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Festivals and events boost town economy

Winter Village grows to join list of local charms
A series of celebrations for the WinterFest society’s 20 years of existence in 2015. File photo

The tourism industry for the resort town of Sylvan Lake has been booming in recent years, making the community a visitor destination of choice. Town popularity especially as a winter destination has seen a spike in support from the Winter Village in recent years.

“Expanding Sylvan Lake’s tourism offering by developing captivating festivals and events in the off-season is helping the community to benefit from year-round tourism. Tourism activity brings visitor dollars into the community. This is “new” money that circulates throughout the local economy; multiplying its benefit. Additionally, tourism events can encourage increased overnight visitation and expose communities to potential investors and homeowners. In some cases, tourists enjoy their visit so much that they choose to stay. Tourism can also positively impact other sectors of local economies and encourage business retention,” said Amanda Mercer, town economic development officer.

Sylvan Lake’s potential received a platform to flourish after receiving the Tourism Growth Innovation Fund from Alberta Culture and Tourism in 2018. This fund aims to create and implement a festival and event strategy.

“The 10-year strategy was completed in 2019 and is guiding the community’s festival and event development today. According to the plan, If the strategy were implemented as described, an additional $4.4M in direct visitor expenditures could be generated in the off-season in Sylvan Lake,” said Mercer.

Prior to receiving this grant, local visitation was largely confined to the summer months, with event and festival seasonality posing challenges to local businesses trying to stay open year-round.

Winter Village is a relatively recent addition to the list of large-scale local events and activities that keep town spirits alive throughout the year.

“The Winter Village is helping to elevate Sylvan Lake as a winter destination and is contributing to economic growth in the community. Visitors can experience the village for free during their stay and experience the wonder of the holiday season,” said Mercer.

The Winter Village acts as a great base and levels up other events like the Santa Claus parade, downtown shopping events, the Winterfest, and The Big Jig, among others, said Mercer.

The concept of the Winter Village grew with a simple idea of serving as a beacon of hope, bringing Lakers together, and reminding ourselves of the wonderful town we are a part of, said Winter Village Committee member Kjeryn Dakin. The event has grown to become one of the top winter Sylvan Lake attractions. The initiative offers an escape for anyone wanting to enjoy an evening of bliss, free of cost, said Dakin.

Winter Village started five years ago and has continued to expand with each passing year. The initiative grew majorly in size for the first three years before being struck with the pandemic in 2020. While COVID-19 posed challenges and threatened organizations to stay afloat, Winter Village maintained its position and cautiously continued operations for another successful season. This year, the organization installed a new sound system that plays in sync with the decorations of the flashing lights. It takes approximately $60,000 to put up this initiative.

“Local businesses have spent so much money around their business because we know it is so important to keep businesses alive down there in the winter and attract visitors. So, it is us investing in a festival that runs from the end of November until March, keeping the downtown alive,” said Dakin. “In the future, we would like to see lights coming from the top down, and making the ground animated and moving, spreading it out down lakeshore, almost like elevating it into a candy cane lane extravaganza. I think we are on the cusp of big growth here, and that’s really exciting,” she added.

The aim is to make the Winter Village grow bigger, brighter, animated, more active, exciting, and emotionally impacting every year, said Doug McGill, Winter Village Committee member.

“We have had families that drive out on a weeknight and sometimes a cold night from Red Deer to have a look at it, also families from Rocky Mountain House,” said McGill, adding, “We aim to make it an irresistible attraction to all of Alberta.”

Lorraine McGill and Megan Hanson were instrumental in resurfacing the proposition for the Winter Village when it was about to be brushed off the table, said Dakin.

“The Winter Village project has exceeded my expectations and has made Sylvan Lake a must-visit destination in the winter months. In addition to drawing in visitors from out of town, it has become the meeting place for residents to connect around one of the weekend fire pits, to take their children sledding under the lights, and to enjoy some of the holiday magic that our committee has always dreamed of capturing. Although I think we have met the original goal of the committee, each year we are excited to dream bigger,” said Megan Hanson, the town mayor.

“Smiling faces and seeing everyone enjoy the Winter Village makes all the work worthwhile,” said Dakin. McGill thanks the entire community for stepping up and helping make Winter Village a successful reality for the fifth consecutive year. The Winter Village witnessed an exceptional visitor turn-out as part of Light Up the Lake festivities Nov. 27.

While the town hasn’t yet started capturing the economic impact of the Winter Village, statistics around other events shared by Miller show strong community support. Winterfest 2020 saw 600 overnight attendees and 2,400 daily attendees, supported 272 jobs and contributed over $600,000 to the economy. The Big Jig 2021 saw 150 overnight attendees, supported 41 jobs, and contribute over $93,000 to the economy. Bull Riders Canada Finals 2019 saw 535 overnight attendees and over 3,000 daily attendees. The event contributed over $1,000,000 to the economy and supported 449 jobs.

“Our business community is also doing its part to contribute to the overall effectiveness of these events and initiatives by working hard to expand and develop their offerings during the holiday season. This year we have seen initiatives like the Cobb’s Block Holiday Market, the downtown Snowman Contest, and the Chamber’s Fistfuls of Cash event, to name a few,” said Mercer. “There is a “better together” vibe that is buzzing downtown and as we all know, working together is where the magic happens!” she concluded.

Fireworks by the pier. File photo
One of the first Winter Village celebrations. File photo
Mr. and Mrs. Claus cruising through the Santa Claus Parade. Reeti Meenakshi Rohilla / Sylvan Lake News