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Dispute on how Spokane became the Lilac City | Community Spirit

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Dispute on how Spokane became the Lilac City
Dispute on how Spokane became the Lilac City

There’s some debate on whether the Lilac Festival sparked the city's nickname, or if the name Lilac City lead to the Lilac Festival. No matter which came first, the tiny purple flowers created an identity for the town and rally point to focus on every spring.

Lilacs aren’t native to Spokane area. They were first brought to North America by colonists in the 1700s. The Lilac Festival cites local legend, saying the first lilac bush was brought to the area from Minnesota in 1882. However, Spokane Historical, a website run by the Public History program at EWU, says J.J. Browne planted the first lilac bushes in his yard in 1906.

According to Spokane Historical, John W. Duncan planted 128 lilac bushes in Manito Park in 1912. This sparked a lilac craze as the city encouraged gardeners to plant the fragrant bushes. The Spokane Lilac Festival reports that by 1938 there were 30 lilacs in Coeur d’Alene Park in addition to the ones at Manito.

Somewhere in there, Spokane began to promote itself as the Lilac City. The Spokane Lilac Festival says this happened as early as 1896 when the Spokane Floral Association held it’s first meeting, but Spokane Historical reports it was after the first Lilac Festival occurred in 1938.

The Lilac Festival was started by the Associated Garden Clubs and the Spokane Floral Association and was originally just supposed to be a flower show. It quickly expanded to include the Flower Festival Parade comprised of a float and seven decorated cars. By 1940, the festival and parade had added the first Lilac Queen, Shannon Mahoney.

The Spokane Lilac Festival was officially formed in 1945, and by the end of the decade the parade had grown from one float to 30 floats and 40 marching bands. But it wasn’t until a few years later that the parade evolved into the Armed Forces Torchlight Parade.

While there’s some debate on how lilacs came to Spokane, there’s no dispute on the legacy the flowers created. For more information on the Spokane Lilac Festival click HERE. The 76th Annual Lilac Parade starts Marching at 7:45 pm on Saturday night.

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