This year’s Tux and Toques Gala at the Prince Albert Wildlife Federation Banquet and Events Centre on Saturday night was a special one.
The Winter Festival is celebrating its 60th year in 2023 and to honour the occasion, the Gala named all past presidents of the Winter Festival as an Honourary Chair for the event.
Past President Barry Mihilewicz was the only former president in attendance and sees it as an honour to be selected.
“Obviously when you do the work, when you’re president, it becomes your baby and we always want to see our baby grow up and go on to do great things,” Mihilewicz said.
Mihilewicz took over after the 50th Anniversary with an entirely new board so he was happy to see the festival continue for another decade. He said you cannot be selfish and think the event cannot survive without you.
“You have to sort of move on, like sometimes you have to get out of the way, create the void that sucks the next group in,” he explained.
Former presidents Darrell Prokopie and Jane Smith were expected to also attend but were unable to. During the evening, current President Bev Erickson introduced the current board who were in attendance and presented them with a mug as a token of appreciation.
“When Bev (Erickson) took over as president. I told her that her first job should be to figure out who is going to replace her, because If you don’t, you’re going to be the president for life,” Mihilewicz said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you like it.”
Past presidents represented all levels of society from bank presidents to school caretakers and railway employees. He said that these people worked side-by-side to make the event succeed.
Erickson and Brian Schlosser of North Star Trophies and Screenprinting presented Mihiliwecz with a 60th Anniversary coat. An identical coat was also given to the current board.
The Gala featured a silent auction, Diamond Dash, supper by My Place Catering and a performance by the Strong Family; Glen Strong, Allison Rae Strong and Rebecca Strong.
Mihilewicz said there has always been a group of people who found value in the Winter Festival as an event. He said having it in February helps chase away the February blues.
“When you live in Prince Albert and you realize the value of getting people out of their houses—instead of being parked in front of the TV set—coming out, taking part in some entertainment,” he said.
The Tux and Toqyes Gala was created while Mihilewicz was president. He brought the concept to the board to create buzz around the Winter Festival because it was difficult to find a Mr. And Mrs. Winter Festival.
“It was so hard because most times people were very reluctant to do it as a couple,” he explained. “Often if you notice some people in in relationship with a couple, one person will be fairly outgoing and the other one would be exactly the opposite and so It was really hard to get couples.”
Mihilewicz explained that it was easier to pick one person and an excellent way to pay tribute to the festival’s history.
The Honourary Chair has paid tribute to all aspects of the Winter Festival with chairs representing everything from fiddle players to trappers. Mihilewicz gave the example of past Honourary Chairs Wes Stubbs and John Kushneryk.
Mihilewicz also put together a 15-minute video on the history of the Winter Festival with a focus on the many presidents and the changing nature of the Winter Festival. Through this project, he learned about the history of the Festival. When the Winter Festival first began it was the Winter Festival as an umbrella organization with various service clubs running events.
“It wasn’t like the board organised and ran everything. The board had people who would (run it),” Mihilewicz said.
He gave examples like the Cosmopolitan Club taking care of timing for dog races, the Kinettes running the Queen pageant and the ANAVETs running the harmonica and accordion show.
“The Winter Festival just sort of oversaw all of it and a lot of times those events ran on their own and the Winter Festival got the Button sales. Then the Winter Festival ran the Country North Show because it made them a lot of money,” he said.
Mihilewicz explained that the board was always trying to figure out how to make enough money to pay the prize money for the dog races and King Trapper because those events are hallmarks of the event. He said that the biggest challenge for boards is to balance the indoor and outdoor events so you can fund the whole Festival.
“That’s because there’s always been somebody who said they are not willing to let this die. That was our group,” he said.
He explained that the Winter Festival would not exist without the work of former presidents Darrell Prokopie and Jim Stiglitz to keep the Festival alive.
The Winter Festival itself would not exist without founding presidents Orville Erickson and Jack Cennon. Another instigator was Cec Corrigal of Cec Corrigal Furs and Fashions.
“One of the signatures of the Winter Festival was these fur hats and Cec Corrigal probably did okay with all of the business with the Winter Festival. But he was he was kind of one of the instigators in the scene,” Mihilewicz said.
Other well-known businessmen who were involved included Don Maranda and Bob Bundon.
“If they were charging they would have never been able to afford those guys, but they would come in and they would work together,” Mihilewicz said.
He said that each president should pass on the advice to the person who succeeds them that they have no idea how much work goes into the event.’
Mihilewicz added that the entire experience is rewarding.
“If you get involved, you won’t regret it,” he said. “I don’t regret a day. I put in a ton of time and energy and effort. Probably my business suffered because of it, I don’t care.”
He still fondly remembers attending the Winter Festival when he was 10 years old. At that time moccasins were in style and the February was slushy and so was the ice on the river. He collected some plastic bags from near his father’s business
“I remember going up there and finding some plastic bags and wrapping them around my mukluks so I could go back down to the ice and not have my feet soaked,” he said.
Mihilewicz added that he was glad to be part of the Winter Festival for as long as he could remember. The Prince Albert Winter Festival runs from Feb. 9 to 25.