Wednesday, 21 June 2017 13:47

Redcliff Polka Fest a tradition as much as it is fun

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The Country Squires Band. Ernie Hittel plays accordion. He and his wife Joan started the PolkaFest 22 years ago and his band has played for everyone of them. The Country Squires Band. Ernie Hittel plays accordion. He and his wife Joan started the PolkaFest 22 years ago and his band has played for everyone of them.

Anyone who has been at a polka dance will tell you how much fun it is. Just ask the many people from western Canada who have spent many years travelling to Medicine Hat and now Redcliff for the Medicine Hat Polka Fest.

Coming up this fall, the 22nd annual edition of the event will take place Sept. 8-9 at the German Canadian Harmony Hall (1-1st St. S.E. in Redcliff). Tickets for the event were recently made available.
Music will be by Country Squires and Leon Ochs. Country Squires features band member Ernie Hittel who was one of the people who started (along with Martin and Shirley Voeller) and kept the polka fest going for 18 years before having Linda Cleveland, and Lloyd and Margaret Beler take over.
Cleveland says it’s quite a tradition for the event.
“Polka fests (in the region) were started in Saskatchewan. They were a major social function there,” says the event organizer, adding proudly, “We’re one of the few in Alberta that are still going. It has stayed firm in terms of numbers over the past few years. Many years ago when it was at the Cypress Centre in Medicine Hat we’d get around 600 people, but with people aging and the Cypress Centre changing their floor (it was no longer conducive for dancing) we moved.
“(German-Canadian Harmony Hall) has an excellent dance floor. It’s hardwood, a nice hall, a good atmosphere. We love to come here.”
Cleveland says it’s pretty steady as they get well over 100 people for the first day as many people are still travelling to southeast Alberta and generally more than 200 are there for the full day Saturday.
Cleveland says people from B.C, all over Alberta and many from Saskatchewan make the trek to southeast Alberta solely for this event.
Because the hall is two blocks away from a Redcliff campground, many trailers are brought and people make a holiday of it.
Cleveland says she took over organizing the event a few years ago and is making it her goal to have the Polka Fest continue to its silver anniversary. She enjoys the fact people attend from all over enjoy fellowship while still being able to welcome new people to the event.
“I’m trying to get it to 25. (The) majority of the population is getting older and we’re getting younger people coming out too,” explains Cleveland. “We have a 94-year-old from Medicine Hat who comes every year too, but we are seeing people (in their forties) coming.
“At the end of the Saturday, I always address the crowd and thank everyone for coming. It chokes me up every time and I get teary to see the same people. There’s a couple from Olds who have never missed a polka fest ... it humbles me to think they care that much to come every year.”
Tickets are now available. For Friday Sept. 8 the cost is $18 which includes a lunch. Saturday costs $38 which includes a hot buffet supper at 6 p.m.
The Saturday dance only costs $18. A weekend pass costs $48 per person. Tickets for Saturday or weekend passes must be purchased by noon Thursday, Sept. 7. People can pay by cash or cheques. Make cheques payable to Linda Cleveland.  
People who want to know where there are more polka fests, can visit the website at: http://www.

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Ryan Dahlman

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