin is to the rest of Canada, the crocus is to Manitoba: a blessed harbinger of spring. It's our provincial flower expressly because its mauve petals are just about the happiest sight for a Manitoban after six months of Prairie winter.
The lateness of its blooms is setting back this community in other ways, too. Arden has already extended the deadline for its annual Crocus Photo Contest to April 30, and it can't go later. If Paramor is right, it may have zero entries.
The contest can't go later because the photographs are needed for the village's annual Crocus Festival on May 4, explained John Dietz, festival organizer. Time is needed for contest entries to be transported to Henry's Photos in Winnipeg for judging and processing of 8x10 prints. Then the photos are returned and mounted on the community hall walls for the festival.
"We have a supply of photos from previous years. We might have to decorate the walls with them," said Dietz.
Arden is 170 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, just off the Yellowhead Highway.
It boasts the world's largest crocus statue to back up its claim as the crocus capital. But what really makes it the crocus capital is how the landscape turns a soft purple for a few weeks in April every year.
Arden has a two-hectare patch of open terrain where the crocus grows so thick you can't walk without stepping on them. Crocuses also grow plentifully along the Arden Ridge, a sandy ridge left by Lake Agassiz that runs more than 200 kilometres long. The Arden Ridge was the highest point in Lake Agassiz, according to local people.
First the snow has to melt for those crocuses to bloom this year, said Paramor. Then the ground temperature has to get to about 15 C for a few days.
The festival is a small local event for families and includes a pancake breakfast, a kids' performer, wagon rides, a banquet, and wooden duck races. About 200 duck decoys are dropped off the town's swinging bridge that spans the Whitemud River. The decoys take from five minutes to half an hour to reach the finish line, depending on the flow, Dietz said.
There is one benefit to the late spring, however, said Dietz. The crocus blooms are usually all spent before the Crocus Festival is held each May. "This year, they will probably be in full bloom. We'll really have something to be festive about," said Dietz.