Well, we survived another Hyack Festival. By that, I mean Hyack survived to put on another week+ long schedule of events, culminating in the Hyack Parade.
After a year of questionable decisions, accusations, battles (petty and otherwise), victories (pyrrhic and otherwise), and Editorial Page exchanges that only increased the questions and doubts, it was good to see the Show that Must, did indeed Go On. Everyone loves a parade.
Clearly, a successful, if slightly scaled-back, Hyack Festival does not mark the end of the ongoing battle for Hyack relevancy and funding. However, it was a positive step, both for Hyack and the City, and one that did not look a certainty only a few months ago.
I attended various Hyack events this year, chatted with quite a few people at these events, and have talked to many people since. At times, these conversations led to deeper discussions about what these “traditions” we celebrate are for, and who they are for.
Before I start to get critical, I need to acknowledge that I did nothing to help organize the events of Hyack Festival. That puts me in the (very crowded) category of people who complain about something that other people – mostly volunteers – bust their ass to do to the benefit of the community, without lifting a finger myself to help them. This is pretty much the definition of a jerk.However, Hyack themselves are quick to remind us that they are an important part of the City of New Westminster and its traditions. They are also asking that the City continue to support (logistically and financially) the events Hyack organizes every year, which opens them up for a certain level of constructive ruminations. So here are my impressions, not meant to disparage the Festival or organizers, but to add to the discussion of what Hyack means to this city.
There are three 4 major events of general public interest that make up the Hyack festival: the Anvil Battery Salute, the May Day Celebrations, the Parade, and the Uptown Street Fair. Some will point out the many other associated events, but I get the sense some fall under the category of normal local events that could occur on any weekend (antique fair, petting farm opening), others seem a little inward-looking (Portland Rosarians Rose Planting, Seymour Artillery Firing), and yet others are not really open events (such as the Formal Banquet) that are more important to Hyack than to the rest of the community.
Of the main events, the Anvil Battery Salute is the one with the greatest historic relevance to New Westminster. The 21-firing salute to Queen Victoria, starting at noon on Victoria Day, is a unique, exciting, and important tradition. I just wish more people were there to see it. I could imagine it as a centrepiece of a great day in the park – the middle of a festival with everything from kid’s games to sports contests to food booths and beer gardens, music, and entertainment. Pick up Sapperton Day, drop it into the middle of the baseball field, and run the Anvil salute then, and you can see what I am getting at. Unfortunately, as a stand-alone event, it can appear to be much ado about nothing to those not aware of the tradition, and the crowd measured in the dozens this year* are a testimony to the failure to make this connection to people.
Being without kids and with a full-time job, I was not able to attend the May Day Celebrations. Wednesday, mid-day just doesn’t work for most of us working stiffs. By all accounts it was well attended, appreciated, and continues to be a highlight of the spring for many kids and parents. That the School Board puts so much effort into the event in these difficult times for that organization shows the desire of the community to protect this tradition that goes back more than 140 years.
This leaves the Hyack Parade and Uptown Street Fest. Everyone (and I have to include myself) loves a parade. It seemed there were many fewer floats this year than last year, and there were definitely more notable gaps in the crowd on the bottom half of the route that I remember from previous years, but the crowd that was there seemed into it. The same goes for the distinctly scaled-back Uptown Street Fest. With a bouncy castle and some food trucks, there was a good hour or so worth of entertainment to be had post-parade. It was well attended for the relatively small space it took up, but to suggest (as some boosters did on Twitter the day of) that it had 3x the attendees of last year’s hugely popular Uptown Festival, is fanciful.
If I was to put out one major criticism (and this is a common theme I have heard voiced), it is that these four events combined would make for a great 2- or 3-day festival. To stretch it out to 8 days over two weekends takes the momentum away from each of the events, and serves all of them a little less. Asking to general public in these busy times to dedicate two weekends to the Hyack festival, when there is only a couple of hours entertainment on each weekend, is not optimal. Given the choice of the Anvil Battery or the Parade, and going camping or to visit grandma on the other weekend, I’ll take the Parade every time (but I wish I didn’t have to choose).
Again, not being an insider, I only have my own suspicions as to why a good 2-day festival is stretched out to 8 days – mostly because the two headliner events can’t be held on the same weekend. Of course, the Anvil Battery Salute is a Victoria Day celebration, so it makes no sense to move that date. However, Victoria Day is a Monday that is not a civic holiday in the United States, and with so many parade floats and marching bands coming up from the Northwest, having the parade on this day would be problematic.
This problem is exacerbated because Hyack is the only Canadian member of the Northwest Festival Hosting Association, and the third weekend in May is already reserved for the Spokane Lilac Festival (put on some sunglasses before clicking that link). I suspect that Spokane is not interested in changing their weekend-before-Memorial-Day tradition, and competition between NFHA members is discouraged. So neither the Parade nor the Anvil Battery Salute can be moved, unless a tradition is broken.
That’s the way of it with traditions. Next post I am going to delve a little deeper into the history of these traditions in New Westminster, and tell a bit of a story about what happens when an upstart group of young business leaders step up to challenge a stale organization to be “bigger and better”, City Hall gets involved, funding gets withheld, and people challenge the parochialism and suspect impropriety of long-held traditions.
*Correction: A member of the Anvil Battery Salute team corrected me today on Twitter, saying an actual crowd count numbered the people at the Anvil Salute at 400. I am surprised, as I felt I had a lot of elbow room” in the stands, and even the photos of the event show pretty sparse crowds, but they had a count and all I have is a vague feeling, so you are better to rust the count!