On the second Sunday in September 1993, 50 sophisticated gourmet garlic heads attended the First Annual Hills Garlic Fest at the Hills Community Doukhobour Hall. The celebration took the form of a pot luck dinner with a breathtaking array of dishes. Evidently not everyone's breath was taken away as there were many who participated in the first Garlic Breath Competition.
And so the Hills Garlic Festival was born from the mind and heart of Andrew Rhodes. As he tells it, after living in New Denver in the 1970s, then leaving for 20 years to pursue fame and fortune on the stage, he returned to learn that garlic grower extraordinaire, Colleen Bowman, could not sell all she produced. The Festival thus began as a humble attempt to draw attention to the wonderful garlic that is grown in Hills where residents were already gathering regularly for pot luck suppers and friendly games of community softball.
The following year, Andrew hired the Kokanee String Quartet and the Selkirk Trio to provide a musical background for another pot luck, offering everything garlic you can imagine: chocolate mint garlic shakes, chocolate covered garlic cloves, garlic potatoes, garlic pesto, garlic humus, garlic pastas. While no numbers were published, The Valley Voice reported "the festival was well attended by a large crowd" which definitely was the result of press releases issued by Mr. Rhodes and plugging the event on Vicki Gabreau's show on CBC because he knew this was a means of getting free advertising, and he had already blown the budget on prize ribbons, aprons, buttons, and Tshirts. The Gabreau Show provided more than advertising. Garlic growers began to telephone Mr. Rhodes asking to be added to the vendor contingent. This was the beginning of something big.
By 2000, the Hills Garlic Festival was an event not to be missed. Vendors came from as far away as Cawston and Vernon. Helen Davis presented Gary Assel of Nakusp with the prize for having the worst garlic breath. A highlight that year was the attendance of Rory Timmers of Winnipeg, a contender for the Guinness Book of World Records award for the longest garlic braid. Mr. Timmers' braid was over 778 feet long, but it was not on display at the Festival due to its having been donated to the MS bike tour. Mr. Timmers, invited to come to Hills by Mr. Rhodes, was flattered by the invitation. "How could you not want to be the guest of honour at a garlic festival," he laughed. Having turned over the organizational responsibilities to the Hills Recreation Society, Mr. Rhodes commented, "I still find it amazing that this little event has grown to the point where you have to deal with parking."
In 2003, the Festival moved to Centennial Park in New Denver. Although the event had continued to grow and parking was indeed an issue, the reason for the move was the extreme forest fire hazard. Hills did not have a volunteer fire fighting brigade at the time, and organizer Liza Ireland feared that any wayward spark could be disastrous. The Village of New Denver agreed to the use of the Park, Liza redrew the vendor map to fit the location, and the crowds found their way to the new venue.