For some communities in West Prince, a summer festival isn’t just about getting out and having some fun. They’re also about giving supporting the local community, like the Irish Moss Festival in Tignish.
“It’s a huge fundraiser,” said Tina Richard, a member of the festival’s organizing committee. “It’s usually our big fundraiser for a lot of things. For us, we usually make a payment on our splash pad every year. If those things are gone, it leaves us with trying to accomplish fundraising ideas without large crowds of people, which is pretty hard.”
Last year was the festival’s 40th anniversary, but celebrations were kept to a minimum because of the pandemic.
Like Tignish, O’Leary held off on celebrations, officially cancelling the town’s Potato Blossom Festival in 2020. Andrew Avery, the town’s recreation director, said plans are in place for how the festival’s organizing committee wants to do some of the events this year, like the Potato Blossom Parade.
“It’s not going to be what people are used to, like, do we go through Main Street like normal, or do we do the drive-thru format like we did on Christmas?” he said. “There’s way too much COVID fatigue right now. People are wanting some normal, and I’m right there with them. This has been a little frustrating this last year, definitely not enjoyable trying to work through COVID, but we’re plugging along as best we can, and we’re optimistic summer 2021 will definitely be better than 2020.”
One big difference for the Potato Blossom Festival this year will be the fact that some events won’t be held at the O’Leary Community Sports Centre because renovations are still ongoing. Work likely would have been complete ahead of the festival, but lockdown measures in March of 2020 temporarily halted renovations.
The Rural Municipality of Tyne Valley also has on-going work at its arena. While the initial hope was for the building to be ready in time for this year’s’ Tyne Valley Oyster Festival, the general consensus is this year is probably not the right time to have an indoor festival.
Similar to Tignish, the Oyster Festival is also a fundraiser for Tyne Valley, initially to help with repairs to its arena, but after the arena burned down in December 2019, fundraising is to help pay for the new arena, which is expected to be completed in October of this year.
Tyne Valley also hosts the annual Rock the Boat music festival at Green Park, with both events taking place over the August long weekend. The festival is also going ahead this year, and discussions are in place with the province’s Chief Public Health Office (CPHO) about what the festival might look like.
“We want to make sure people are safe,” said Adam MacLennan, a member of the organizing committee for the Oyster Festival and Rock the Boat. “We’re drawing up different scenarios of whether there can be 100 people in a section, or even 200 people in that section, we have lots of space in that concert site to separate people. There’s nothing set in stone, and there won’t be an announcement for some time yet, but there will be a lot of working conversations with the Chief Public Health Office about what can be done.”
Mr MacLennan believes the community was pleased to hear the committee has been working on strategies for how to safely host the festivals, as the revenue they bring in benefits not only the festivals themselves, but the locally run businesses in the community as well.
For any festivals struggling with COVID-19 restrictions, like physical distancing requirements, or gathering limitations, the province recently announced financial help will be available, something festival organizers in West Prince plan on taking advantage of.
“Anything that comes up, we’re definitely going to be looking,” said Mr Avery. “If there’s an opportunity to recover some of those costs, and that lost revenue, we’ll be capitalizing on those opportunities whenever they become available.”
Mr MacLennan said anytime there’s an opportunity to receive funds from the government, the organizing committee is going to take advantage of that, especially being a non-profit. He said because most of the costs to operate in the upcoming year are going to be up significantly, the committee is excited for additional supports.
Ms Richard feels having these festivals can have a lasting impact beyond the day, or week of the event.
“If we stay put and our numbers stay low, why not have a festival and let people celebrate?” she said. “We’ve really done a great job in a year, I think a little celebration sometimes can go a long way.”