Sunday, July 3, 2022

Canso Regatta rises again

Despite group’s dissolution, festival will return in 2022

  • April 6 2022
  • By Corey LeBlanc    

CANSO – Much like the waters that run along the shore of our seaside communities, the Canso Regatta experienced some choppy waters over the past week or so, but it now seems like smooth sailing, when it comes to the highly anticipated return of the annual celebration.

“It is definitely going to happen,” long-time volunteer Susan O’Handley said of the 2022 event, which is scheduled for August 13 to 21.

Excitement for the highly anticipated return of the celebration – which serves as the unofficial homecoming for the region, after a two-year absence due to COVID-19 – was replaced by concern when the Canso and Area Community Events Association announced its dissolution in a Facebook post on March 30. That non-profit volunteer organization had organized the Canso Regatta in recent years.

“There are only five of us,” Donna Wallace, one of the association members, told The Journal in a phone interview, when asked about their broader decision.

She added of the Regatta, “It is hard to take on,” for a small group of volunteers who also have full-time jobs.

Wallace noted that – in 2019 – the association benefitted from having summer students to help ease the workload.

“It is a big undertaking – one that can be quite exhausting,” O’Handley said, while crediting Wallace and her group for doing an “amazing job.”

She knows all too well what’s involved in organizing the Canso Regatta, considering she has been part of 20 or so events over the years, including a 10- to 15-year stretch when the festival served as the main fundraiser for the now-defunct Eastern Communities Youth Association (ECYA).

O’Handley explained that the event has experienced similar challenges over the years, with the transition from one group to another, when it comes to organization. She noted ECYA came on board after the local volunteer fire department relinquished responsibility.

“It only means that someone else has stepped in,” she said of such hiccups.

On this occasion, there is the challenge of having a tighter-than-usual timeline to put things together, but O’Handley added, “You get it done.”

Since 1885, the Canso Regatta has celebrated the proud maritime heritage – and the people – of Canso and the surrounding communities.

“It has morphed into something totally different,” O’Handley said, noting of its early incarnations, which focused on schooner races and other events.

So, considering that rich tradition – and what the Canso Regatta now means to so many people, from near and far – she and Rose Boudreau, another veteran volunteer, decided to “organize the community” and hosted a recent meeting at the Canso Curling Club, where more than a dozen residents – mostly representing larger groups – gathered.

The discussion produced a framework for moving forward, including bringing people or organizations on board to take responsibility for particular activities.

“Many of them take care of themselves,” O’Handley said of several activities that have infrastructure in place, such as the annual Seamen’s Memorial Service, which will be celebrating its 56th anniversary in 2022.

The community session also mined chairs for signature events, such as the parade, which always garners praise not only from participants, but also spectators.

“It is quite spectacular,” O’Handley said.

Another wildly popular attraction – the fireworks display – will also return. As part of the distribution of its remaining funds, the Canso and Area Community Events Association earmarked a portion to pay for them.

A group working on bringing a licensed childcare centre to Canso is taking on the traditional Saturday dance, which usually attracts 400 to 500 people to the Canso Arena on the second weekend of the celebration.

The community groups that are taking responsibility for money-making events, such as the adult dance, as fundraisers have agreed to help fund activities that do not generate revenue. For example, there must be funds available to bring in a band for the parade.

Noting that sponsorships remain strong, O’Handley pointed out it is – once again – focused on finding people to lead the effort for several events. If the person power doesn’t materialize for a particular activity, it will be removed from the schedule.

That initial organizational meeting also included some newcomers who have made their home in Canso in recent years. They not only wanted to learn more, but also offered their time – and some new ideas – to the celebration.

Wallace said she was pleased to hear that the Canso Regatta will continue, noting that she and other members of the former Canso and Area Community Events Association have offered to “pitch in.”

O’Handley says she and Boudreau have been hearing from many people interested in contributing in some way to the 2022 Canso Regatta effort, including people living away, who plan their annual trip home around the celebration.

She added that everyone is welcome to the next community meeting on Wednesday, April 21 – at 6:30 p.m. – at the Canso Curling Club.