Organizers showcase major talent during opening days of AuroraFest

AuroraFest 150 got off to a running start this past weekend by headlining a number of events with some top-shelf performers, both of the human and canine variety.

However, before the festival officially began on Sept. 16, a spectacular display of the northern lights on Thursday night set the scene for a festival that was conceived as a way to celebrate Canada’s natural beauty.

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“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” said wildlife filmmaker Matt Paproski, who attended a steak, spuds and bud supper at Trappers Tavern on Sept. 15.

Paproski and his film crew from Drumheller, Alberta are integral part of this week’s festivities. Not only are they documenting the 10-day affair for an upcoming film, but they also brought along a pair of trained timberwolves to help educate local Thompsonites about the issues currently facing these animals.

While the two wolves, named “Timber” and “Aurora,” are on display at the Boreal Discovery Centre until Friday, Paproski explained that they are more than simple props that are used in his wildlife documentaries.

“Ten years ago we found out that they hunt wolves for money,” Paproski told a tour group at the Boreal Discovery Centre on Sunday. “We didn’t like that very much, so we got two of those wolves and what we’ve done with them is raise them ever since they’ve been babies.”

But the weekend’s festivities weren’t relegated to the great outdoors.

Juno-award winning children’s entertainer Al Simmons brought his unique brand of musical comedy to a number of indoor venues throughout the weekend, including R.D. Parker Collegiate, Trappers Tavern and the Thompson Regional Community Centre.

The 69-year old musician showed no signs of slowing down during his Saturday show at the TRCC, where he performed some of his most popular songs like “Gypsy Sock” and “I Collect Rocks” using an assortment of wacky props and unconventional musical instruments.  At one point, Simmons even jumped on top of a nearby table to finish a number and quickly returned to the stage thanks to a piggyback ride from AuroraFest organizer Volker Beckmann. 

“People ask me all the time if I’m going to retire,” said Simmons after the show. “I can’t see any reason to stop what I’m doing because I enjoy it. I must admit, there’s some times when I have show after show after show when I’m tired, but … I think that listening to the audience cheer and laugh and shout, it gives me energy.”

Simmons has been performing in Thompson ever since the early 1970s and he’s seen the city’s mood go through a number of peaks and valleys.

While the singer recognizes locals are worried about upcoming economic hardships, he remains confident that events like AuroraFest will help secure Thompson’s place as a major tourist destination in the future.

“It seems like everything’s in place to have Thompson be something with or without the mine,” he said. “It seems that it’s going to be a tourist hub for people coming fishing from other areas, so it might just work out for the best now.”

AuroraFest 150 runs until Sept. 24, with a Guinness World Record attempt for group wolf howling taking place Thursday afternoon at the TRCC. To get a look at the festival’s full events schedule, please visit thompsonaurorafest.ca

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