Several thousand people ignored the clouds and imagined the sun as Keyano College hosted its 11th annual Summer Solstice Picnic in the Park on Friday. A cultural melting pot, the free community event has grown into a reflection of the rich diversity of our region. In a short couple of hours, conversations were enjoyed with people originally from Columbia, India, Venezuela, Pakistan, Japan, Russia and of course, Canada, and many other countries scattered throughout the globe.
From the science tent where they were doing the bridge building competition, to the Telus tent where Keyano Theatre & Arts Centre was celebrating a new partnership with a community-minded telecommunications company, Keyano College staff members were omnipresent and smiling in their blue "Papa Smurf" volunteer shirts as they celebrated the annual rite of passage into summer.
With the expertise of the wonderful staff of Events Wood Buffalo, the support of Canadian Natural (Summer Solstice's major sponsor), and the gang from Ovation Catering & Banquets (they provide the BBQ) a relaxing, fun, and entertaining time was had by all.
"This event was very different," said face painter Tiffany Bishop.
"I painted more adult faces here than at any other event that I've done."
Summer Solstice is as much for moms and dads to kick back and enjoy a free and joyful picnic as it is for the children, who came out in full force in 2011.
Inflatable activities provided an incredible outlet for the little ones to burn off energy, while the large lawn games like chess and checkers offered adults a chance to test their mental mettle. From chalk-drawing to bubble blowing, from getting a balloon animal made to having a tattoo painted, the Summer Solstice Picnic in the Park proved to be pure fun.
On the mainstage, dancers from Generation Dance Studio, Keyano Conservatory and the Belly Dance Academy wiggled, jumped, twisted, turned and stretched, filling Doug MacRae Park with energy and unbridled passion for their craft. Jazz bands from Father Mercredi and Westwood high schools filled the corner of Franklin and King with beautiful music while The Plaid Tongued Devils capped things off with their eclectic mix of folk and rock infused Klezmer and Gypsy tunes.
"This event will always be special to me," said Stuart McIntosh from KAOS 91.1.
"It was the very first public event I attended on the first day I arrived in town. It's great to be back."
Many other people return year after year, from Eulalia Hernandez with her camera to Bruce Price with his majestic beard and hat. After 11 years, Summer Solstice has become a treasured tradition, an opportunity to enjoy a wonderful time with friends and family, and also a great place to make new friends.
Children, parents and friends gather at the front of the mainstage, two or three hundred strong, as President Kevin Nagel from Keyano College and Senior Vice President Peter Janson from Canadian Natural tossed out a box full of prizes. Smiles, looks of anticipation and appreciation, beamed up waiting from the next t-shirt or hat to come flying by.
As the evening wound down, a sliver of the sun poked through the clouds, reminding us of long days and the beginning of a brilliant summer.
A couple of ladies who attended the event showed up at my garage sale the following morning, as the rain poured down.
"At least it held off for the Solstice," she said.
"You know what, I saw lots of people who came at 4 pm and stayed almost to the end. The kids were having so much fun, they just didn't want to leave."
I can't think of a nicer compliment for what is truly, a wonderful family event.