Frigid temperatures meant the Lieutenant Governor’s Winter Festival didn’t break any attendance records, but more than 40,000 visits to the pavilions meant this year will still be chalked up as a success, organizers say.
Mercury dipped below -30 C on Thursday and Friday, which did affect attendance during the events, but lineups grew at many of the pavilions after dinner on Saturday night.
Hope Roberts, city appointee to the festival, said all pavilions saw about half the numbers on Thursday as they did in previous years.
"It was just a wicked cold, but definitely saw that pick up on Saturday, people were packed and ready to go," she said.
Roberts put a silver lining on the lower overall turnout this year, saying the smaller numbers meant the pavilion organizers had an opportunity talk to the attendees and met them on another level.
With the weekend’s festivities marking a decade for the Winter Festival, organizers did little to celebrate the occasion.
"People have come to know this festival in a certain way, and the public has certain expectations of it," Roberts said.
This year saw the return of the Global Village pavilion, which proved to be bigger than it has ever been, putting Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Egypt, Honduras, Iceland, Kenya and Mexico under one roof.
This year also marked the return of the Ethiopian pavilion, which also proved to be a success, with organizers already making plans to make it even bigger next year.
The namesake of the festival, Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee, made a stop at the First Nation pavilion on Saturday afternoon to accept a star blanket with his wife, Anita, before heading to the Brazilian pavilion and the Global Village.
Lee also presented Mayor Shari Decter Hirst with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal on Saturday during his visit.
As the dust from the weekend’s events begins to settle, organizers will have a meeting to discuss any changes.
In the weeks leading up to the Winter Festival, confusion, frustration and controversy around the exclusion of the American pavilion this year means organizers will likely take a look at internal protocol during the followup meeting.
An application by the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society to host the American pavilion after seeing success at last year’s festival was denied this year after a vote by the festival committee of the whole.
Esther Bryan, the city’s community development manager and past-chair of the festival told the Sun in January the committee isn’t required to give any reasons behind the decision. However, one of the main themes that came up was the fact that the other groups run independent pavilions and each have separate societies. It was suggested that an American society should be established.
There was some concern that funds raised at the American pavilion would go back to the BFMAS to help offset their summer folk festival.
"Every year after the festival, we actually have the meeting where issues of the festival that has taken place or changes and concerns are brought up and addressed, so we will do that again this year," Roberts said. "There’s no worry or concern from the committee’s side, but … review and questions and challenging the processes is always a positive thing," she said.
Coun. Jan Chaboyer (Green Acres) called for a review of the management and governance of the Winter Festival during a council meeting in January following the uproar from the American pavilion organizers.
"I am disappointed that U.S.A. will not be present," Chaboyer said during the council meeting. "I’m hoping that in the future we can work through some of those issues."
Roberts said organizers have "full intention to see those review processes through in the coming months."
"I think discourse in the community is a positive thing, people have faith in the festival and the organization of it, and it’s been solid for the last 10 years."