A huge crowd gathered on the Nackawic waterfront on Saturday, Aug. 21, to celebrate the return of the annual Festival on the Bend after a one-year COVID-19-forced hiatus.
For more than 40 years, Festival on the Bend, formerly Nackawic Community Days, brought town and neighbouring residents together in celebration and friendship. For 2021, the festival committee scaled back events and time, hosting just a single-day event.
Under sunny skies and warm temperatures, visitors outside the region joined hundreds of residents to take in a long list of events providing entertainment, activities and a glimpse into the town's rich history and promising future.
The location of the Festival of the Bend, this year themed "Jumpin' back in," provided both a chance to look back and forward as they posed for photos by Nackawic's famous landmark, the Big Axe, and passed by the construction site of a new marina, a central aspect of Destination Nackawic's ambitious waterfront project.
A family travelling from Quebec to Moncton decided to stop by Nackawic to visit the Big Axe. Julien LeBlanc, Elyse Hinse and the children Gabriel and Alexis LeBlanc, arrived to find the one-day festival in full swing. Julien said they would take advantage of some of the entertainment options before completing their drive to Moncton.
Instead of the street parade, a focal point of previous Festivals on the Bend, organizers this year kicked off the day-long festival with a boat parade to showcase the waterfront and provide a more virus-safe environment for onlookers.
The parade of boats — colourfully decorated and featuring individually unique storylines, including one, which garnered first prize, towing a floating travel trailer, and another boasting a boisterous pirate-themed celebration — slowly passed near the shoreline.
The event, which continued into the late evening, featured plenty of events, entertainment and activities, ending with a massive fireworks display, following the Beauty and the Beats concert at the Big Axe.
Local vendors set up booths at the market inside the Nackawic Arena, where visitors shopped while listening to a long list of local performers on stage. Outside the arena, visitors satisfied their hunger and quenched their thirst at a variety of food trucks. Children played in the bouncy castles, ran freely along the expansive waterfront park or joined with adults to help plunge brave local celebrity volunteers into the water at the dunk tank.
Hook and Paddle hosted its Nackawic fishing tourney on the headpond waters off Nackawi, adding to the activities on the shore and the water during the day.
Joining the vendors inside the arena, Destination Nackawic Economic Development Corporation set up a booth to showcase the organization's long-range plans for Nackawic and the entire region. A map offered by Destination Nackawic identifies points of interest stretching from Mactaquac and Kingsclear to the east, Meductic and Canterbury to the west, Millville and Howland Ridge to the north, and Harvey and York Mills to the south.
Destination Nackawic president and CEO Brent Sansom was among those greeting visitors at their booth, providing information about what the region offers and its ambitious goals to make the town and surrounding communities not only a great place to visit but an ideal place to live.
The booth also offered free tickets on a draw, providing a sailing tour as the first prize.
Sansom said Destination Nackawic, established about five years ago, is making steady progress.
He explained the development corp. continues to spur investment in new housing opportunities for people and families looking to live in the friendly, active and growing community.
Sansom added that the marina is under construction, and new concessions will populate the waterfront in the spring. He explained the marina is the next successful step in the ambitious waterfront vision.
While Destination Nackawic Economic Development Corporation promotes tourism growth in the region, Sansom explained that its focus is widespread economic development, aiding private investment in all sectors, including real estate development.
He said investment in housing continues to grow, with a new development recently completed.
Sansom said Destination Nackawic has successfully promoted the region as a great place to live, either in retirement or a place to raise a family.
Nackawic Deputy Mayor Greg MacFarlane, who sits as chairperson of Destination Nackawic Economic Development, said its efforts are paying off despite several hurdles.
"It hasn't been easy," he said. "It's our fifth year — many barriers to break down — but we're getting traction now."
MacFarlane said Destination Nackawic's success was gained primarily on its own, with little or no support so far from other government levels.
"The river valley has got zero attention or promoting dollars from Tourism NB if you compare it to the North Shore or Fundy," he said. "We want tourism in the valley and need the provincial marketing dollars equal to other regions in the province.
MacFarlane said the success of Destination Nackawic, to date, should draw the attention of others.
We believe this is a model that the province should support — local grassroots economic development.
Meanwhile, the return of Nackawic's Festival of the Bend proved the interest in the town's waterfront, and what if offers remain attractive.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun