Things will not change drastically for the local historic site, but the community can expect some new faces and new events in the coming year.
While cuts to Canada Parks in this year’s federal budget will impact the length of season the Fort St. James National Historic Site is open, those changes are at least during the slower parts of the park’s season.
Opening day next year will be June 1, two weeks later than in the past, but there will still be the popular Best Dressed Victorian Contest and a free admission day to mark the occasion.
“The biggest impact will probably be on school programs,” said Kevin Gedling, product development officer for the park.
While there will be two weeks less for schools to fit in visits during the school year, Gedling said there may still be time for the numbers of schools as in the past, but it may require schools to be more flexible in when they come because there will be less times to choose from.
The programming and content, however, Gedling said will still be maintained. This year, student visits was down from past years, but this is attributable to teacher job action, which would have made it difficult for schools from outside the more local area to fit in trips to the park.
Gedling said he expects this to go back up again.
The season at the park will also end a bit sooner next year, with the year-end open house and community picnic scheduled for Sept. 7, 2013. The event will also be combined with Metis Day.
This year’s last day will be the same as in previous years, taking place on the final weekend in September, and the open house and community picnic event are on Sept. 29.
This year’s event will again offer free admission, free beef dips and some new additions including Highland dancers, and fiddle playing. Other regular features will also be present such as bannock-making and hunting skills demonstrations.
With the 2013 calendar of events recently being unveiled, there will be many of the same special events the community has gotten to know, but also with some new combinations and even the resurrection of a Fort St. James classic, Caledonia Days.
In the past, Caledonia Days was a community-wide festival which included a variety of events from dress-up days to dances to rodeos. But Gedling said the new Caledonia Days will not aspire to be an exact replica of what went on previously, but he hopes it could lead to something bigger and community-wide again.
“Over the time that I’ve been working at the park, a bunch of people have mentioned they really wish Caledonia Days would come back,” he said. “I figured if we didn’t take the name back, nothing would ever happen with it.”
So, because they were changing some programs they decided to try something to both increase community involvement on the August long weekend and to give it some historical significance.
Gedling sees it as a great opportunity to create some tourism in the community.
There will be Heritage Day activities, a bannock cook-off, and a Salmon cook-off over the course of the weekend, bringing together some smaller special events the park has offered in the past.
Overall, this year, Gedling said while school program visitors were down, free admission days and annual passes were up.
Travellers from further away were also down, which Gedling attributes to a combination of high gas prices and a difficult economy.
“Tourism in general is having a tough year,” he said, and visitation is coming more and more from the local community.
One other change which will take place next year is the position Gedling now occupies has been reduced by 25 per cent. While Gedling is still in the position, he will be changing to a new position in November, as the Jasper Field Unit Partnering and Engagement Officer, a position out of Jasper National Park.
While Gedling will remain in Fort St. James for the immediate future, and will work out of the local park until more is confirmed about other positions changing within Parks Canada, he will eventually relocate to Jasper, where the position is actually allocated.
While Gedling and some other interpreters which locals have come to know may not be at the park next year, he is still optimistic about next year’s season in Fort St. James, and he is hopeful locals will continue to purchase annual passes and come back again and again in even bigger numbers.