75th Winterama 'phenomenal' after pandemic-filled years: Rawson

If the thousands of attendees from last weekend’s 75th Winterama were any indication of success for the winter festival, then added praise from Penetanguishene’s mayor is no surprise.

“I think it was phenomenal,” said Mayor Doug Rawson. “I talked to so many people out and about in the community who were appreciative for the event coming back and who were looking forward to the future.”

Rawson added that as the first social outing since the COVID-19 pandemic had begun, achieving a goal to provide needed relief for the community-at-large was a priority for the municipality.

“I spoke to people that came down from Sudbury that day; they saw something on Facebook and wanted to be a part of it,” he added.

While recreation director Sherry Desjardins didn’t have the exact numbers for attendance, she stated that 4,000 Winterama buttons ordered for the event had sold out.

“The souvenir button is one of the long standing Winterama traditions as people collect them year after year,” said Desjardins. “We ask each attendee to purchase one in support of the event and it provides access to the weekend's festivities. I suspect we exceeded 5,000 based on how that went.”

Participation in events such as the parade, cardboard toboggan races, and arm wrestling exceeded expectations as well, according to Desjardins.

“Whether measured in attendance, activity registrations, feedback or smiles,” said Desjardins, “the overall outcome of the three days of festivities surpassed our expectations.

“Our primary goals were to bring our community and neighbours together in celebration of a nostalgic and local tradition, all while welcoming new visitors to experience what winter means to Penetanguishene.

“We have been working hard to reintroduce old favourites as well as new activities to the event while ensuring that there is something for everyone and I believe that we achieved what we set out to do,” Desjardins noted.

One of the highlights for Rawson was the involvement of Beausoleil First Nation Chief Joanne Sandy as part of Saturday’s parade, sharing that he was “so happy and proud” for her presence.

“(In my memories) I don’t recall a parade or Winterama festivity in our local communities that BFN were a part of,” said Rawson who added that other community members were also happy for the appearance.

“I was glad they were a part of it, but equally that they were there during our opening ceremonies on Friday evening with the fireworks and having the Shining Waters Drum Team and the Indigenous dancers as a part of it. I think it’s very strong, and it speaks to what we’re trying to achieve.

“We are a big community… of people from all sorts of cultures, faiths, backgrounds, and language. I think it’s very important that we’re including these key members of our community, and I’m glad to make it come to fruition,” said Rawson.

A recreation department staff report on the event from Desjardins is expected to be presented to council at an upcoming meeting, which Rawson stated he was looking forward to with interest.

“I think everyone’s got a new sense of energy, enthusiasm and excitement. We’re on the path for great things.”

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca