“How are you enjoying Winterfest?”
If you heard that question this past weekend, you’d have had to respond with another question: “Which one?”
Yes, both the annual Lieutenant-Governor’s Winter Festival and the annual Dakota Nation Winterfest fell on the same weekend this year.
While not as confusing as three years ago, when Brandon also won a contest and hosted the LG Rocks Your City Winter Festival in Princess Park, it’s still a bit baffling that both festivals use variations of the same name. And its inexcusably confusing to host them both on the same weekend.
Not only did it deprive both festivals of possible attendees and volunteers — you literally can’t be in two places at once — it also forced them to compete with each other for facilities.
The Winter Festival most definitely felt the pinch. Not only did the popular First Nations and Métis pavilions bow out of the multicultural celebration this year, but the French Canadian pavilion also took the year off. Normally, the French Canadians are housed in the Keystone Centre, which this year was dominated by the Dakota Nation Winterfest.
One wag on Twitter referred to Winterfest as simply the biggest and best First Nations pavilion ever seen at Winter Festival.
But Winterfest is much more than that. It features a full weekend of hockey, volleyball, a powwow, square dancing and more.
Billed as the largest aboriginal sport and cultural event of its kind all under one roof, Winterfest even predates the Winter Festival. But there should be no reason for this kind of competition.
Luckily, there exists a civic organization that is supposed to oversee and co-ordinate large events like these in Brandon.
Established in 2003, Brandon First is a non-profit organization with an office at the Riverbank Discovery Centre. Its raison d’être is to promote Brandon as a host destination for meetings, conventions and events.
But it should also step in as a resource for and facilitator between local groups when they are planning larger-scale events. Its role shouldn’t be to direct or plan, but to ensure harmonious co-operation right from the planning stages.
Best for the city would be a regular series of large events — something every weekend, perhaps — and not a haphazard approach of too-much-or-too-few, which clogs the calendar one weekend and then sees tumbleweeds the next.
Certainly event organizers should check in with groups like Brandon First when they are in the early stages of their plans. But Brandon First should also reach out to proactively prevent event collisions such as the one this year.
We’re willing to give Brandon First a pass this year. The organization recently hired a new executive directer (we welcome Jackie Keyes to the role) and transitional periods always send some things tumbling through the cracks.
It’s also possible that this year suffered from a calendar anomaly that had the last weekend of January and the first weekend of February fall on the same weekend.
But we hope that this mess is sorted out a bit better next year.
Both events are great, and we really enjoyed what we could of each of them this year. It’s clear that both deserve our full attention.