The move means that Northlands, which previously ran the two summer festivals, will wind down its operations after more than 140 years.
Explore Edmonton said Thursday that it signed a charter of principles in May with the City of Edmonton and Northlands to guide the transition of Northlands’ activities to Explore Edmonton. The formal transition will take place on July 5.
Explore Edmonton is a City of Edmonton tourism and venue management organization which now runs the Expo Centre.
Last year, the City of Edmonton asked Northlands and Explore Edmonton to work together to see if the organizations could work together to reinvent and deliver K-Days and Farmfair International in a financially sustainable way.
A feasibility study conducted earlier this year determined Explore Edmonton was “well-positioned to manage both events given its new mandate as the Destination Management and Marketing Organization (DMMO) for Edmonton and its existing management responsibilities of the Edmonton Expo Centre,” according to a news release from Explore Edmonton.
“The Explore Edmonton team was humbled by the confidence city council and others showed in us when it was suggested we could take this on,” Explore Edmonton interim CEO Maggie Davison said in a news release Thursday.
“We know that it has been a challenging time for our friends at Northlands and that this has not been easy. We intend to honour and respect their legacy of service to Edmonton by relaunching their events in exciting and dynamic new ways.”
Northlands is in year four of a five-year land contract with City of Edmonton to continue hosting K-Days on the grounds in central Edmonton, which the city eventually plans to redevelop.
Davison said Explore Edmonton is still working with the city on the future of events at the site given the future development.
Earlier this month, Northlands announced this year’s K-Days festival would not go ahead. The organization said the decision was made after taking a hard look at whether it could deliver a high-quality event given limited timelines and resources.
“Rather than having an event simply to have it in 2021, we want to work with our stakeholders and partners on relaunching K-Days in 2022,” Northlands said on June 1.
The future of Northlands and the two annual events it operates — K-Days and Farmfair International — have been in question for the past several years. When the Edmonton Oilers moved to Rogers Place and took all major concerts with it, Northlands lost a major source of income.
In 2017, the city took over control of the arena and after 43 years in operation, it was officially closed in 2018. Later that year, the racetrack shut down.
Northlands had also hosted the Canadian Finals Rodeo at the site for 44 years until its move to Red Deer when the arena closed.
“Farmfair International was a revenue driver, but with the loss of the rodeo that put it into a very fragile financial position as well,” Peter Male with Northlands said at a news conference Thursday.
“It really has been an exercise in survival.”
Farmfair went ahead in 2019, but both it and K-Days were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“Northlands has faced many challenges over the last several years and the pandemic has exacerbated those challenges,” Male said.
“As we considered what would make the most sense moving forward, it became increasingly clear that protecting the viability of events would require some very tough decisions.”
Male said Northlands has been a treasured part of Edmonton’s history, having run the Coliseum hockey and concert arena and Northlands Park Racetrack, along with hosting events throughout the years at the Edmonton Expo Centre.
“For more than 140 years, Northlands has been an Edmonton institution, a world-class industry leader dedicated to producing the best events and agricultural programming in northern Alberta,” Male said.
“Northlands helped build our community and create memories that have lasted many lifetimes.”
Male said he’s proud of the legacy of the organization, including the dedicated staff and tireless volunteers who helped sustain Northlands for nearly a century and a half.
“It’s extremely hard, it’s extremely emotional. In our business in what we do, we are so close to the community that people are extremely emotionally invested and so it was a deep-feeling exercise when we were confronted with the fact that our financial position was so fragile.”
Edmonton’s deputy city manager said the City of Edmonton has always supported a path that ensures the long-term viability of K-Days and Farmfair International, recognizing the importance of both events.
“They drive economic impact, and they instill a sense of community in Edmontonians,” Rob Smyth said.
“We have every confidence in Explore Edmonton’s ability to bring these events back stronger and better than ever.”
Davison said as the city moves out of the pandemic, Explore Edmonton hopes to be able to host Farmfair International this fall.
“It will likely look a little different than previous years, but we think it’s important to let partners and stakeholders know that we do plan to move ahead.”
She added K-Days 2022 needs to be “nothing short of spectacular.”
Explore Edmonton said it intends to honour the legacy of Northlands by working with the organization to reimagine the festivals. “Robust community engagement” will also be done in the coming months to get public feedback on how best to relaunch the summer events moving forward.
“Any festival or event over time needs to be re-looked at and making sure that we are meeting the expectations of the community and Edmontonians in particular,” Davison said.
“So as part of the community outreach, that will be one of the questions: what our community wants to see in the way of K-Days and we will definitely be building back Farmfair International to its former glory.”