Embedded at a Boler convention: The iconic trailer and the people who love them
Winnipeg draws nearly 500 trailers to 50th anniversary event
"I met Santa and he has a Boler trailer."
That's how my six-year-old will answer that first day of school question: "What did you learn on your summer holidays?"
From Aug. 15-19, Winnipeg hosted the largest gathering of Boler trailers in history to celebrate the camper's 50th anniversary. I went, with my husband and children — ages six, four and two — in tow. It's now safe to say they know more about Boler trailers than most Canadians.
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In fall 2016, our family left Regina for a four-month road trip nearly 18,000 kilometres long to the West Coast, down to Mexico and back up through Middle America.
As a result, my children have intimate knowledge of how you can sardine five people into a four-metre egg-shaped trailer. They are familiar with the human Jenga that is performed nightly as tables are converted to beds. They know the crack of a frame breaking in two on a highway in the middle of the desert. They know the sound of the trailer hitch scraping over a speed bump, and what ukulele music sounds like inside a trailer late at night while a storm pounds the fibreglass shell.
Our 1972 Boler sat in a farmyard near Pense, Sask., for a few years before she came to live with us. I remember sitting at my desk at work when I got a text from my husband saying he was in the small town west of Regina, and he had just put an offer on a Boler. Immediately, I started Googling.
The Internet is full of images of adorable Boler trailers, Pinterest-ed up with matching curtains, quilts, bunting and co-ordinated coolers. You can find Youtube tutorials on how to replace the cushions and hacks on how to run a fridge off solar panels.
After going down a Pinterest rabbit hole, my mom and I headed to Fabricland, where we found bacon and egg-patterned material for curtains. She sewed matching cushions while I freshened up the Boler's inside with a coat of bright yellow paint.
Just like that "Sunny Side Up" was born.
Then, last weekend, Sunny Side Up and more than 490 other trailers from all over North America made the pilgrimage to the place where the Boler was born 50 years ago.
It was a true field of dreams scenario. Organizer Ian Gilles rented out a massive parking lot at the Red River Exhibition Park on the outskirts of Winnipeg and actually had to cap the number of people who could register.
Within a couple of days, caravans covered the pavement with a pop-up community of people who have one thing in common: a love of living small. We have all experienced the smugness of pulling in beside a massive fifth-wheeler in a campground or Walmart parking lot, feeling superior about our gas-saving abilities and agility while navigating crowded city streets.
As this was our first fibreglass egg gathering, I was unprepared for the "extra" that people put into both their hosting and elaborate yards.
We pull our Boler with a 2007 Honda Odyssey. The thought of matching my Boler to my pull-car had never even occurred to me. I met people who had painted their Bolers three or four times, depending on what vehicle they had at the time.
Part of the club
Little did I know when I came to Winnipeg that I would be going home a member of an exclusive club. According to the Boler Bitches website, members are individuals who are crazy for Bolers and vintage campers of likeness, and simply want to enjoy the fun and friendship of other like-minded individuals. The club was established in 2013. I'm number 181 and I have the official button to prove it.
My four-year-old was quite intrigued by the Boler Bitches — not only because they hand out candy to kids and drinks to adults, but because he got away with saying the word bitch five times until I told him "No more questions."
Trade secrets, tips and tricks
The event was filled with people trying to learn tips and tricks for making Boler life more enjoyable. That included workshops on everything from boondocking (camping for free on public land), sewing curtains and cushions, converting to solar, and the talk my husband and I gave entitled "To Mexico in a 13' Boler."
Most people react to our trip with a mix of awe and bewilderment: "I'd have never done that but good on you guys." There was a full house for the talk. Some were interested in taking trips with their grand kids; others wanted to know how much to budget or how much work we had to do to the body of the trailer when we returned.
A slideshow took people through the highs (waking up in old growth forests) and lows of our trip (waking up on a suburban street outside San Francisco and making the kids be quiet as we sneakily used the portable toilet in someone's driveway).
But perhaps the topic that garnered the most interest is how to have intimate time when you are travelling in such close quarters with children. My husband and co-presenter waxed poetic to the audience, reflecting on the quote often attributed to Pierre Berton, "A Canadian is somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe."
On Saturday, the gates opened and about 1,800 people flooded in to check out the Bolers and Boler lovers in their natural habitat. It was a bit like being on display in the Museum of Natural History.
When you have three young children, trying to make the place look presentable can be a bit of a challenge. With only a few minutes to go until the gates opened we were madly throwing clothes and extra blankets into the van, tucking away our nighttime pee bucket (a honey bucket with a lid), and setting out chairs for our would-be guests to sit and visit.
Our six-year-old may have a future in sales as he gave strangers 30-second tours: "Here is the bunk my dad made before our trip"; "the table turns into a bed"; and "yes, I did have fun on our trip."
The best part was going from trailer to trailer visiting with people who were clearly proud of the modifications they've made to their campers, adding a screen door or shelves above the bed, backsplashes and hardwood flooring.
On the last morning, as most of us were packing up, there were hugs, exchanges of emails and promises to meet up in Watrous, Sask., for the Prairie Egg Gathering and Bolerama.
Each person hooked up their trailer, did one last cruise through waving goodbye to new friends and hit the open road to make many more years of camping memories.