Local events — like Cactus Jalopies —
deserve more than just moral support

Local celebrations draw together people in friendship and purpose. We need to do more as communities to sustain them.

Andrew Stuckey

From the Stomp stage, you get a completely different view of the Festival of the Grape.

The crowd is bigger, the activity is more frenetic, and the friendships — some with many FOGs to their credit and others brand new — are more visible in the many small gatherings of goblets that dot Oliver Community Park amid the tents and food trucks.

The Sunshine Crushers were just five feet off the ground as we participated in Sunday’s Grape Stomp championship. But we came away walking on the clouds, making the finals of the fun competition and finishing fourth among the 30 teams entered.

Our new friendship was with our ringer — a lovely Quebec lady recently relocated to Osoyoos who brought with her a prowess born out of that province’s Maple Syrup shimmy.

Victoria Adams answered our call to be part of the OsoyoosToday Sunshine Crushers and showed up in her lucky Shamrock pants. She then proceeded to organize our effort into something resembling efficient and respectable.

We had a blast participating in the local pastime.

The fun we enjoyed got me thinking about other local grassroots events that have grown into significant stature over the course of their lifetime.

The Festival of the Grape is celebrating 20-plus years of festivities. It has grown to engage upwards of 5,000 wine-friendly frolickers, a couple of dozen wineries, food trucks and other activities. It now is the cornerstone of an Oliver weekend that features two other events, the Cask & Keg and Garlic festivals.

I suspect that if you talked to organizers from 1997, they would tell you they never imagined it would grow into what it is today.

Nor, I’m sure, would organizers of the Half-Corked Marathon, which has also taken on a brand of its own and now has to turn away would-be participants.

The Osoyoos community shares in that success, but the benefit is largely for the resorts and hotels in our communities, where participants bed down for the night after spending full days out-of-town.

But we do have our own success stories — two of which generated conversation Monday.

That morning, I sat in Osoyoos Council Chambers as one of those grassroots-driven events — this one a little younger but still showing its potential — came looking for a few more municipal dollars to bankroll its ambitions.

Music in the Park organizers Janis St. Louis and Debbie Dundass were looking for $19,000 — up $4,000 from last year — to build the summer Friday-evening musical event into something that is even more of an attraction.

Ms. St. Louis told Council the first show held four years ago attracted just 60 to the Gyro Park bandstand.

“We had to clean the bandshell first,” she told Council.

This past summer, outdoor audiences numbered upwards of 700 for each show, with at least one topping 1,000 seated in lawn chairs and on blankets on the grass.

Organizers are promising even bigger and better evenings next summer.

And yet, Mayor Sue McKortoff had to add an admonishment. She wanted to make sure MITP would be around in five years’ time.

It was a valid question given what transpired moments later.

That’s when Council learned Cactus Jalopies organizers are reportedly taking a sabbatical in 2020, shuttering the very popular late-June show and shine after 15 years of increasingly larger vehicle and spectator draws.

Cactus Jalopies willing, surely there’s enough interest locally to lend a hand to get the show back on its wheels — and let fatigued organizers ride shotgun for a spell.

2019 Cactus Jalopies a go despite funding hassle

This event is bigger than the car club organization that got it all going. Thanks to them, and years of hard work, it’s now an early-summer staple that means big business for the community.

Losing the show even for a season would be a major blow for the downtown economy, merchants on Main Street telling me that the late-June weekend — when 5,000 or more come to Gyro Park for the cars — is one of the busiest of the year for them.

It’s time for Osoyoos to step forward — with more than one foot — and kickstart Cactus Jalopies into its next iteration.

What appears to be missing is a central driving force capable of marshalling local effort and building local opportunity.

Rather than leaving large events to small cadres of dedicated organizers to do all the heavy lifting, wouldn’t it be great if an umbrella organization could provide support to plan, deliver funding and round up volunteers to help with the execution?

Our experience this last weekend at Festival of the Grape in Oliver is one Tracey and I will cherish for a lifetime.

Other grassroots events — like Cactus Jalopies — deliver similar memories to others. It would be shame to lose them.


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