The Winkler Harvest Festival runs from August 11 to 13 this year. (FILE PHOTO)
The Winkler Harvest Festival has some new events to show off this year, while continuing to feature many of the things that people love and come to expect from the event.
One of these changes will be to the Strongman Competition, which takes place on Saturday. “Last year we tried to do a women’s Strongman Competition and there weren’t enough contestants to do a full day of it, so we had to cancel it at the last minute,” one of the festival’s organizers Shannon Loewen said. “This year what we’ve done is add the Strongwoman Competition in with the Strongman Competition so the whole program will run longer on Saturday.”
On Saturday night on the secondary stage, the festival will hold a cosplay contest presented by VISP. “We’re expecting people to dress up,” Loewen said. “I think it’ll be really good and really interesting.”
A few things have been added to the kids’ entertainment portion of the festival. One of these is a new petting zoo, which Loewen said is bigger than anything the festival has ever had. There will also be a tent hosting Safari Jeff, a children’s entertainer and reptile enthusiast. “He’ll have reptiles on display for you to see but he’s also doing two shows a day,” Loewen said. “He does full shows with animation and all sorts of things and it’s semi-interactive, he walks the animals through the crowd, so we think those shows are going to be really interesting.”
Also appearing will be a mobile aquarium called AquaVan coming all the way from the Vancouver Aquarium. The aquarium will have all sorts of fish, jellyfish and aquatic creatures on display.
The festival this year won’t feature a full rodeo this year. “Stanley Ag Society is still doing their horse show,” Loewen said. “They are doing barrel racing and things like that, so there still will be the agricultural component. They have their exhibits in the arena so that piece of the festival is still there.”
This year, the festival also paired up with an event website called Eventbase. Fairgoers can download the Eventbase app, search for Winkler Harvest Festival, and check out the entire schedule for the event. They can tag things they’re interested in, and even get reminders 15 minutes before events start and be directed to the right location.
In addition to their usual social media, the festival also decided to try out Instagram to garner some interest. “We’ve been using our Instagram page to have contests where we’ve starting doing meet and greets with some of the bands,” Loewen said. “We thought we would just have a couple bands that people could enter in this contest and meet, and we’ve actually had a lot of interest from the bands that kind of went a little viral. Now the bands are contacting us asking for meet and greets because they like the contest.”
Planning for the festival starts in December when festival organizers start looking at which bands are touring the country and which they would like to see at the Harvest Festival. “Our festival committee which has over 250 volunteers starts meeting in February and we meet monthly from February until September,” Loewen said. “Without our festival committee we could not do what we do. It’s their continued support and their willingness to come back every year and help us that really helps us get ahead each year and be able to do different things and add new things.”
Loewen has been with the festival for 11 years, and she has seen the festival expand and change over those years. “From the beginning we always had all these open spaces every year and we had all this extra room,” she said. “This year we’ve added so much, we’ve now got to the point that we have so many things going on that the site plan is becoming a bit of a challenge to fit everything in.”
“You can only grow it as much as your grounds will allow,” Loewen said. “In my personal opinion, we are going to have to possibly look at moving off the grounds or taking a look at how we set things up and maybe reconfigure a little bit and we may see some fairly big changes.”
But to Loewen, those changes are just part of the joy of putting the festival together. “Those challenges, while they’re tough and they present some logistical difficulties, I think they’re also a way that we get to refresh and put a new face on the festival and really rethink how people use these spaces,” she said. “I like to see that instead of saying, ‘We have this extra space that we don’t need anymore,’ [we’re] saying ‘We need more space.’ I think that’s a wonderful thing for the festival.”
The festival runs from August 11 to 13. The main entrance to the fairgrounds will be located between the Winkler Arena and Winkler Aquatic Centre.
More information can be found at www.winklerharvestfestival.com, and you can follow their Instagram page to keep up to date and enter contests.