About The Great Canadian Picnic – How It All Started


In 1953, when Vic Wallace’s job at the Wallace Lumber Mill brought on acute asthma, his doctor advised him to move to a drier climate or his life would be cut short. So Vic, his wife Reta and their two daughters moved from Thamesford, Ontario, Canada – a small rural village 15 miles east of London – to Lynwood Street in downtown Phoenix.

Reta, Vic and other expatriate Canadians arrived in Phoenix when the only things many had in common were respiratory ailments or arthritic conditions. To counteract the isolation and homesickness that sometimes troubled new arrivals, Reta and Vic started the Canadian Social Club of Greater phoenix, bringing together newcomers who would otherwise have gone it alone. During the 1950s and 60s, it was a vital source of exchange, support and referrals for families who had relocated to the Valley.

“I used to get phone calls from friends or doctors in Canada asking me to go check on so-and-so here in Phoenix because they were sick or depressed,” said Reta. “I’d go find them and get them to a doctor or just take them home with me for a while.”

One of the first projects the newly formed club tackled was their inaugural Canadian Picnic. Reat and Vic, with fellow club members, scoured valley parking lots looking for cars with Canadian license plates. They scribbled invitations on the backs of old Bayless receipts and tucked them under windshield wipers. About 500 local Canadians attended the first picnic. When you dust off the patina of age, the values of a kinder, gentler time shine through. Reta has since passed away but the tradition continues. The Great Canadian Picnic annually attracts Canadian snowbirds and local residents in ever growing numbers.

The picnic was started by the Canadian Social Club but is now supported by the Canadians In Arizona Benefiting Education & Exchanges 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization. Sponsorship helps ensure the event remains free for the community to enjoy. Proceeds from the Great Canadian Picnic support exchanges between Arizona and Canadian Cities that focus on youth and education.

Canadians in Arizona Benefiting Education and Exchanges (CIABEE) – Mission Statement

CIABEE, a Federally Recognized 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization, was created in 2009. Our mission is to support Canadian culture in Arizona with a mandate to raise funds which support exchanges between Canada and Arizona.  These exchanges must have a focus on youth and/or education.

Download the 2020 Canadian Picnic press release.