SHERBROOKE – Without new volunteers from its major stakeholders, Sherbrooke’s Old Fashioned Christmas – which has attracted thousands of people from across Nova Scotia and beyond – could become a thing of the past as soon as next year, warns the chair and treasurer of the iconic event’s volunteer committee.
“I don’t want to sound like the Grinch,” Dana O’Connell told council for the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s last week, "but Old Fashioned Christmas could be in jeopardy of not happening. [This] January, there will be a decision as to whether or not to proceed with the event in 2023.”
During a presentation to council's committee of the whole on July 20, O’Connell said the event urgently needs its major stakeholders – Sherbrooke Village Museum, the municipality and the area’s business community – to step up and deepen their contribution to the event’s “core leadership” committee if it has any hope of continuing past the current year.
“My purpose is to advise council on the severe shortage of serving members on the Old Fashioned Christmas committee and the effect of this lack of leadership,” he said. “I seek your assistance to achieve a more sustainable committee represented by all three stakeholders. Without the committee, Old Fashioned Christmas simply cannot operate.”
O’Connell reported that, since 2019, the committee’s membership has dropped from 14 to less than a handful. “In 2020, Old Fashioned Christmas did not occur,” he said. “Despite a huge campaign to recruit new members in 2021, [we] struggled with just nine members. Today, we are still struggling to gain new members, but are operating with just four.”
The annual non-profit event “impacts thousands of people and provides financial spinoffs for almost every local business,” he said.
“[The event] spends, on average, $15,000 in the local area and other communities within St. Mary’s. It also supports several non-profit organizations inside the community, including the local 4-H Club, boy scouts, local churches and other organizations. It spends on average $5,000 a year on advertising, which promotes more than just the event. It has won numerous awards over the years, and has been named one of the top 10 events to visit in Nova Scotia. All of this brings awareness and tourism to our community. Last year alone, we had over 4,500 visitors. In recent years, we have had up to 10,000 visitors.”
To address the problem, O’Connell recommended that the three stakeholders form a partnership to raise and maintain volunteer committee membership to 12 or 14 individuals.
“If Old Fashioned Christmas is to continue and be successful, it needs to diversify the committee’s membership. This should not, I believe, operate as a committee based solely on community volunteers. These three stakeholders should represent key leadership positions. Community volunteers outside of these three main stakeholders could and should form the remainder of the committee.”
He concluded: “I know it’s a difficult thing to grasp. And, please, it’s not my intent to offend anybody. I just want to bring the message and I want it to be clear.”
Following the presentation, a somber Warden Greg Wier told O’Connell, “There’s no question about the value of the event. This is definitely something… Council [must] decide what our next move is.”
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal