Shortened International Homecoming Festival provides a downtown spark - Aug. 13, 2014
Josh Caswell, right, tries to maintain his balance in the giant hamster ball on Saturday during the Gold Rush Parade Day Fun event on the waterfront.
The downtown area in St. Stephen was crowded on Saturday and Sunday thanks to the International Homecoming Festival parade and an array of related fun activities.
Saturday’s parade lasted about an hour, and spectators lined the sidewalks and even took to standing on the median at the end of King Street to the side of People’s Pub. The tail end of the parade passed through that area at around 2 p.m., but a large portion of the crowd simply made their way to the waterfront area, which was bustling with free activities for children.
“There was a big crowd Saturday after the parade at the bouncy castles and on the waterfront,” said Canadian co-chair of the festival Clarissa Arseneault. “I think it went well and we’ve already started the planning process for next year.”
Between bouncy castles, giant hamster balls and a large selection of vendors lined up along the waterfront, it wasn’t easy getting around the waterfront area on Saturday. A large portion of vendors stayed for Sunday, as well.
“I think downtown with different vendors (worked well),” said Arseneault.
The Forestry Department had a space set up on Saturday, as did Baxter, the milk company.
“They’re definitely coming back next year; they said they had about 300 people come through Saturday,” Arseneault added of Baxter.
Each of the activities offered at the waterfront were free of charge – bouncy castles, hamster balls, a Velcro wall. Keeping the majority of events and activities free is the main goal of the committee and it was appreciated by families.
“The feedback was that they couldn’t believe it was a free activity but that’s what we want as a community is to give back and give everybody an opportunity to participate for free.”
Also on Sunday was the second edition of the highly successful MechMuffler Soap Box Derby, which took place on Hawthorne Street. It will be back once again next year, and Arseneault said there’s a possibility MechMuffler will take the derby to St. George next year as well, which would be a win-win for the festival as it could, in turn, attract more participants to the derby in St. Stephen.
The committee will explore every avenue they can in attempts to grow the festival for its 42nd year next year, pledged Arsenault, who noted there have been brief conversations about next year’s festival, and the committee will meet in the coming weeks to begin initial discussions.
“We’re looking at utilizing the waterfront again … and we’re looking for people and organizations to take these roles on.
“International Festival, the committee, we don’t have the manpower to run all the activities, we just oversee them. If (businesses are) coming up and looking to work with the community, perhaps there are some ideas we can discuss and help them with.”
The parade itself featured a variety of floats, antique cars, fire trucks, and, of course, at least a dozen pageant queens.
Arseneault didn’t have to fret about the parade – at least while it was ongoing. The Canadian co-chair will be playing for the Canadian women’s ball hockey team in Tampa, Fla. in September along with friend and St. George resident Sara Ross. Both Arseneault and Ross, donning their Canada jerseys, became parade attractions.
“It was a little overwhelming; I’m shy a little bit, but with us being together it was a little easier,” said Arseneault, with a laugh.
So the next few months will be busy for the Canadian co-chair, but she intends on holding the position and working to make next year’s festival an even bigger success, though not before taking a moment to revel in the success of this year.
“I definitely want to thank the town of St. Stephen, the staff and all the volunteers of each of the events and our committee as well.”