Twenty years ago Laurel Burnham was scrambling to find an electrical outlet for the 10th vendor that signed up for Canada Day celebrations in Penticton.
To say a lot of things have changed since she first came on board to organize the event would be a understatement.
“It has grown now where it is a huge event filling the park with thousands of people and everyone loves it,” said Burnham. “We’ve had really remarkable growth and it is a real indication to me that people really believe in and love their country and community.”
Burnham came on board in 1993 after Canada Day celebrations seemingly disappeared in Penticton. She joined Bob and Eleanor Paulin, and together they re-established Canada Day as a community event by setting up a society to get funding from Heritage Canada. The group has received the exact same funding amount each year, for the past 20 years.
Thanks to upgrades to the power at Gyro Park, the little celebration that could barely accommodate 10 vendors now has free entertainment, children’s activities, birthday cake and over 60 vendors.
The party for Canada’s 146th birthday starts at 8 a.m. Monday in Gyro Park with the Quota Club/South Okanagan Women In Need Society pancake breakfast and the public market opening at 9 a.m. (until 5 p.m.). At noon the opening ceremonies begin with the singing of O’ Canada and the Penticton Pipe Band marching officials in for the cake-cutting ceremony. At 12:30 p.m. entertainment begins at the bandshell, changing every 45 minutes, starting with UnCorked, Darylectones, Oceans & Lights, Bahiti Belly Dance, DJ Abrupt & Kid Kong, Aiden & Mandy, Fluxx, Get Bent Belly Dance and Flashback wrapping things up with their set at 7:30 p.m. Free children’s activities run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Penticton Speedway will have a display on Main Street and the Penticton Resource Recovery Society will have a dunk tank on site.
Burnham has faced every possible challenge you can think of during her Canada Day tenure, including a thunderstorm and deluge of rain that filled a giant Canadian flag stuck to the inside of the bandshell’s ceiling.
“All of a sudden it let go and it was all over the stage, speakers and everything. We had to shut the whole show down, but Skaha Sound took all their equipment back to their shop, tore everything apart, dried it and came back,” she recalls. “That is the thing, they did come back. If there are a few things I have learned over the years it is how enthusiastic we are in this community, the power of people working collectively and just how much talent there is here.”
Burnham said the long hours (she starts at 6 a.m. and usually leaves around midnight) and challenges she faces with her husband, who has been a reluctant stage manager, have been worth every second. Primarily because she loves her community that much, as well as the fact that the experience has shaped her career path. She has been instrumental in Penticton Night Markets, the Downtown Markets, the Naramata August Fair and is the Community Market manager for the Downtown Penticton Association.
Despite changes that have seen helium become too expensive to fill balloons, to being restricted in the things they can and cannot do due to litigation reasons, Burnham is certain of one thing: she will be back to do it all again next year.
“I think so. For years I have been winging it, and now the Downtown Penticton Association has hired me on a full-time basis to run events so I am stuck with it now,” she joked. “I think my husband will be off the hook though.”
At a separate event across the park at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, there will be Canada Day-inspired mini giveaways throughout the hotel, celebration cake from noon to 5 p.m. and music from the Bob Bricker Duo (3:30 to 5:30 p.m.), Paul Gibbons and Paul Laine (6 to 8 p.m.) and Joe’s Garage (8:30 to midnight). The Lakeside will wrap the evening up with a fireworks display just east of the casino at 10:30 p.m. Local individuals and businesses have donated $10,700 for the fireworks display and the Lakeside has donated $5,000.