Windsor's summer festival renamed Avon River Days

Carole Morris-Underhill
Published on May 20, 2014

Heather Donohue, left, pitches some of the ideas she's had regarding the musical element of the Avon River Days festival.

Carole Morris-Underhill

Although it wasn't a unanimous decision, the committee working to ensure a summer festival will happen in Windsor this year has settled on a name.

Formerly called Sam Slick Days, then changed to Windsor-West Hants Summer Fest, the committee selected Avon River Days to use as they plot out a fun-filled Natal Day weekend festival.

Prior to the vote being cast, a few members of the public questioned the rationale behind not reclaiming the popular Sam Slick Days moniker.

A handful of men were quite vocal in wanting to see the festival return to its roots.

“The people that support the festival is the community,” one man at the May 14 meeting said. “Without the community, you have no festival at all. So why is it just the town that takes the onus on changing the name because of two or three people ?”

VanEssa Roberts, the town's director of community development, tourism and recreation, said the old name is a sensitive subject to many, and it would be best for the entire region if they could rebrand and move forward.

The festival was renamed in 2009, without public consultation, after an image, taken out of context, was published in 2008 on the cover of the Sam Slick Days brochure that dealt with Windsor's history of slavery.

“It wasn't just two or three people that complained. There were agencies. There were people across Canada. You have no idea the outcry that we got hit with,” said Roberts.

The town employee is helping run the festival planning meetings until a chairperson steps forward to take on the task. Roberts said her personal opinion was that it would be better to focus their attention on rebranding the festival to encompass all the region has to offer.

She said after their first meeting at the beginning of May, she felt the community was interested in “what the festival had to offer – the barn dances and the vendors and the people at the waterfront – more so than the significance of the name.”

One of the residents wishing the committee reconsider using Sam Slick Days suggested they put it to a community vote and see what the preference is once and for all.

On the other side of the issue, several people spoke out in favour of completely changing the name.

“You have to look at the whole community too and there are people who are against having the name and a lot of people who don't want to be associated (with it),” said one woman attending the meeting.

Heather Donohue, who has stepped forward to help co-ordinate the musical entertainment this year through her involvement with Moe's Place Music Sales, said if changing the name could repair the festival, that's the direction they should take.

“I understand people's attachment to the name and the history. I certainly think we can celebrate our history,” said Donohue.

“If there's a chance that you are offending someone, or causing them pain or something, it does not offend me or cause me pain to change the name,” she added.

Another person attending the public meeting cautioned the group wanting to reconnect with Sam Slick Days.

“I think if you go ahead and you live in the past, with the past events, those events are going to resurrect themselves,” he said, noting that it would negate the “wonderful things that we're trying to accomplish.”

After much back and forth, renaming the festival to Avon River Days was voted on and approved. About two dozen people were in attendance at the meeting. Discussion on what committees should be formed was held. Their next meeting is planned for Wednesday, May 21 at 7 p.m. downstairs at the Hants County War Memorial Community Centre in Windsor.

Stay tuned to the Hants Journal as more concrete details about the festival's planned events emerge.