Townshippers' Day, the annual celebration of Eastern Townships English-language heritage and culture, won't be happening this year due to a lack of both volunteers and a municipal partner, organizers have announced.
Usually held in September, the event was first organized in 1979 to encourage Quebecers to explore the region and get to know its English-speaking communities.
This year, however, the Townshippers' Association said the event isn't attracting volunteer organizers like it used to.
Gerald Cutting, the association's president, said that lack of volunteers is scaring away municipalities interested in hosting the event.
Without volunteers, both the association and the host municipality have to use paid staff to run the festival, and that's not sustainable, Cutting said.
"We've always depended heavily on volunteers in the past to make Townshippers' work," Cutting told CBC.
"Without that solid core of volunteers then it means … it's often staff from municipalities that are assigned to work and staff from Townshippers' that are assigned to work on it."
Cutting said only two municipalities showed any interest in hosting this year's festival, and both withdrew.
In search of a new model
As a result, the association has decided to skip this year's festival in order to regroup and think through other ways to make it happen.
The tradition of having a different community host the festival each year may have to give way to an alternative model, Cutting said.
"Without that municipal connection or partnership, we have to rethink Townshippers' Day completely," Cutting said.
One idea is to find a couple of permanent locations — one in the western part of the region and the other in the east.
"It would rotate back and forth on a bi-annual basis," Cutting said.
All he knows for sure is that the Townshippers' Association is determined to keep festival alive and bring it back next year.
Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, said the decision to cancel this year's Townshippers' Day is further evidence that Quebec's English-speaking communities are struggling due to a lack of resources.
"An institution like that that people have loved and participated in can't be sustained, that's evidence of declining capacity and it's very worrying," he said.