Best Riverboat Daze ever? Numbers were up across the board

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Organizers of Riverboat Daze seem to have hit one out of the park. The 2019 version of Slave Lake’s annual summer festival was certainly a hit in terms of participants. Some estimates have the attendance at the June 5 ‘Block Party’ at over 3,000. Sale of wrist tickets for the rides over at the new site on the west side of town were up, and the Saturday events downtown were well-attended as well.

“I thought it was our best so far,” says town councillor Rebecca King, one of the trio who (once again) did most of the work for the block party.

Speaking of which, Chamber of Commerce manager Kim Hughes says that’s three years in a row that the organizing of the Friday night festivities have been in the hands of just three people. If it’s going to continue to grow, that has to change.

“We’re going to need volunteer help,” she says.

About 50 street vendors were set up on Friday for the post-parade celebrations in the blocked-off downtown area. King says they were very busy; all she spoke to said they did better than last year. That would include the Royal Canadian Legion’s beer garden, which was about twice as large as in former years.

The parade went well, bringing out the crowds as parades do. It wound around from the starting point on 6th Ave. NE, joining Main St. at 2nd Ave. NE and going south from there. The crowd streamed from the parade route directly into the downtown area, looking for food and fun. When they got there, the band ‘Bad Timing’ was just launching its set, which went on for several hours. The festivities ended with fireworks at the airport.

“Ken Bolan of Slave Safety volunteered to set that up,” says Hughes. “And it was sponsored by Vanderwell Contractors, The Gathering Place and Vanderwell Heritage Place. Without sponsors it wouldn’t happen.”

King says a lot of the people she talked to at the block party were from out of town – either camping or staying in hotels. Probably some were connected to the two minor baseball events going on in town the same weekend – which brought a total of six teams to Slave Lake from various parts of the province. A ball hockey tournament also would have swelled the population.

New this year was the location of the carnival, or midway. It was set up on the former Phoenix Heights temporary housing site on the east side of Hwy. 88. One big difference was ample parking on site. Hughes – reached by phone on Monday morning at the site – said the fair operators seemed to be pretty happy with it as well. As noted, numbers were up.

“Better than they ever have been,” Hughes said.

Getting back to the parade, the winners (judged by the Rotary Club) were the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre in the ‘theme’ category, Vanderwell Heritage Place in the ‘most creative’ category and for ‘most outstanding community spirit’ – Slave Lake Minor Hockey.

Saturday’s main events were the Children’s Festival – held in the E.G. Wahlstrom School grounds and an antique automobile show downtown. Turnout for both was impressive.

“The car show was a huge success,” says King. “It was really busy there.”

At the height of the kid’s events at E.G. Wahlstrom, lineups for the various games and the petting zoo were dozens deep.

Based on the number of tickets sold for the games at the festival, chief organizer Ali Mouallem figures at least 300 kids attended, but he says it could have been higher than that. He says attendance was up over last year.

“Every year it gets bigger,” he says. “In future I’m hoping to get more sponsorship, so we can have street performers. I would like to see it grow into its own weekend.”

Mouallem says there were about 25 people helping this year to run the event, representing an encouraging cross-section of the community.

That leaves the car show, which Hughes says had about 50 entries, including several from out of town. We were still waiting for a call back from the organizers at press time.

All in all a good Riverboat Daze with lots to be pleased about.

“Feedback has been really positive,” says Hughes. “People have some fun ideas for next year. We’re open to any ideas.”

Chamber president Francesca Giroux gets the last word.

“Riverboat Daze was a huge success from the Chamber point of view,” she says.

Giroux says the goal is to maintain the “core events” (meaning block party and children’s festival), while looking for ways to “expand upon them in a meaningful way.”

Wheee! Kids on one of the rides at the Westcoast Amusement show seem to be enjoying themselves.
Antiques galore: About 50 vehicles were entered in the Riverboat Daze antique car show.
Hold on tight! The Lesser Slave Region Fire Service helped out at the Riverboat Daze Children’s Festival.
One of the fun and colourful activities on the Riverboat Daze Saturday was a ‘Kids Parade’ through the downtown area.
Just watch me…Nathan Potts looks serious as he threatens the cameraman with a water balloon while waiting for the parade.
‘Here comes the candy!’
That way! Riding in a fire truck is fun!

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