The 65th-anniversary edition of the White Rock Sea Festival is picking up momentum with confirmation of a $25,000 matching grant for this year’s festivities from the city.
And organizers, headed by White Rock Events Society president Michelle Pedersen, say indications are good for a reinvigorated version of the annual celebration for the Aug. 1-3 weekend, buoyed by the presence of Saturday entertainment headliner The Powder Blues Band. The much-anticipated Torchlight Parade already stands at some 50 confirmed entries, with marching bands and city and commercial floats, including one featuring renowned impersonator Randy ‘Elvis’ Friskie.
City council voted to approve the additional funds July 14, after reviewing a report from financial services director Sandra Kurylo, who recommended approving a $15,000 grant from the city’s contingency budget.
The funds approved bring the total value of the city’s support for the sea festival – in cash and in-kind contributions – to $107,000.
“I think we’ve got one chance here for the sea festival,” said Coun. Grant Meyer, in pushing the higher-than-recommended amount.
Said Coun. Al Campbell, “We either want this to happen or we don’t. We’ve gone to this length for this time. If we want it to succeed – and we do – I would support the amended motion.”
Mayor Wayne Baldwin described the festival’s revival as “much appreciated, really positive for the community.”
Pedersen said she looks on the city’s contribution as a big vote of confidence for the event – rebranded with its original name after years under the Spirit of the Sea Festival banner.
“I don’t think this is something they do often – the biggest thing, for us, as a new society is earning trust,” she said.
She noted that while the city said in February it was going to commit $15,000 to the parade and float construction, in addition to in-kind contributions, it asked – rightly, she said – for the society to prove itself.
“Finally, at the end, we came up with $26,000 in sponsorship.”
Going to the community for that kind of money was “no small feat” Pedersen said, adding that a festival financial scandal in which a director absconded with funds in the 1990s – plus perceptions that the event had become lacklustre in recent years – had undoubtedly created some sales resistance.
But she said a recriminatory atmosphere is no basis for building a strong event for the future.
“There are all kinds of people lining up to point fingers, but I’m not interested in that,” she said, noting that the Community of Lights Society, organizers up until last year, had worked very hard to keep the event alive.
What she has focused on this year is re-establishing the annual torchlight parade along Marine Drive as a cornerstone of the event under the guidance of Sea Festival veteran Maureen Beales – and the creation of a new city float (supervised by her mom, Deanna, and Laverne Hogg) as an essential component of attracting other cities in the “floating” community.
Some seven cities are now signed on as participants, she added.
Beales – who ran the festival for many years up to the early 1990s – said she has enjoyed returning to put the parade together, after some initial trepidation.
“It’s really thrilling how well it’s coming together now,” she said. “Our logistics man, Dave Hiscocks, has been unbelievable, putting together the parade route and co-ordinating all the detailed plans. I’d forgotten how much fun we had doing this.”
Parade participants include the 130-strong marching band from Sumner High School in Washington State, and the Crescent Beach Pipe Band, which will lead the parade with the White Rock Legion colour guard.
In addition to Friskie, who will present a Hawaiian-theme Elvis tribute on a flat-deck truck, the Silver Diamond Dancers – parade favorites – will offer an elaborate line-dance float.
“One of our big sponsors this year, Murray Hyundai, will be providing us with convertibles, there will be a ReMax float and Sandcastle Bowl, Bar and Grill staff will be dressing up like bowling pins,” Beales said.
Well-known White Rock buskers will entertain the crowd before the parade starts, she said, as will a variety of clowns, including unicycle-riding Mr. Bubbles.
Beales said she is inviting past Sea Festival organizers – including her mother, Mary, 95, who remembers the beginnings of the event well – to sit at a special reviewing stand by White Rock Museum and Archives.
“We’d really like to see Sea Festival veterans from all the eras of the event,” she said, adding that those who wish to participate can contact her at 778-988-6624.
“We can only do so much (with current resources),” Pedersen said. “We have to build it back up – but the exciting thing will be next year. In the end, we will have earned people’s trust for next year.”
– with files from Tracy Holmes