Melfort Rotary Carol Festival returning for 73rd edition Sunday

Screen capture from YouTube. The Carillons bell choir, accompanied by Bernice McCosh, perform at the 2022 Melfort Carol Festival. The 2023 festival returns on Sunday, Dec. 3.

The Rotary Carol Festival is an annual tradition in Melfort, but in recent years the event has undergone some changes. 

The 73rd Rotary Carol Festival returns to the Melfort United Church on Sunday, Dec. 3. The Carol Festival did not take place in 2020 or 2021 but returned in 2022.

While the festival is back, organizers said they’re still feeling the effects of those two cancelled years.

“We resurrected it again last year in 2022 and it is smaller,” said Mona Graham of the Rotary Club of Melfort. “We’ve only got one performance. There’s not enough people interested to do two in the evening. People aren’t showing (and) the participants really don’t want to participate in the evening.”

Graham said they hope to keep the festival going, but there are challenges. She said the two years off seemed to push the event out of peoples’ minds.

“I think that’s probably indicative of a lot of things after COVID. Either it falls by the wayside or they just struggle to keep it going,” she said. “Who knows, maybe in two or three years it’s back to where it was and cause people are familiar with it again.

“Even last year people were still hesitant going out, especially the crowd that attends something like this,” she added. “(It) is our white haired crowd.”

Graham said she will be interested to see how many people show up on Sunday. The event is for a good cause with all money going to the Salvation Army Christmas Hamper fund.

Screen capture from YouTube. The NE Community Band Ensemble performs Silent Night at the 2022 Melfort Carol Festival.

“It’s a very worthwhile cause,” Graham said.

After having children’s groups as a prominent part of the performances throughout the history of the festival they only have 10 Strings a young strings group. There are no longer schools participating or the Guide movement after direction from the main headquarters. 

The United Church Choir and Bells and the Rotary Choir are always part of the event.  However, longtime stalwart Bernice McCosh has stepped back from the Rotary and the Festival because of her age. McCosh had been a part of every Carol Festival as the leader of the Rotary Choir and the accompanist for acts. 

“Last year she did one entry with the Bells, but they aren’t playing anymore,” Graham explained. “It was kind of her last hurrah of that, so last year we had to look for somebody to help us because she was the stalwart, you know.” 

Graham said she approached the Melfort United Church Choir, which is under the direction of McCosh’s daughter, Mavis Peters. Peters then assisted with accompanying and bringing the choir along. 

“They have graciously done it. They’re doing it this year too and the choir people, have stepped up for us,” Graham said. 

“Their pianist is playing the piano for us and for the singing of Carols beforehand.” 

Last year the carols were led by the Heavin family. Either they or Chris Corbett and Jodi Corbett will lead this year.

“The United Church Choir has really stepped up to help us out,” Graham said. “I’m not sure what we would do if we didn’t have their support. We would be having to seek Other musicians in the community, so that has been really helpful for us.”
The Melfort Rotary Carol Festival runs from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. at the Melfort United Church on Sunday, Dec. 3. 

“It’s kind of sad that we aren’t seeing the little kids, though,” Graham said. “Maybe we have to have meetings with the schools and say, ‘is this something you could possibly work on.’”

Despite the challenges, Graham said they still have fun putting on the Carol Festival. 

“We’re still having our doughnuts chocolate milk and I think we all get in the festive mood once we’re there,” she said. “By the end of the performance at the end of the afternoon and we’re all singing Silent Night and all that, there’s this real sense of community that comes over everybody…. It’s one of those things you want to see continue.”