Going once, going twice, the Prince Rupert Rotary Auction is going on 52 years as a staple for funding community projects.
Last year, the auction raised $62,100 and supported 25 projects in Prince Rupert including the hospice society, the school district’s fruit of the day program, bursaries for students, the RCMP’s D.A.R.E. program and funding for the Rushbrook Trail.
One long-time Rotarian recalled the origins of the auction, where auctioneers ran off the list of items — donated by businesses in the community — through radio, then on TV, and volunteers answered ringing corded phones.
In 1965, when John McNish came to Prince Rupert, the Rotary Club was looking for a project and he suggested the auction because he’d seen it in Terrace.
“Usually the Rotary way is you suggest something and you’re chairman the next moment. So I was chairman even though I didn’t know much about it,” he said with a chuckle.
Skeena Broadcasters aired the Rotary Club’s first auction over the radio that year, adding a television broadcast the following years.
“At that time the economy in Prince Rupert was very buoyant. The pulp mill had just expanded, the fish plants were operating. We had a vibrant retail community. The community business professionals, especially retail, got right behind us so we got off to a really good start,” McNish said.
The auction started off in the Crest Hotel, and moved around until it landed in the Lestre Centre of the Arts where the event has been held for the past 15 years.
The live auction would go on for five hours for three nights. There would be two auctioneers presenting item by item. People listening or watching from home would call in. Once they reached the final bidding price, the auctioneer would ring the bell and move onto the next item.
“It finally got to the point when we had to look at another format. It was getting to the point where it was so pressure packed. You were absolutely bagged every night,” said Doug Kydd, a Rotarian who has been an auctioneer for years.
In 2008, a couple Rupert Rotarians travelled to Dawson Creek to learn how their club ran the online auction. The following year, the auction went online. Items are now sold in blocks of 10, instead of one by one. The auctioneers are now announcers who describe each of the items for the folks who are bidding online.
“We didn’t want to lose that connection with the people that for years have been supporting us. We still have banter with the announcers, which makes it to be a little fun,” said Crystal Lorette, general manager for the Lester Centre, who became a Rotarian in 2008.
The announcers are a combination of Rotarians and people in the community. This year the Northern View podcast hosts, Tyler Portelance and Chelsea Stamp-Vincent, and producer, Shannon Lough, will be announcers for one evening.
Last year, 96 per cent of the items were sold online and the rest was by telephone for the more traditional bidders who have participated in the auction for many years.
The auction has also become a social event for a few younger residents. Blair Mirau and Jordan Stromdahl have been glued to the auction since 2011.
“Our tradition is to buy as much as we can at the auction, just two best friends spending time together making sure everything is bought at a good price,” Stromdahl said.
When they were kids, both their parents were in Rotary and supported the auction either by volunteering or giving donations. Each year, the two friends review the items, order in dinner and take part in the auction.
“We figured since we make our money in town we might as well spend it in town to support their good work,” Mirau said adding that they purchase approximately more than 50 items a year.
Volunteers help make the three-night event a success. The auction requires 60 people a night with five or six crews delivering the items.
“People get their goods right away that night,” said Jack Payne, a Rotarian.
“We have several multiple bidders. Some get their goods at the end of the auction. It’s highly organized.”
Another aspect of the auction is the 750 Club. Raffle tickets are sold for $10 each. If every ticket is sold by the end of the auction, the club adds another $5,000 to its total amount raised for more projects in the community.
This year’s online and TV auction will be held on Nov. 13, 14, 15 from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.