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Gibsons OceanFest presents a 'new vision' of Sea Cavalcade but council hasn’t bought in yet

Town of Gibsons council will provide a letter of support, but debated committing funds 

A new summer festival is being proposed for Lower Gibsons but council isn’t ready to provide funding yet. 

At the Feb. 6 committee of the whole meeting, Diana Robertson presented “a new vision of the beloved Sea Cavalcade that will focus on celebrating our coastal life” and create awareness about Gibsons’ seaside environment. Family-friendly arts and cultural events would include music, visual art, a multi-cultural dance, workshops, exhibits and educational ocean-themed events on July 12, 13 and 14. Events may also include an oceanfront lantern parade, an evening street dance on the pier, a night beer garden at the market and a regatta with water-based races. The Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre is also planning to host an ocean conservation day during the festival, as well as its annual fundraiser. (No, there are no plans to bring back the boat blow up.)

Robertson said the Gibsons OceanFest would be managed by event producers — herself, Ross Powell and festival partner Nancy Cottingham Powell — who have experience managing the Sechelt Arts Festival, among other special events off-Coast. The producers plan to create an advisory committee to oversee the annual event, and have begun discussions with the Gibsons Public Market and Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre, the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives and merchants. The public market and aquarium will act as “a hub of activity” for the festival among other Lower Gibsons locations. The Gibsons Harbour pier, Gibsons Marina and Gibsons Landing merchants would also be approached.

The delegation asked the Town council for support in the form of a letter that will be included in grant applications, permission to prepare community grant applications on the municipality’s behalf, in-kind services (such as traffic control, permitting and insurance), $15,000 to underwrite production planning and coordination costs, and the exclusivity of event planning in the Landing for July 12 through 14. The presentation said the team’s estimated production budget is between $65,000 to $80,000 plus in-kind services.

The July festival in 2024 would be an introductory version, Robertson said, of what the festival could become. 

After the presentation, Mayor Silas White said Gibsons has a gap not only due to lack of volunteers but the pandemic’s effect on summer festivals. “It’s exciting, and we appreciate the work being done to fill that gap,” he said.

After nearly 50 years, the last Sea Cavalcade festival was held in 2018. The non-profit society that ran it has since dissolved. 

During the regular council meeting later that evening, council members shared their thoughts. Coun. David Croal said he didn’t really find anything new or terribly exciting in the presentation.

“If we’re going to give these people money, I would really like to see a little more of an invigorating proposal brought to us of what they’re going to do,” Croal said, adding that he'd also like to see a report or survey from merchants about their support. He raised a concern about the cost of insurance. Later in the discussion, Croal said he is supportive of an event but doesn’t know that it needs to be a three-day event.

White said it’s common for people to tell him they want Sea Cavalcade back or would like a new festival. “So I don’t want to pour cold water over a proposal when somebody comes and says they’re keen on doing a festival, especially when we know that it’s been years since we’ve been able to do Sea Cavalcade,” he said, pointing out that volunteer burnout has been part of the reason behind the loss of a summer festival. “When people come forward and say ‘we’re interested in doing this,’ I think it’s something council should entertain, to try to make happen on behalf of the community, especially youth in the community.” 

Other council members held off on giving their full support. 

“It’s not a plan yet, or at least a solid plan. I think that I’d have to hear more. What I heard today is an idea for something,” Coun. Stafford Lumley said. He added that he agreed with Croal that it feels market-centric, and noted that Sea Cavalcade was not an arts festival. 

“Now, if we want another art festival, then great. We as a council can vote [on] do we want to spend money on another art festival. If you want a festival like Sea Cavalcade, this isn’t it,” Lumley said. Sea Cavalcade, in Lumley’s view, would mean bringing back logger sports and engaging youth. 

He also noted that in mid-July, the merchants of downtown Gibsons will be in their busiest season and wouldn’t be able to participate or accomodate a festival. Croal added, “The ferries are choked in the middle of July. Are you going to bring more people to the community?” He said he would support the concept of a sustainable festival that had the community behind it, but is skeptical whether there is time to pull it together for this year. Croal also said he wants to see a more fleshed out proposal of how the festival will come together, in what format and who it’s going to appeal to. He suggested that the middle of tourism season is perhaps not the best time.

White expressed his disappointment that the council can’t offer more support. He noted that Gibsons no longer hosts a Canada Day celebration and said, “If this group coming forward today is not the group or the concept that council is looking to support, it leads me to wonder who we’re waiting for.” White said now is a good time to come forward. “I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll have a massive committee and then overnight bring back Sea Cavalcade in its prime. Something like this would need to start small with people willing to do it, and that’s what I saw today.” 

Council chose to provide a letter of support but held off on committing to any funding or in kind services. Lumley reiterated that he’d like to see more of a plan, including a budget.