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Organizer ‘retiring’ from hosting Canada Day celebration in Saskatoon

The Optimist Club of Saskatoon started organizing the Canada Day event in 1967. Marc Sarmiento / Supplied

Saskatoon Optimist Club announced on Friday that it will no longer be hosting a Canada Day celebration.

The decision was devastating, according to Optimist Canada Day chair Rob Belyk.

“We laid the cards on the table. Finally said ‘do we want to continue organizing Canada Day?’ … Very difficult decision and we had a unanimous vote that we should retire from organizing and hosting Canada Day,” he said.

“When Canada Day was on, I just liked to walk around and look at the smile on the kid’s faces and the families. There were a lot of new Canadians there … and now they celebrate Canada Day.

“We had a focus on First Nations in the past years to partner with them and recognize the reconciliation factors.”

Read more: No Canada Day events for Saskatoon, Regina due to COVID-19; reflection urged instead

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In recent years, the event was cancelled due the COVID-19 pandemic for public safety.

“We’ve had two years of cancellations. We did a virtual Canada Day in 2020 but we didn’t have a virtual one in 2021,” Belyk said.

“The two-year hiatus didn’t help … we have our challenges. Primarily, we lost our title sponsor which accounted for 40 per cent of our budget and revenues so that was a real blow.”

Belyk also identified an aging club membership as a factor in the decision.

“The members in our club are aging and the sustainment of Canada Day with an aging membership is at risk,” he said.

“We’re getting a little long in the tooth. Most of our members are in our late 50s and 60s, and that certainly is a challenge when it used to be just a one-day organizational thing. But now it’s really three days and it probably takes about 100 days to plan.”

After organizing Canada Day festivities since 1967, the club said it was pleased to help fellow citizens celebrate the country, recognize uniformed women and men and to partner with First Nations in recent years.

“We’re very happy with the role that we did for the past 54 years of bringing Canada Day. We’re proud of the fact that we provided that service to the city with tons of entertainment and cultural diversity and a fabulous fireworks show,” Belyk said.

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“We’re very proud of that and we believe that’s a great legacy.

Belyk said the Optimist Club is currently in a transition role to help find a new host for the event.

“We’re committed to that role … to hand off the reins to a group that will take on the next phase of Canada Day. We are hopefully going to be engaged in that within the next few weeks so let’s just say it’s not over yet,” he said. 

Click to play video: 'Optimist Hill opens terrain park and new lift' Optimist Hill opens terrain park and new lift
Optimist Hill opens terrain park and new lift – Feb 21, 2021

The main focus of the club will shift to the winter recreation area, Optimist Hill, which it runs.

“We’re focusing on Optimist Hill because we would see some great opportunities and growth in that area,” Belyk said.

“We have opportunities there to recruit new membership towards our club and continue the sustainment of Optimist Hill.”

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