Edmonton’s biggest summer fair has received a big boost in funding from the federal government.
On Tuesday, Minister of Tourism Randy Boissonnault announced $10 million in funding to ensure K-Days “remains a key part of Edmonton’s cultural tapestry” for years to come. The funding was part of a $17.5-million overall investment in Edmonton’s tourism sector.
“K-Days has been part of so many wonderful memories for countless Edmontonians and visitors,” Boissonnault said in a news release.
“Today’s investment will help ensure the festival continues to delight the next generation of Albertans, Canadians and international visitors while driving this city’s economy well into the future. Investments announced today feed into a broader, ambitious strategy to help Alberta’s tourism sector recover and grow into the future.”
The federal funding comes from the Major Festivals and Events Support Initiative and the Tourism Relief Fund, which supports major Canadian festivals and events that were hit hard by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The money will be given to Explore Edmonton, which now manages the summer festival.
“This funding provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine and re-establish our fair as an economic driver and cultural touchstone for our community,” said Arlindo Gomes, vice president of business development and venue management with Explore Edmonton.
“The roots of K-Days go back 142 years to 1879, with the first Edmonton Exhibition. At Explore Edmonton, we are excited to steward this event into the future and ensure it meets the needs of our community today and for the next 142 years.”
Some of the funding will be used for site improvements, including repositioning Klondike Park as a year-round destination.
“We found that that in particular is really in significant need of investment,” Gomes said. “The structures that are on the site are just aging, they’re not necessarily safe anymore.
“What else can we do to it to enhance it, make it more accessible for the community on more of a year-round basis versus just being programmed for 10 days of K-Days?”
Gomes said the money is less about improving the physical site and more about ensuring the festival has a successful future in Edmonton.
“A small portion of it is about improving some of the infrastructure, but the more significant part of the funding is really allowing us to support our community’s economic recovery from COVID,” he said.
“This is more about: how do we invest in K-Days in a way that then pays dividends back to the community, get more of the community involved in the event? And at the end of the day, our vision over the long term is to continue to build an event that has an tremendous impact and draws visitors into our city but also at the same time, provides more economic opportunity for people and small businesses in Edmonton.”
Explore Edmonton recently ran an online survey asking Edmontonians to weigh in on the festival with everything from what they like to what they don’t like.
Information from that survey is still being processed but Gomes said it will be used to examine everything to do with the fair over the next few years.
“You’ll see the fair evolve, I think, to better align with our communities. We’re working on developing new community partnerships to make the fair more inclusive and more diverse, and something like that will help us to connect to our community’s future,” Gomes said.
“We want to ensure that the fair’s future is as remarkable and impactful as its 142-year past. We want the event to be exciting to attend.
“It’s not about changing the event overnight. It’s about: how do we make important investments over the next few years to programming and to some of the infrastructure to develop the event out?”
The $10 million will also be used to expand programming that is inclusive of Indigenous Peoples, new Canadians, Francophones and LGBTQ2S+ communities, according to the federal government.
“Indigenous tourism offers amazing opportunities for travellers to connect with Indigenous peoples at a time when reconciliation is at the top of Canadians’ minds,” said Indigenous Tourism Alberta CEO Shae Bird.
“This investment will help Indigenous Tourism Alberta continue to support the rapid growth of the sector into a major component of Alberta’s visitor economy, and support hundreds of Indigenous entrepreneurs reach their business and social goals.”
The federal government said the remaining $7.5 million will help 29 other tourism projects adapt their products and services to create new experiences, in hopes of attracting more visitors to Alberta.