'The most exciting thing happening here': community hosts unusual lottery

Small-town residents have learned to take joy in the little things — and the folks at Hatfield Point are no exception.

People living in the small community, found at the head of Belleisle Bay, are watching the ice on the bay, hoping to win big in the annual Belleisle Bay Ice Break-Up Contest. 

"Off Hatfield Wharf in sunny, downtown Hatfield Point, there is a tripod set up on the ice with a flag," said Sharon Cunningham, an organizer of the event. "We monitor it with a security camera. When the ice starts to move, that signals the ice breakup on the Belleisle."

It works like a 50/50 draw, where people place bets on when the ice will start to move. To win, participants have to guess correctly — right down to the minute.

"We count down right to the second, but that gets a little tricky," said Cunningham.

Exciting times

Usually, the major breakup happens between April 15 and April 30 — although last year it came as early as March 13. The latest date on record was May 9, set back in 1939.

"We have records back to 1897 from neighbours who have kept notes and the Kings County Record, so we have a pretty good idea of when the ice can be expected to go."

When movement is spotted, "we get pretty excited about it," she said.

"It's the most exciting thing that happens here."

Hatfield Point isn't the only community getting a kick out of watching ice thaw.

The Nenana Ice Classic in Alaska — a lottery to guess the time of the river break on the Tanana River — started in 1917 and now raises as much as $500,000  for the town every year, according to Cunningham.

"So if we keep at it long enough, we could get there too," she said with a laugh.

Tickets for the Belleisle Bay Ice Break-Up Contest are available for $2 at Valleyview, Belleisle Creek Convenience or via Eventbrite.

Half the proceeds will go toward the conservation efforts of the Belleisle Watershed Coalition, a non-profit charitable organization funded by the Canadian Wetlands Conservation Council and New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund.