Two local festivals receive provincial funding, recognition

By Karen Fallon

Grant funding through Celebrate Ontario has been secured by both the River Lights Winter Festival and the Shores of Erie Wine Festival, it was noted recently by festival organizers at the March 5, council meeting.

Described as “very dedicated” and “professional” non-profit organizations by Anne Rota, the town’s manager of tourism and culture, the groups are deemed important to the prosperity and quality of life in Amherstburg.

“When you look at both of these festivals, you see all of the components that make Amherstburg great. You see leadership; you see community spirit; volunteerism, all of which I believe is the spirit of this community,” said councilor John Sutton.

Rota says the Ontario government recognizes the importance of festivals and events to Ontario’s prosperity culture and quality and of life.

“They invigorate the local economy, they create jobs, they enhance tourism and they increase visitor spending in communities across Ontario,” said Rota, who pointed out that $20 million is being invested in communities across Ontario in 2011 through this initiative.

Speaking on behalf of the River Lights Winter Festival, committee member Janet Willoughby announced that the group will receive $32,900 in funding from the province.

“The money will go directly to enhance programming for our 2011 season,” said Willoughby, who added that the organization has also received one of the top one hundred festivals designations for 2011. This is the second time it has achieved this title.

The winter festival brings together artistic light presentations for 40 days during the winter season. This in turn, says Willoughby, helps to drive economic development in the downtown core.

“An estimated 20,000 people visited our lighted parks during the winter festival and most of this was because of the river lights,” she added.

Karen Gyorgy, says that she represented both the Shores of Erie Wine Festival and the River Lights Winter Festival at a recent convention in which Ontario’s tourism minister Michael Chan announced the Celebrate Ontario recipients.

Gyorgy noted, the Shores of Erie Wine Festival discovered it has been allotted $75,000, which is the most money that can be achieved within their budget.

“We will use this money to maintain the festival at the level that we have it,” she said. “There are 1,200 festivals in the running and we again were named in the top 100 festivals.

This is the fourth time in six years that the organization has received such a designation.

“To bring home two grants to two festivals…I am so proud of this community,” said Gyorgy, who attributed much of their success to the continued partnership and constant support from the town.

“It’s you people (council members); our 450 volunteers; the partnerships we have made within the town, with the community, that we have these quality festivals,” she said.

According to councilor Robert Pillon the organizers and volunteers of the festivals are the ones who should be giving themselves a “pat on the back” for all of their achievements.

“It is amazing that your festivals bring in more people than live in the Town of Amherstburg and that is saying a lot,” said councilor Carolyn Davies.

Mayor Wayne Hurst says the town is the benefactor of “all the hard work” associated with the organizations.

“You make everything worthwhile,” said Hurst, who also praised Rota for her dedication and commitment to the community.

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