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Keith Gerein: Regardless of latest tremors, Edmonton's Heritage Competition deserves a much bigger highlight

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Ah, pageant season in Edmonton.

With apologies to the hockey playoffs, proper now could be one of the best time of yr to stay on this metropolis, and positively the time of yr when town exhibits off one of the best model of itself.

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Everybody appears to have their choice among the many numerous occasions, whether or not it’s the Ok-Days/Style of Edmonton festivities that simply completed up, the Edmonton People Music Competition, the Fringe, or my favorite — which I’ll talk about extra broadly in a second — the Edmonton Heritage Competition, which takes place this weekend.

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Nevertheless, I need to start this column by noting a couple of headwinds, some stronger than others, which can be posing challenges to our beloved festivals proper now, together with perceptions of security considerations and declining affordability.

For instance, it’s attention-grabbing to think about the case of Ok-Days, which noticed a significant drop-off in visitors by means of the gates this yr. Attendance was pegged at about 557,000 for the 10-day occasion, which was one of many lowest tallies of the final 20 years and properly down from 760,889 who attended final yr’s Ok-Days.

At first blush, it’s necessary to not learn an excessive amount of into that disappointing determine. In any case, 2022’s occasion served a sure pent-up demand that had been increase throughout the pandemic shutdowns, and this yr’s occasion was undoubtedly affected by three dangerous climate days. The pageant can also be nonetheless going by means of its “reimagine” strategy of attempting out new programming, and it could possibly take time to seek out the right combination.

That mentioned, I’ve been questioning more and more in regards to the declining perceptions of security and social order which can be plaguing our metropolis proper now, together with in conditions with crowds.

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We noticed a few of that throughout the Oilers out of doors watch events final spring. Likewise, at Ok-Days, regardless of assurances of a “statistically small” variety of safety incidents this yr, social media postings of fights on the grounds didn’t function one of many sights.

Notion is a robust factor and as soon as a sure threshold has been crossed in somebody’s thoughts, it may be arduous to get them to cross again.

Ongoing points with town’s transit system are a living proof. Though sources have ramped as much as enhance safety, it’s going to take some time to degree out public consolation with utilizing trains, buses and transit stations once more. It’s important to assume this impacts festivals.

An excellent greater affect, maybe, is the query of affordability.

Inflation — although now lastly cooled — has made it rather more costly to placed on these festivals. And with folks’s incomes failing to maintain tempo with prices, households need to make sacrifices of their leisure selections.

For example, although I really like the variability and setup of Style of Edmonton, it’s now between $30-$40 for sufficient tickets to strive a handful of things that may fill you up. (Maybe this is the reason it’s referred to as the “style” of Edmonton and never the “meal” of Edmonton.)

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Such expense is simply not inside attain of numerous residents, particularly these bringing their households.

That brings me to the gem that’s the Edmonton Heritage Competition, which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this coming lengthy weekend.

Not ideally, the milestone is being marked amid some undesirable challenges. You may even name it a mid-life disaster.

As a result of a three-year rehab challenge at Hawrelak Park, the pageant has needed to briefly relocate to the previous Northlands grounds and Borden Park till a minimum of 2025. As such, there may be worry that would produce an enormous decline in attendance, despite the fact that the brand new website is definitely higher served by transit.

Additionally unhelpful has been the latest controversy between the Ukrainian and Russian communities. However although I’ve expressed my disappointment in how among the gamers on all sides dealt with the scenario, that ought to not dissuade folks from coming to what’s nonetheless a profoundly distinctive and culturally priceless summer time attraction.

In actual fact, I’ll go even additional. I believe the pageant has such worth in that regard that town and province ought to think about elevating it as Edmonton’s premiere summer time occasion.

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“Now we have a chance to show it into what Calgary did with the Stampede … a chance to do one thing very Canadian by turning the Heritage Competition into the signature pageant in Edmonton,” mentioned former metropolis councillor Kim Krushell, a member of the pageant’s volunteer board who first advised the thought to me.

That’s to not downplay the opposite occasions. Our people pageant has an particularly spectacular location. Now we have probably the greatest Fringe festivals on the earth. The Works all the time livens up Downtown.

However when it comes to sheer uniqueness, the Heritage Competition is a minimize above. From very humble origins it has grown organically into a large multicultural triumph that you just simply don’t see elsewhere. That’s an excellent story to promote. And if we will preserve the politics out of it, there may be potential to do much more with tourism, promotion and programming.

(Notably, the pageant touts itself because the world’s largest three-day celebration of multiculturalism, and it has been designated an “intangible cultural asset” by UNESCO. These are additionally issues that may be harnessed to drive extra nationwide and worldwide consideration.)

Sure, the meals comes with a value, however that serves as an important fundraiser for teams that take part. And past that, the performances, artwork, trend — and accompanying alternative to study different cultures — are all free.

“Individuals discuss in regards to the metropolis of champions, properly, this pageant displays the truth that we’re a metropolis of people that care about one another and that we’re champions in terms of our completely different cultures,” Krushell mentioned.

Now greater than ever, with variety beneath growing assault, this is a useful occasion we needs to be embracing.

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