The Birth Of Canadian’s Annual Fall Foliage Festival

FF SliderStory and photos by Laurie Ezzell Brown

The earliest seeds of Canadian’s Annual Fall Foliage Festival—which marks its 57th anniversary this year—may actually have been sewn in a speech delivered by Floyd Studer during the Chamber of Commerce banquet in January 1957.

Studer was the son of pioneer Hemphill County rancher J.C. Studer. A proud Canadian native, he had made his living as an Amarillo insurance agent, still nurtured his ties to this community and to its rich history. Studer had long-pursued his interests in archaeology, paleontology and geology become an acknowledged expert in those fields.

In his speech to Chamber members, Floyd stressed the importance of Hemphill County’s many points of historical interest. He emphasized their potential, in tandem with the area’s natural beauty, for attracting visitors to the community. Studer stressed the Lake Marvin drive in particular, calling it “the most beautiful stretch of scenic highway in the Panhandle.”

A few months later, on the weekend of November 2-3, Canadian invited visitors to attend its first fall foliage tour.

TreeThat earliest event was well-documented in the pages of The Record, which observed that the first killing frost of the year had struck two weeks earlier, causing the multi-colored leaves of the cottonwood, chinaberry, hackberry and persimmon trees to begin falling, but that ample color remained, augmented by the hues of wild plum bushes and grapevine, sumac and poison ivy. The weather on that first Fall Foliage weekend was cold and wet, with heavy overcast skies and showers dulling the view. But still, nearly two hundred out-of-county cars joined local residents to take the tour from Canadian to Lake Marvin as part of what was billed as the first annual Northeast Panhandle Foliage Tour.

They were not the first visitors to be drawn to the area for foliage-viewing. The tour was co-sponsored that year by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and what was then the Amarillo Daily News, which had dedicated plenty of ink to its promotion. Several hundred out-of-town visitors had cruised Lake Marvin Road the previous Sunday afternoon, according to lake concessionaire, who estimated the traffic around the lake at “a car a minute.”

Copies of a hand-drawn map were offered by the Chamber, and made available at cafes, hotels, motels and local service stations—which in back the mid-50s still actually serviced the vehicles that pulled up to the pumps. Several alternative scenic routes were suggested in addition to Lake Marvin Road for those who wished to extend their tour. Among those were the four-mile stretch from US 83 southwest of Canadian to Mendota, the “ghost town” on the banks of Red Deer Creek, and another route northwest of town to the Mitchell Ranch, where the well-marked and well-tended grave of one of this area’s first ranchers, Joseph Morgan, had become an area landmark.

Other recommended detours included the drive southeast of Canadian to Buffalo Wallow—one of the southwest’s most famous Indian battles—as well as one to Mobeetie and the site of historic old Fort Elliott and Old Mobeetie, one of the Panhandle’s first towns.

HayDespite the weather and the fact that the foliage had already peaked, the reviews of that earliest tour celebrating autumn’s glory were enthusiastic. One couple from Claude, the Cleve Bennetts, wrote a letter to The Record, expressing their pleasure and asking that they be notified when the wildflowers were in bloom and the trees “dressed in their new spring leaves.”

“There isn’t any need to go to Colorado to see the beauty of nature when we have so many places all around us in the Golden Spread that are truly beautiful,” the couple wrote. “Thanks for planning the tour. We hope you will do it again.”

So it began—this audaciously-named and determinedly optimistic Fall Foliage Tour in the northeastern Texas Panhandle—and with only minor changes, improvements and added ingredients, so it has continued for nearly six decades.