Mention the name of Cupar and the idea of dropping gophers out of a hot air ballooon doesn’t immediately spring to mind.
Unless, that is, you’re referring to Cupar, Saskatchewan, a tiny community made famous by the annual ritual of dropping cute little prairie rodents from a great height.
But it’s been a decade since gophers last fell from the sky in Cupar – and now a local resident has launched a campaign to bring the event back.
Until it was scrapped in 2004 due to a lack of volunteers, the Gopher Drop put Cupar on the map and swelled the town’s 625-strong population by hundreds as people from all over the province flocked in to see the spectacle.
The gophers, of course, weren’t real, but fluffy facsimiles mostly made by residents of a local nursing home – and the tradition of throwing them out of a hot air balloon raised over $100,000 to help finance Cupar’s recreation complex.
Cupar became a village in 1905 and was named after our own Cupar by officials of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
Its first residents were mainly of Irish, English and Scottish descent and the community grew up around its fertile farmland.
Situated about 75 km north of the provincial capital, Regina, Cupar sits on the flat plains of Saskatchewan’s best grain growing area and most of its residents are still involved in farming.
As well as the gopher drop, it’s also famous for its hockey associations, and is often referred to as the Home of Eddie Shore, as the legendary NHL defenceman was raised there.
Despite its modest size, the town has also produced several other NHL players and promising prospects.
Residents of Cupar are clearly proud of their clean, close-knit community, which boasts numerous businesses as well as modern educational, recreational and health facilities. It has its own ambulance and fire services and even a heritage museum.
In summer, temperatures can reach a sweltering 40 degrees C, while in winter they plummet to an average of minus 20. For more info, visit www.townofcupar.com
Cupar’s Gopher Drop dates back to the early 90s, when the community was looking for ideas for a fundraiser.
It was inspired by an episode of the sitcom ‘WKRP in Cincinnati’, in which the show’s characters dropped turkeys from a helicopter.
Since gophers are common in the farmland around Cupar, the idea was adapted and the great Gopher Drop was born.
Before the event took place, tickets would be sold to participants, who would watch the stuffed rodents land next to numbered gopher holes that corresponded with prizes. The value of the prizes also increased along with the size of the event, with holidays, TVs and even a car being donated.
Once all the gophers and holes landed on the ground, they were checked to see which numbered gopher landed closest to which numbered gopher hole. The gopher that landed nearest to hole number one won the grand prize, the gopher closest to hole numbered two won second prize, and so on.
Now resident Louis Wagner is calling for it to be re-instated – hopefully by the end of this summer.
The story was run recently in the Star Pheonix, a daily newspaper based in Saskatoon in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.
“They really embraced it,” he told the newspaper. “And everything we raised would go back into the town.”