A major annual event in Lac La Biche that had sky-high hopes for another weekend of outdoor excitement–has been cancelled.
Festival of Speed organizers pulled the pin on the 38th annual event earlier this month after not getting approval from Alberta Health Services for an exemption to host the series of ice car racing and snowmobile drag races on Lac La Biche Lake on February 27 and 28.
The Lac La Biche and District Chamber of Commerce and Ken Staples, who has been behind the event since its inception, were the primary organizers.
Staples said that without the exemption, the events would not be insured, which signalled the end of this year’s planning onto the next.
Another hassle–but usually the goal for a major event–was the possibility of having just too many people at one place for a gathering.
“One of the concerns was that we were going to be just overwhelmed with people because there’s been nothing in this community for a year,” said Staples.
“I think we would have a huge turnout of people coming to spectate. And the ability to control and keep everybody safe was going to be a real challenge.”
Since beginning in 1983, the annual winter festival has grown to be a showcase of outdoor sports, aviation, to exhibits on the area’s cultural history and trapping.
The not-for-profit event uses volunteers from local sport and activity groups to make the weekend a pulse-pounding time, which totals $225,000 as the event reaches its fourth decade.
However, this year they won’t be able to give back.
“Unfortunately, we’re stuck because we aren’t we don’t generate any revenue. The bulk of our revenue comes from corporate sponsorships and the Lac La Biche County, they’re a big, big supporter of the event as well,” said Staples.
“So without the income, we just have nothing to distribute to help the groups. And that’s sad for them, because I know that some of them in particular, very much rely on the funds that they can raise to the event.”
The 2020 event, which took place just weeks before the spread of COVID-19 was declared a public health emergency in Alberta, saw 130 planes land on the lake, with avaitors from across the province and western Canada arriving for the festival.
Staples said the early planning has begun to host the 38th running of Festival of Speed in 2022 and to make it “bigger and better” than ever.
“At the end of the day, we have to keep people’s safety as the first priority. And if the people who have the knowledge on this, AHS, don’t feel that it’s safe, we have to go along with that. You know, we got to put our personal opinions aside and just do this for the bigger good.”