Point of View

Embedded at a Boler convention: The iconic trailer and the people who love them

CBC producer Nichole Huck packed up her young family in a Boler and attended the largest gathering for the egg-shaped trailers in Canadian history.

Winnipeg draws nearly 500 trailers to 50th anniversary event

This parking lot was our home for five days for the Boler's 50th anniversary gathering in Winnipeg. (Matt Kruchak)

"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.

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.  

In Texas, on the way back home to Saskatchewan.

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.

Sleeping five in the Boler involves a bit of human Jenga. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

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. 

Curtains, cushions and painted cupboards are the most common Boler renos.

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. 

Boler people 

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.

Brian and Lillian Harrison, a.k.a. Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. It turns out Santa summers in Winnipeg in his Christmas-themed 1979 Boler. The kids were really excited to meet Santa and get candy canes. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

As this was our first fibreglass egg gathering, I was unprepared for the "extra" that people put into both their hosting and elaborate yards. 

The owners of "Miss Daisy" knew folks would be keen to take a picture with her so they packed photo props. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
This little Paris-inspired trailer gives new meaning to the word "glamping." (Nichole Huck/CBC)
Lisa Petersen from Fox Creek Alberta and her 1978 Gnome Home. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
There is no escape from Rider fans and their rabid enthusiasm. Art and Wendy Sekulich from Kenaston, Sask., say their 1971 Boler with Pilsner Flag curtains have brought them together with his Calgary Stampeders-loving neighbours because they both have a love of the tiny trailers. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
Darlene Anderson and Jim Arnup are from Rosalind, Alta. When Darlene went to Montreal in the 1970s, she saw her first Habs game and was hooked. Despite living in Alberta, their allegiance to the team and 1974 Boler make them fast friends with hockey fans across the country. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
Karen Hayduk and her mother travelled from Calmar, Alta., in their Pysanka trailer. Karen said her "Honk if you're Ukrainian" sign in the rear window attracted a lot of attention when her caravan drove through Yorkton, Sask. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
DJ Weatherbee from Brantford, Ont., named his 1977 Boler "The Bubble Bee." He painted her and added a stinger on the spare tire in the back. Now, everyone gives him anything they find with a bee on it. His wife said she even tattooed a bee behind her ear in honour of the camper. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
I went over to visit Ed Dean on the last day. He proudly told me he was "the only legless guy here" and he'd enjoyed the weekend. He had found his community, staying up late and talking trailers around a propane firepit. His first solo trip had been a success, and he was already planning his next adventure in the Boler. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
Twin sisters Denise and Michele Rybuck from Fort Frances, Ont., both pull 1975 Bolers. Nutmeg and Cupcake enjoy camping together. Michele's 12-year-old daughter helped to decorate Cupcake. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
Kimberly Holter of Calgary used the weekend to spruce up her 1973 Boler. Her family also planned massive scavenger hunts that took people all over the grounds taking upside down selfies with their favourite trailers, and counting gnomes. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

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.

John D'Andrea from Silton, Sask., drives a 1964 Corvette Stingray. He got his 1976 Boler first, then painted his Stingray to match. (Nichole Huck/CBC)
Steven and Sharon Chamberlain from Cedar Creek, Texas, attracted a lot of attention with their matching Volkswagen van and trailer combo. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

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.

Just moments after I became a "Boler Bitch," still wearing that new member glow. (Shawn Fraser)

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.

My husband, Shawn Fraser, shares his experience travelling with three little kids on an 18,000-kilometre road trip in a Boler. (Nichole Huck/CBC)

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."

Open doors 

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."

My six-year-old giving visitors tours of "Sunny Side Up." (Nichole Huck/CBC)

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. 

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      About the Author

      Nichole Huck

      Reporter

      Nichole Huck is a producer CBC Radio Current Affairs. She has worked as a human rights journalist in Thailand and Ghana. Today, Huck has three children and is proud to call Regina home.