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Parades a part of summertime Co-op tradition

By Dan Yates

July 15, 2016

Mark Perry will tell you he’s not an artist, yet his handiwork is enjoyed by countless onlookers across Western Canada every year.

And his latest creation is likely coming to a town near you.

“It challenges a different set of my skills,” said Perry, a carpenter by trade who doubles as the chief architect of Co-op’s annual parade float.

The structures he builds in his Lumsden, Sask., workshop are staples of community parades, proudly showcasing symbols of community and Canadiana, including — of course — the familiar Co-op shield.

“I’ve been a part-time employee of Federated (Co-operatives Limited) for 30 years,” said Perry, who began building the structures in 1985. “It’s always fun to do. It’s a little bit more of the artistic stuff as opposed to banging nails together.”
Co-op tradition

Perry began working on Co-op parade floats through his father-in-law, Howard Hatton, a freelance artist who built and designed the floats for many years. Following Hatton’s passing, Perry took on the job himself.  

“I said sure, but I can’t draw them up,” said Perry. “He’s the artist, not me.”
Federated Co-operatives Limited’s Marketing and Communications Department now develops the themes and concept drawings for each year’s float. From those images, Perry goes to work crafting the pieces or “props” that will decorate the trailer — a few birds one year, a shed or a bench the next, as examples.

Other custom-built pieces may be dressed up with printed images and decorative materials when finished.

Putting the pieces together

Over the course of two months every spring, Perry constructs 14 exact replicas of that year’s float, which go from community to community across Western Canada every summer.

While the finished product fits onto an eight-foot by 16-foot trailer, each float must be disassembled and crammed into a four-foot by eight-foot crate for distribution.

“If I can build them in the shop by myself, then the retails, with a few people working together, should be able to do it,” Perry said with a laugh.

This year’s design prominently features a map of Canada that will be almost eight-feet long on the finished float.

“I think at 53, if the program keeps going, I’ll keep going too,” said Perry. “It’s always something new to do.”

Since the mid 1980s, Mark Perry, pictured above, has built parade floats for retail co-operatives across Western Canada.