Winter Festival gala honours John Kushneryk

John Kushneryk speaks during the 2019 Tux 'n Toques Gala on January 26, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

When the organizers of the Prince Albert Winter Festival asked this year’s honorary chair John Kushneryk for a list of accomplishments, they knew it would be lengthy.

What they didn’t expect, though, was to be led to a shed full of boxes and boxes and boxes of trophies, more than he could display in his home.

“That’s how many times he’s won fiddling contests,” said Barry MIhilewicz, Winter Festival president Saturday during the Tux ‘N Toques Gala held to honour Kushneryk.

“He was the Western Canadian fiddling champion four years consecutively. From 1973-1976 they gave him the trophy permanently, and then he became a judge.”

Before he was a western Canadian champion, though, Kushneryk was a champion at the Prince Albert Winter Festival. He started fiddling at age 7 and began competing at the Winter Festival in the late 1960s.

“I competed a few times before I won the contest,” Kushneryk said.

“Of course, when I won my first contest here, that whet my appetite to do some further competition.”

He began travelling around Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, B.C. and Ontario. He then moved on to judging across western Canada and into the United States.

Kushneryk also became the organizer of the fiddle contest he had once won, running the show in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

That journey – from competing to winning, to judging, to organizing, is exactly the type of thing the Winter Festival wants to celebrate.

John Kushneryk was honoured at the 2019 Winter Festival Tux ‘n Touques Gala on january 26, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

“What we do is try to find someone who has had an impact on the festival, but also someone who the festival has had an impact on,” Mihilewicz said.

“John is an awesome honorary chair. He is one of the guys who embodies what the Winter Festival is all about — a whole bunch of different areas and different things coming together to entertain and be entertaining.”

Kushneryk said he never could have expected being named the honorary chairman.

“it’s really an honour to be chosen. This is something I would have never expected. By all means, I do appreciate it.”

At the gala Saturday, Kushneryk said he was enjoying himself seeing the large crowd and meeting a lot of his old friends. As honorary chair, Kushneryk will be promoting the annual event, something he has no problem doing.

“I think the Winter Festival is such a great event for Prince Albert,” he said.

“It brings the community together and really proves an outlet for so many talented musicians and singers in Prince Albert.”

This is the second year the honorary chair has been a musician. Last year, the honour went to musician and producer Paul Lomheim.

“One of the things about the festival is it is a tremendous forum for local talent to come out and show their stuff,” Mihilewicz said.

Kushneryk agrees.

“It really makes the public aware of how much talent we have in the area. We have an awful lot of good, talented people here and a major part of their exposure would be through the Winter Festival events that happen here. That is very rewarding, I like to see that,” he said.

“It not only brings people out participating in the music and singing, it also helps to improve their art of entertainment. They always further themselves.”

Kushneryk pointed to the careers of Brian Sklar, Donny Parenteau and Randle Currie as some examples of local talents who have gone far beyond the confines of the city.

But the Winter Festival — and Kushneryk’s contributions, go far beyond just developing musical talent.

“There are so many other sides to it as well,” Mihilewicz said.

“Some of the previous organizers that have been involved, unfortunately … are no longer with us. When you’ve got a festival that’s been going for 55 years, there are a lot of people involved. It’s really hard to pick somebody every year and just single one person out.

“But we’re glad it’s John this year. People who were part of (the festival and then gave back to the community by organizing. That’s what John embodies. He’s going to be a great ambassador for the festival and that’s all we can ask.”