Winter Festival organizers expect to finalize plans next week

The Prince Albert Winter Festival organizing committee expects to finalize plans for the 2021 virtual winter festival over the coming weeks.

Organizers have a tentative schedule drawn up, and are preparing to film performances for the virtual Country North Show and other events.

Festival coordinator Barry Mihilewicz said it’s difficult to make too many firm decisions since there’s so much uncertainty about the COVID-19 outbreak. However, he added that festival coordinators were determined to put on a show as safely as possible.

“We’ve been in contact with public health and told them what our plans were,” Mihilewicz said during an interview on Wednesday. “They’re fine with it, so hopefully things don’t go backwards.”

The winter festival board plans to meet by Tuesday at the latest to finalize their plans. Mihilewicz said they were waiting to see if public health officials would relax the current measures on Jan. 15, or extend them. They expect to have a full schedule available soon after.

While they hoped to see case numbers drop, which would allow for larger gatherings, Mihilewicz said they’re just glad to see a firm decision one way or the other.

Festival organizers have already confirmed dates for several events, including the virtual Rock Show (Feb. 6), Youth Extravaganza (Feb. 7), Voices of the North (Feb. 13), the Winter Festival Fiddle Show (Feb. 14), and the Gospel Show (Feb. 21).

On Wednesday, Mihilewicz confirmed that they’ve added another event to their list: a fireworks show on Feb. 19. They may add other events to the schedule following the next board meeting.

Several shows are celebrating milestones this year, the biggest of which was Country North. Organizers hope to stream a special 50th anniversary Country North Reunion Show on Feb. 20 in honour of the occasion. That event’s still on the schedule, and Mihilewicz said it’s a strong reminder of just how important events like the Winter Festival are.

“If the festival died, if it stops this year, it’s difficult to get that going again,” he said.

The Winter Festival has already had some practice going virtual. They streamed their annual Tux N Toques Gala on Facebook on Dec. 22, with more than 150 separate users accessing the broadcast. Participants were socially distanced and only removed their masks to sing. All singers were at least 30 feet away from anyone else. Honourary winter festival co-chairs Lawrence Joseph and Don Mitchell hosted the show.

The 2020 Winter Festival was held before there were any confirmed COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan.

–with files from Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald