Winter Festival’s 50th anniversary successful despite challenges

Jodi Schellenberg
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It was an exciting year for the Prince Albert Winter Festival, which celebrated 50 years in the city.

There were a lot of people who came through the gate, although Prince Albert Winter Festival president Darrell Prokopie doesn’t know the numbers yet.

“Sometimes it appeared the traffic flow through the site wasn’t what we would have liked, but I think that was a case of they were elsewhere, out of sight on the site,” Prokopie said. “It seems like a lot of people moved in the herd mentality. You would have a flood of people somewhere and somebody would make their way off somewhere to check something else out and the crowd would follow.”

The outdoors activities did well, despite the frigid temperatures over the weekend.

“All in all I think we are happy. We did the best we could with everything,” Prokopie said. “Mother Nature ultimately has the final say. Did she co-operate with us this year in terms of weather? Probably not, but you know it doesn’t matter what season of event, weather is always a consideration.”

Click HERE for a video taken of outdoor site activites, and HERE for a video of the Scouts' torch light parade and bonfire that kicked things off on Friday night.

The Winter Festival is not the only event that has to deal with bad weather -- the summer fair has also faced issues some years.

“Aside from that, we are very happy with the site, we were very happy with the turnout of participants, very happy with the turnout of spectators and people from our community coming to check out the festival,” Prokopie said. “It was very nice to have everything back together again in terms in one stop shopping in the outdoor events.”

He believes the cold weather may have deterred some people from coming to the riverbank to participate in the activities.

“If it would have been minus five or 10, I think our crowds would have been better, but again that is nothing we can control,” Prokopie said. “We did the best we could do keeping the tents warm was an issue and things like that but it is winter and February in Saskatchewan. This can happen. It has been known to get cold here before.”

All the events were located on the south side of the riverbank, from dogsled races on the river, the Scouts set up on the east side of the site and the King Trapper stage on the west side.

The dogsled sprints were a success, with mushers from all the western provinces, the Yukon and even some from the United States participating.

“We had dog mushers from all over and we hope we treated them well and they will be back next year,” Prokopie said.

Click HERE for video footage of the sled dog sprint runs.

In addition to the dogsled sprints and King Trapper stage, there were plenty of other activities to enjoy, from a petting zoo and pony rides to snow sculptures, a fish fry and road hockey tournaments.

“We still have a little bit tonight to finish off in terms of the festival and that is our Country North Reunion show that is happening at 7 p.m. at the Exhibition Centre,” Prokopie said. “We are coming to an end. It has been another hectic, busy year and we know we will see everybody in the next eight months when we start this all over again.”

The volunteers are happy with the way the event went, but are ready for a rest after running the festival.

“We still have a lot of work to do in terms of cleanup but it went well and I hope the community feels the same way,” Prokopie said.

Although the event went well, Prokopie is already looking for more volunteers to help out next year, as there was too much work for the small group who put together the festival this year.

“We are a small tired group and I think in order for the festival to continue on in any meaningful, large, impactful way, we certainly need new blood, certainly at the board level,” Prokopie said. “(We need) people who will commit to the event who believe the event is important and come work with us for the four or five months it takes to plan this.”

He is asking anyone who thinks the Winter Festival is worth saving to come out to help.

“We have made it through 50 years -- is this an event in some way, shape or form that we are going to want to celebrate being part of in five, 10 or 15 years down the road?” he asked. “We need a succession plan and we need ideas and we need people to carry it forward.

“I’m not saying it is all doom and gloom but I think it would be very difficult to put the festival on again with little bit of bodies we had in place,” Prokopie added. “I think we are all overly exhausted and overwhelmed at this time. The whole festival has basically been put on by a group of four to five people. That is just quite tiring.”

With three events being held in the city at once, Prokopie said the volunteer base may have been stretched too thin.

“I think anytime when you are dealing with one size pie and start cutting more slices out of it, everyone gets a smaller slice of pie,” Prokopie said. “The pie didn’t grow, just the number of mouths at the table did.”

He is not sure if the influx of people to the city because of the number of events being held during the week had a negative or positive effect on the festival.

“I think even some of our events indoors, we would have liked to see a few more butts in seats at some of our shows and I know the Winter Games had entertainment happening parallel to when some of our stuff was happening,” Prokopie said. “Did we see residual or spinoff from the games we were hoping to? I’m not really sure.

“There was an impact I think from the games, whether it was positive or negative, I guess we will figure that out as we decompress and debrief. It created challenges for sure.”


Organizations: Prince Albert, Exhibition Centre

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Yukon, United States Country North Reunion

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