Residents in Hay River have reached a milestone 10th consecutive week of Friday birthday parades for people who can’t have a party during the pandemic.
Each Friday at 4pm, a convoy of festive vehicles drives through the town and gives special shout-outs to those celebrating a birthday. What started with kids now spans all ages.
From Yellowknife to Fort Smith, NWT communities have embraced parades as an alternative to parties. Now, even Inuvik RCMP have been persuaded to join the fun.
In a news release on Monday, police in the Beaufort Delta community said parents can apply for RCMP and emergency vehicles to join parades for children aged four to 10. You can set this up by calling RCMP at 867-777-1111 or emailing the Inuvik detachment.
“We are first and foremost emergency responders,” RCMP added. “This service is not guaranteed as crews may be called to assist at an emergency. If your scheduled Drive-By Birthday doesn’t happen, it means we were needed at an emergency elsewhere.”
There has been no danger of drive-by birthdays falling through in Hay River, where the parades have become almost an art form.
It all began in late March, when Melanie King’s son turned 13 just as the territory went into lockdown.
“I wanted him to be celebrated,” she said, “and then I realized there were a few other kids who had birthdays the same day. So I thought, well, we might as well celebrate them as well.”
Parades have been happening every week since. Community members request shout-outs in a dedicated Facebook group, then King and Jennifer Tweedie map out a route past as many expectant houses as possible.
There are typically 30 to 40 cars involved, decked out with signs and streamers. Spectators sometimes decorate their lawns with balloons.
“It’s wonderful to see everybody happy,” said Tweedie. “It’s nice to have that kind of reciprocal feeling of, you know, you’re helping somebody feel good and they feel excited.”
Hay River’s community radio station has chipped in with a custom-made radio show. Cars tune in during the parade for a birthday playlist with messages to celebrants between songs.
‘An acknowledgement of who they are’
Last week, those receiving drive-bys ranged from a two-year-old to a 90-year-old.
At daycares and long-term care homes, people come outside to watch. King said the parades make some seniors emotional.
“It’s an acknowledgment of who they are and the accomplishments that they’ve made,” she said. “Especially when you’re 90 or 98, it’s a big deal.”
She added: “Man, those Elders, they really hit you with those ones.”
A Hay River birthday parade. Photo: Melanie King
The territory is in its first phase of lifting Covid-19 restrictions, which means NWT residents have a bit more freedom outside their houses. But enthusiasm for the parades is still strong, and King said they will continue until interest dwindles.
“No matter who you are, or whether we’re friends or not, our community is always happy and willing to at least try and put a smile on your face,” King said.
In the Facebook group, people have expressed their gratitude.
“Thank you to everyone for the birthday drive-by, it made my day,” one comment read.
“Our daughter was over the moon with excitement. Thanks for helping her have a very special day,” read another.
Tweedie, an elementary teacher at Princess Alexandra School, says the parades double as an opportunity to see her students.
“It’s great to see them face-to-face instead of just telephone calls or Zoom,” she said. “It makes it exciting.”
King looks forward to the slow build-up of excitement every Friday.
“Friday comes and it’s like, ‘OK, there’s another parade,’” she said.
“But then, once I start looking at the route and looking at all the recipients … and then once you see the people’s faces, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is exactly why I’m doing it.’”