The 13th annual Lytton River Festival took place last weekend under damp skies and the shadow of the Spencer Road wildfire; but while attendance was somewhat down from last year, River Festival committee president Nonie McCann said that she was fine with that.
“It’s a free family- and kid-oriented event that’s completely paid for by sponsors, so it doesn’t matter how many come,” she says. She notes that the Labour Day weekend is a busy one, and adds that this year, the wildfire west of town probably didn’t help.
“If I was planning to come here, and then saw the news about the fire and evacuations, I might change my plans.” Her house was one of the ones affected by the evacuation order, and she said she had people calling her from all over.
Potential visitors were not the only ones concerned about the fire. McCann says that on the afternoon of September 1, less than 24 hours before the festival was due to start, the committee received a written request from Lytton First Nations to postpone the festival.
“It was partly for safety reasons in case the fire might get out of control, and also because there was no accommodation for evacuees,” says McCann. “And they felt it was disrespectful to have a party when people had been displaced.”
By the time the letter was received, many people had already arrived and the festival had been set up. A committee meeting was called to discuss the request, and directors canvassed people who had assembled at the community hall, including several elders, as well as members of Kevin Loring’s Savage Society. “We asked them if we should cancel, and the answer was a resounding no.”
At a BC Wildfire Services communications meeting on the evening of September 1 Dr. Rosalin Miles, administrator of LFN, made public the request to postpone the festival. McCann says that the response was to announce that the festival would go ahead, because “it was a good thing in the community in a time of stress. The festival is all about building community.”
A special announcement on the festival’s website stated that “The festival is an opportunity to focus on the resilience of our community members, facing these emergencies with good humor [sic] and positive action. The organizing committee has also expressed the intention of helping those adversely affected by the wildfire in any way possible.
“Consultations with numerous community members, including some evacuees, elders, and members of the Lytton First Nations indicate that the decision to continue with the festival would be supported by them.”
Matt Henry was on hand to entertain children of all ages at the festival. Snukwa7 Photography.
McCann is pleased with how the festival went, saying that the music and fire dancing events on Saturday evening were attended by hundreds of people, with many attendees dancing in the streets to the popular sounds of hometown group Ritchie & The Fendermen.
She also has nothing but praise for the hard work of the volunteers who made the event happen. “We can manage with 10 or 12 people on the committee, but we need four or five times that number of volunteers.” She singles out Judith Urquhart for special praise. “She is just amazing in what she does.”
McCann notes, however, that the committee will be taking a look at how things went when it comes time to plan for next year. “We’ll look at what we did, what was most effective, what we should hang on to and what we should change.” One difference next year might be starting events at noon rather than at 10 a.m. “Everyone wanted to sleep late this year,” she laughs.