Winter Festival names 2020 honorary chair

The Winter Festival's honorary chair Gordy Sproull. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Gordy Sproull is used to being the voice of the sled dog races at the Prince Albert Winter Festival.

This year he’ll be the face of the entire weeklong event.

On Thursday, the Prince Albert Winter Festival named Sproull the honorary chair for the 2020 event.

Sproull announced the dogsled races for over 50 years. He started when the festival began in 1964 and only missed one year. In 2016, he hung up his microphone for the last time.

“We’ve selected (people who volunteered at indoor events) for the past three years, and we thought that the outdoor people do a lot of work for us, so we looked to see who had been around for a long time,” said festival president Bev Erickson.

“We looked to see who has been around for a long time and who has been really community-minded and involved. Gordon’s name was one of the first ones that came up.”

In addition to announcing the sled dog races, Sproull is known for his work announcing rodeo, chuckwagon and stock car races. He strives to provide his services free of charge when it’s something going on in Prince Albert.

Recognizing those volunteers is the whole reason the honorary chairperson position was created, Erickson said.

“Volunteerism is important for the community, and people who have been involved for 50 years definitely show that they’ve got the community at heart. That’s why these people need to be recognized. People who have stepped out of the limelight are often forgotten and we feel that it’s very important that those people are brought back to the forefront so they know that everything they give to their community is valued.”

Erickson said that naming Sproull to the position lets the festival recognize his “unprecedented” contribution.

As honorary chair, Sproull received a special winter festival parka. He will also be recognized at the annual Tux and Toques gala, set for Jan. 18 at the Wildlife Federation building.

“By golly, this is a great honour to be had,” Sproull said during a press conference at the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse Thursday.

“I’ve done a lot of announcing here on the other side (of the building.). Had to step back when I got on the older side of life, like I say, a little long in the tooth — or no tooth,” he laughed.

Sproull said he remembers when the festival used to be held on the river. He’s glad to see it’s still going on in some form and credited the volunteers with making it happen.

“We used to have 21 teams of dogs in the ten-dog race,” he said.

“You’re looking at 210 dogs out there making a lot of noise. They drowned out my system right away. Them dogs know what their job is, they get out there and we always have a countdown from ten to one and I think they know when that number one come because they’re gone.”

Sproull explained that volunteers would come in from the checkpoints on snowmobiles and tell him the results. He would then announce them to the crowd.

“It’s all volunteer work and by golly, they do a fine job. I appreciate their work and hope everything goes well for them again this year,” he said.

The Winter Festival is still a great event, Sproull continued, for all ages.

“A lot of…the oldtimers still taking part enjoy it. I enjoy it.”

Now, though, attention turns to the gala. In addition to honouring Sproull, the gala serves as a thank you to sponsors and a fundraiser for a community cause. This time around, the event will raise money for the Rose Garden Hospice.

That will be done through a silent auction and 50/50 draw. It will feature music from former Country North Show artists as part of the celebration of 50 years of Country North.

“We’re going to do the best we can to support… our community. Being a non-profit organization, that’s about all we can do to give back.”

Sproull is looking forward to getting the VIP treatment.

“I understand they pick me up in a limousine,” he said.

“That’s a little bit over my head. I’m a humble guy, a cowboy type. I’ve never ridden in a limousine so we’ll try ‘er out.”