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This article was published 19/8/2018 (651 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a party 50 years in the making, so when Red River Exhibition Park opened to the public Saturday morning, folks streamed through the gates. They came out of curiosity, and they came looking for a little fun.
But mostly, they came to share their love of one classic thing: the Boler camper trailer.
Since Wednesday, Boler owners from across North America have converged on the Red River Ex grounds to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic glass-fibre trailers, which were launched in Winnipeg in 1968.
"You can’t miss this," said Jim Arnup, as he lounged beside his Montreal Canadiens-themed camper. "We have little get-togethers in each province, but it’s the only time Bolers are going to get together from across Canada."
On the fourth day of the festival, organizers threw open the gates for a public open house. Hundreds of visitors turned out to mosey through the long lines of trailers, popping their heads into doors, admiring custom designs.
"Hello," one woman said brightly, sitting just outside her trailer. "Seen a lot of Bolers today?"
Indeed, visitors had seen a lot: nearly 1,000 in all, lined up in rows as far as the eye could see. There were Bolers decorated in homage to holidays and sports teams. Bolers dressed up to match hotrods or painted with daisies.
There was a Boler that read "honk if you’re Ukrainian," and another that urged drivers to honk if they love Bolers.
In one row, there was a Boler brightened by Saskatchewan Roughriders pride — complete with an inflatable Rider that stood as high as the trailer itself — just metres away from a Boler painted in Winnipeg Blue Bombers colours.
To make that scene even more perfect, the Blue Bombers Boler featured Ron Miechkota playing banjo out front.
And the mood, around all of these trailers, was brightly convivial. Owners lounged by their trailers as visitors wandered through, chatting about how they transformed their campers into their own little portable heaven.
That’s part of the Boler charm, said owner Jeff Funk. They’re darn cute, for one thing. And they’re a social investment, of sorts, too: no matter where you take your camper, you can bet that folks will be drawn to it.
"I always tell people: if you’re not willing to have someone walk into your campsite because of your trailer, then don’t buy a Boler," Funk said, with a laugh.
He has plenty of experience with that. Since Funk — who is originally from Manitoba, now living in Alberta — and partner Diane Kinsey bought their first Boler 12 years ago, they have amassed a fleet of seven of the campers.
As for where he keeps them all: "We have friendly neighbours," Funk said, with a grin.
That’s the beauty of the Boler, fans say. As far as campers go, they’re easy to pull, and comparatively easy to stash. But it’s that social aspect that brought fans to Saturday’s open house — and keeps owners coming back.
For instance, consider the story of Amanda Hoppe. After buying her first Boler, Rusty — owners tend to assign trailers with both names and personalities — the Red Deer, Alta. resident fell in love with the camper lifestyle.
Flash forward some years, and Hoppe is now the founder of Boler Bitches, a high-spirited group of enthusiasts. The name started as a joke between Hoppe’s family, but soon sprouted into a full-fledged Boler friendship club.
Today, there are nearly 200 certified Boler Bitches worldwide, including folks from all across Canada — except Nunavut, six U.S. states, and New Zealand. A lifetime membership is $30. The group has also released its own cookbook.
Taking the hobby one step further, Hoppe even designed and compiled a colourful coffee-table book, Vintage Fibreglass Trailers, which features essays from dozens of Boler owners. The book’s first run is almost sold out.
"The culture is addictive," Hoppe said. "It doesn’t matter where you work, what you do, or how much money you have. Nobody really asks those things, because you have that commonality of the passion about the little trailer."
So on Saturday, as folks filed through the Red River Ex grounds, Hoppe and Bitches co-organizer Darla Black buzzed around their delightfully customized trailers, showing off some of their club merch and greeting visitors.
To be part of the 50th anniversary, she said, is a little like a dream come true: a chance to show off all their hard work, and see others’ hard work too. And, above all, it’s a chance to stake out their little piece of the Boler story.
"This is epic," Hoppe said, of the whole shebang. "Our club is going to be a part of Boler history."
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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