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Smelt Parade celebrates 'being deeply silly'

The 10th annual "Run, Smelt, Run!" returned to Duluth's Canal Park on Sunday with a lot of fanfare.

A man carrying a banner for the "Magic Smelt Puppet Troupe" walks ahead of a giant smelt puppet at the start of the Smelt Parade.
A banner reading "With a little love, everyday things are fit for kings" and a 10-foot-long puppet, the Smelt Queen, lead the "Run, Smelt, Run!" parade along the Lakewalk in Canal Park on Sunday.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Magic Smelt Puppet Troupe brought back the "Run, Smelt, Run!" parade to the Lakewalk on Sunday afternoon.

Attendees of the 10th annual parade, clad in silver hats, leggings, skirts, jackets and glasses, gathered across from the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center to kick off the jazzy parade up the Lakewalk to Zeitgeist Arts for a smelt feed.

Silver-clad attendees of the Run Smelt Run parade by the Magic Smelt Puppet Troupe make their way along the Lakewalk towards the Zeitgeist Arts for a smelt feed on May 8, 2022.
The "Run, Smelt, Run!" parade lines the Lakewalk in Duluth on Sunday afternoon.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

The parade celebrates the running of the smelt: small, silver-colored fish that swim in Lake Superior up to rivers to spawn. In honor of the fish and to celebrate the end of winter, the parade encourages attendees to wear silver and dress up as or carry silver fish on sticks as they make their way on the parade route.

Members of a small brass band gather together in a field in Canal Park.
The Brass Messengers played rain-themed songs as they warmed up in front of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Canal Park. Rainfall slowed just before the parade began Sunday.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

The parade started with a performance by the Brass Messengers, a Twin Cities-based second-line band. Sunday's rain subsided as the parade began that afternoon, and the Brass Messengers chose appropriate selections: "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on my Head," "My Favorite Things" and "Singin' in the Rain."

Parade organizer Jim Ouray, dressed as Neptune, then addressed the crowd and introduced the Smelt Queen and her royal court and guard.

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"For me, it's a chance to meet up with all my buddies and be a bunch of delightful weirdos," said Dennis Lloyd, a member of the parade's stilt-walking Royal Guard, which walk alongside the Smelt Queen leading the parade. "It's amazing to see people outside celebrating again. It's been a long time and I'm glad to be back."

Lloyd has been walking on stilts with the smelt parade for about six years. He took a stilt-walking class from Ouray and said he enjoys the chance to be part of the parade every year.

Smelt Queen and her Royal Guard at the 2022 Smelt
The Smelt Queen follows her stilt-walking Royal Guard along the Lakewalk in the 2022 Smelt Parade. Dennis Lloyd carries a silver star on a stick as he walks with the guard.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

Superior resident Alison Moffat said she loves coming to the parade because "it's such an amazing celebration of community and being deeply silly." She and her children have been attending the parade for at least six years. When there wasn't a parade in 2020 due to the pandemic, she and her stepdaughter still dressed up and headed to the Lakewalk on what would have been the parade day.

Alison Moffat shows off silver wings at Smelt Parade
Superior resident Alison Moffat shows off her silvery Isis wings as part of her costume for the 2022 Smelt Parade in Canal Park.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

"We told our friends to watch the harbor cam at like 12:45 and we got all smelted up and waved and danced," Moffat said. "We missed it so much and it's amazing to be back."

Some attendees were seeing the parade for the first time. Oliver Swenson, of Duluth, said he'd heard about it from Ouray, but hadn't attended until this year.

"It's blown all of my expectations out of the water, like the smelt," Swenson said.

Smelt Parade organizer Jim Ouray
Smelt Parade organizer Jim Ouray shouts to the crowd gathered near the Lakewalk at the start of the parade Sunday afternoon.
Teri Cadeau / Duluth News Tribune

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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