Original Published on Nov 09, 2022 at 05:57
By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
ST. MARY’S — Two weeks before the kickoff of the annual Sherbrooke Old Fashioned Christmas — and despite a heartwarming response from many members of the community — its lead organizer and spokesperson says there may not be enough major volunteer or financial support keep the popular event going for another year.
“The Old-Fashioned Christmas Association (OFCA) has suffered by having lost so many of its members,” dropping, at one point, from 14 to three, said Dana O’Connell in an email interview with The Journal last week. “If the OFCA is to succeed, it needs buy-in participation from key stakeholders, namely: the Nova Scotia Museum, the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s, and the business community. Without [this], it and Old-Fashioned Christmas will continue to struggle and may dissolve.”
At the same time, he said, “The response [this year] from the citizens within the community has been wonderful. We have had many young people join the OFCA with the common reason for joining being they did not want to see the event die. These folks grew up in the community and it has formed a part of their heritage.
“We [also] have some new people in our community who have boundless energy and are really making it happen for this year, as well as several seniors who are back for another year. So that has been and is a huge boost…It is very heartwarming.”
Other positives, he noted, are the recent inclusion of two municipal councillors (Warden Greg Wier and Beulah Malloy), and the director of the Sherbrooke Village Museum (York Lethbridge) as non-executive members of the OFCA.
But O’Connell — who emphasized that he is “a seasonal employee of the province” who works at the Historic Sherbrooke Village and does not represent the museum or “any other organization or business in this community” — said the absence of key stakeholders in executive positions on the OFCA is directly and negatively affecting the event’s bottom line.
“Typically, we start our year with $30-35,000,” he explained. “Our main source of revenue comes by way of grants. Each year we apply for the Canadian Heritage Grant [and] receive between $7,000 and $10,000. We also rely upon our annual sponsors, which account for up to $10,000 per year. The remaining $10,000 is the responsibility of the OFCA; we raise funds through various fundraising [events], such car washes and bake sales.”
This year, he said, “We started with $20,000. The $10,000 shortage was due to … [not] being able to participate in fundraising … the executive branch positions [chair, vice-chair, and treasurer] are filled by citizen representatives, which means all the responsibility is with them.
“What I feel is needed for the OFCA to be successful is for the major stakeholders to take on these executive responsibilities, not the volunteer citizen. It’s a question of ownership over major decisions, including fundraising activities. It’s not fair to put all of that on the average citizen volunteer. It’s really about getting somebody to drive the bus …[Without this] next year, we will be very challenged to reach our goal.”
To make matters worse, he said, costs are rising. “Insurance has increased; this year we’re close to $4,000. Advertising has been slashed to $2,500. We are already at $14,500 of our $20,000 budget. As a result, we are not able to buy any new decorations or replace any of our worn-out or broken Christmas lights.”
Another problem, he noted, is lack of “buy-in participation” from the St. Mary’s business community. “Except for the Sherbrooke Garage, and some other smaller businesses we have very little support [there],” he said, adding: “The Sherbrooke and Area Volunteer Fire Department and the Lions Club, both of which are volunteer, have been very supportive.”
Meanwhile, “the museum has always provided the venue and allows the OFCA to store all of the decorations and props on [its] premises. As well, it allows the OFCA to meet in one of its buildings and provides an office space. Currently the museum is suffering from the effects of the recent hurricane and much of the labour support is, as would be expected, repairing property damage to buildings. This [means] not having an available labour force to assist in some areas, which is putting a strain on the event.”
O’Connell said the municipality recently donated $2,000 and has been “assisting with some in-kind donation through coordinating some of our activities.”
As for the show, he said, it must and will go on this year.
“Opening night is the biggest attraction. Admission is free, and the tree lighting ceremony is the most attended and very exciting to be a part of. The evening also has a free concert and, of course, Santa in the Heritage Park and, of course, the fireworks. The children’s tea craft market are all well attended [as is] Whoville. This year, we will have the village artisans at work Saturday and Sunday. Admission on the weekend is $2 per person. If you put that in perspective, for two dollars you are getting what you’d get for general admission throughout the season — basically, a $20 fee for $2.”
He added, “This is about giving a little happiness to children and families. I would not like to see that end.”