Celebration Day: A Reply from a Committee Member

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Dr. Jo-Anne Bell, 2017 Kemptville Rotary Canada Day Parade Chair & Member of the North Grenville Canada Day Committee

Shortly after the January 12 meeting of the North Grenville Canada Day committee, I read the editorial “Celebration Day” by David Shanahan in the January 11, 2017 issue. It had been brought to my attention by a couple of people present at the meeting. Unfortunately, it was never mentioned during the meeting. As a member of the committee who has been agitating for a fresh look or a new vision for the Canada Day 2017 celebrations, it was gratifying to see some public interest and comment on preparations for this event, but I question whether it will lead to tangible improvements? It may be convenient to blame the committee members for perceived defects of the Canada Day preparations, but the council, the municipal staff, and the public have a role to play too.

Before I comment further, it needs to be clear that there is no Canada 150 Committee. It is the task of the existing Canada Day Committee to arrange for celebrations for July 1, 2017. As I have been repeatedly told that July 1 is our exclusive mandate and we do not have the volunteer manpower to do more. I would also note that the NG Times article “Committee of the Whole Highlights” (November 7, 2016) reported comments from Frank Onasanya about the difficulty of recruiting volunteers. A lack of volunteers is only part of our problems. Where is the input from the council members, community leaders, service groups, or ordinary residents on what we want for the 150th birthday celebrations?

The editorial mentions that, currently, the Canada Day schedule is remarkably similar to past events. It is not just similar, it is identical and there is very little prospect of new events either on the day or during the year. I personally find this very disappointing and frustrating, and my efforts to start an open and honest discussion of the committee’s plans have been met with indifference, or lectures about our mandate or our lack of volunteers. I am tired of hearing the same excuses for why we cannot do more and time is slipping pass at an alarming rate.

The Canada Day committee held a brainstorming session in August, 2016. During that meeting, there was a great deal of interest in making events for the coming year bigger and better. It was expressed to those attending that some of us are not content to satisfy ourselves with a one-day, one-off event, but we would prefer several events spread across the entire year to become the basis of events, festivals etc., that continue after 2017. A great number of ideas were put forward that are doable, will not cost huge sums of money, but will require effort, support and some hard work. Suggestions were floated to improve on the Riverside Park events, but there is already a history in place of ignoring these suggestions. We also emphasized that, but we do not need to rely only on the Canada Day Committee! If we can spread the word and get other service groups, volunteer organizations, community groups, and ordinary citizens of North Grenville to stop talking about it and start doing it, we can make this coming 150th birthday year of Canada something to remember for many years to follow. But we need volunteers to step up! Are you willing to join us and make this a year-long celebration to remember?!
The editorial suggests that there are potential conflicts in view and a solid and united committee is required to handle them. I do not believe there is discord on the committee. There have been disagreements, or differences of opinion, but a greater problem is a lack of excitement, a lack of a clear direction, and a lack of interest or willingness of the wider community to volunteer. I joined this committee believing that it was going to take a fresh look at Canada Day celebrations in Kemptville and provide a bold vision to that end. Instead, it seems we are stuck in a rut, the status quo is fine, and there is no will to change anything, because the Canada Day celebrations past are viewed as marginally successful. This is arguably the most important Canada Day of our lifetimes, and I do not want it to disappoint everyone because the council, the committee and the community couldn’t get their acts together.

In keeping with the theme of the Canada Day parade this year (Celebrating Canada – Memories are Made of This), I agree we need to “make sure that there will be an even better collection of memories by the end of this year”. To that end, I believe that the council has to communicate their vision for this special year and be prepared to put in the work and/or money to make it happen. The committee needs to expand our efforts to encourage new ideas and new volunteers, and put them into action. Finally, the community as a whole needs to tell us how you want to celebrate, and to actually be willing to come out and join in those celebrations, either as a energetic volunteer, or a enthusiastic participant. There is no point in the committee organizing a party or, hopefully, multiple parties for this sesquicentennial year, if the people we are doing it for don’t show up!

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