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Record-breaking turnout for Fraser Valley Hunt

40 riders participated in the opening hunt in Roberts Creek – a club record

Rains and powerful winds subsided enough to allow the Fraser Valley Hunt’s opening meet in Roberts Creek to move ahead – and break attendance records. 

“We had a record 40 riders yesterday… It was fantastic,” club member and Irish pub-owner William Donnellan told Coast Reporter Nov. 6. 

At least as many spectators showed up for the event, hosted annually by the Sunshine Coast Equestrian Club.  

Approximately half the riders travelled to the Sunshine Coast from the Lower Mainland, some waking up and leaving their homes and stables in the dark due to the powerful storm that left approximately 300,000 BC Hydro customers without power.  

While the tradition is alive and well, another tradition – the highly-anticipated post-hunt luncheon – looked a little different.  

Long-serving volunteer Virginia Mills, who typically presided over the indulgent meal, bowed out of her duties last year. “She has done that for decades and we are very grateful,” Donnellan said.  

Rev. Terri Scallon wasn’t on site either for the blessing of the hounds. The Gibsons United Church closed permanently last year.   

Instead, that job fell to Kennan MacKenzie, who has recently been ordained as a Reverend. He and Lynn Putland, who own the property in Roberts Creek on which the hunt takes place, also organized the meal.  

The hunt itself, which uses a drag scent rather than a live fox, lasted about two hours, with Huntsman Kelly Coughlin overseeing the hounds as they chased scent through the countryside, forest service roads and rainforest surrounding Lockyer Road. 

A chainsaw or two were needed to clear branches from a 50-foot tree that blew down across a logging road in the powerful storm that swept through the area the night before, but Donnellan said “it turned into a natural obstacle.”  

Revival of the hunt 

B.C.’s only drag scent hunt club has undergone a revival over the past five years. In 2018, MacKenzie credited Donnellan with the upswing. “It was himself that stepped in last year to try to get the hunt going again because it was basically on its knees last year,” MacKenzie said at the time.  

Donnellan attributes the growth – especially this year’s record-breaking turnout – to a confluence of the decline of COVID-19 restrictions and precautions and the increase in the club’s proactive efforts to popularize the hunt by making it more inclusive and involving community through fundraising efforts. 

The club raises money for the equestrian therapy facility Pacific Riding for Developing Abilities. It also invites youth to participate in a pony club hunt, hosted annually by former Langley Township councillor David Davis at his dairy farm. This October, the club also hosted a formal gala, the first of its kind in 15 years.  

“I think there’s more volunteers, more supporters, more people are willing to get their hands dirty and help,” said Donnellan. “It’s nice to give back to the community and people appreciate that and support us.” 

He thanked all participants and Sunshine Coast residents who assisted with the event – and in a show of hospitality reciprocity, Donnellan, whose family business owns five Irish pubs on the Lower Mainland, invited those helpers to participate in another longstanding tradition. “If they want to come over on Saint Patrick’s Day [I’ll] kindly put them on our guest list and take care of them.” 

The hunt was founded in 1968. Seasons last typically until Easter, with weekly hunts. The two subsequent hunts are set for Ferndale, Washington.