Winter festival names veteran musician Kushneryk as honorary chair

Former fiddle show champion and long-time music judge John Kushneryk speaks to reporters at the Alfred Jenkins Field House on Tuesday. Kushneryk was named the 2019 Prince Albert Winter Festival honorary chair. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

John Kushneryk’s musical career took him across Canada and into the United States, but it all started at the Prince Albert Winter Festival.

Kushneryk, who was named the festival’s 2019 honorary chair on Tuesday, was involved in the inaugural Old Time Fiddling Competition in 1967. Three years later he won the competition, and that helped encourage him to compete across the country.

“When I learned of the competitions going on here in Prince Albert during the Winter Festival I thought, ‘I’m going to try and enter it to see what it’s all about,’” he remembered.

“I didn’t win my first or second contest. I think it was about the third contest where I won first place and since then I’ve been on and off.”

Kushneryk was a mainstay at the festival’s fiddle contest, eventually becoming the event organizer in the ‘80s and ‘90s. He also began competing outside the annual winter showcase, eventually winning the Western Canadian Fiddle Championships four times and later becoming a judge on the national and international stage.

Festival president Barry Mihilewicz said it was an easy decision to pick Kushneryk, although it did take the long-time musician a while to say yes.

“I’m supposed to be retired, you know,” Kushneryk chuckled. “I said, ‘you’d better let me think about it.’ It took me two or three weeks…. I thought, ‘well, I hate to turn (the festival) down because I think people should participate, so I said, ‘okay, I’m in.’ I was pleased that they asked me to do that. (It’s) a bit of an honour.”

“John was a natural choice for the honorary chair this year,” Mihilewicz added. “I think he’s going to represent us very, very well.”

Kushneryk wasn’t just involved in the festival fiddle show either. He also played in the original Country North Music Show, held in 1971.

Music has always been an important part of the winter festival, and Kushneryk attributes that to the high quality of musicians living and performing in the Prince Albert area.

“It seems to kind of be a culture thing,” he explained. “Music has always had a base here in this area.”

With the festival’s honorary chair selection settled, the focus now moves to the annual Tux ‘n Toques Gala, now in its third year. Kushneryk will be the guest of honour at the event, which is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 26. Tickets are $75 each or $520 for a table. To purchase tickets, call 306-960-7446 or 306-961-8034.