What a difference the weather makes.
After a day last year that was a bit washed out by stubborn rainfall, the 49th-annual Manitou fish fry at Rainy River First Nations' pow-wow grounds enjoyed the sun and a steady stream of hungry visitors on Friday.
“I think it's been fantastic,” said Robin McGinnis, chief of Rainy River First Nations.
“I think we've got just over 1,000 people here, and we got all kinds of volunteers to come out and help.”
Attendance at the event was noticeably higher than in 2018, when inclement weather led to a drop in the number of people who turned out to the fish fry. Where the dinner normally draws an average of 800-900 people, last year's head count topped off at around 750. The fish fry in 2017 set the record number of attendees at 1,200.
McGinnis noted it takes an army to prepare for and serve a gathering of any similar size, including cooking roughly 500 pounds of walleye, and said he's grateful to the people who volunteer their time each year.
“We have different groups [volunteer], from Lions Club and Advisory Services, Redrum Motorcycle Club, we had a lot of people from a bunch of different organizations help,” McGinnis said.
“We have individuals from communities across the district that come and just volunteer. They've been cooking all day and they've done a fantastic job.”
The fish fry started for the public at 4 p.m. and cars were still pulling into the pow-wow grounds as the clock neared the scheduled end time of 6 p.m., though the line-up for a plate of fish, fries, rice and more had shortened considerably by then.
Hundreds of people attend the fish fry each year, and McGinnis explained that the event isn't just held for the food.
“I think half the people know the history behind it, but I mean it's to celebrate our treaty rights,” he said.
“That's why we do it, and we want to share those rights with the communities that are around in the district.”
He also said that part of the reason the annual event draws a crowd is because it's become a social fixture for the district, something that people look forward to.
“It's kind of a staple,” McGinnis said.
"People know when it happens, it's always the day before fishing season starts. It's just to get out and visit people that you haven't seen.
“Sometimes you only see people at this event, from different communities,” McGinnis continued.
“Whether it be different circles or different work schedules or whatever, I think it's a fantastic opportunity to see people you don't get to see on a regular basis.”
McGinnis thanked everyone who attended and volunteered to help make the fish fry a success year after year.
“I want to say a huge thank you, because without the volunteers, this couldn't happen,” he said.
“And I'd also like to say a thank you to all the people who came to share a meal with us in celebrating our treaty rights.”