PeaceFest began its life after a flood devastated the Town of Peace River in the early spring of 1997. Along with much personal loss, 40% of the town’s retail businesses were closed in the aftermath causing over 180 people to be out of work.
An earlier flood, in 1992, did not destroy the same number of businesses as the flood of 1997 but it took a great economic toll on the community as well. This was because the community had to build a dike system costing literally millions of dollars to protect the town. The money that this project took could have been put into bettering the town, not simply maintaining it and protecting it. When the second flood occurred in 1997, many people in the community felt very pessimistic regarding the future.
About 5-6 weeks later, a group of individuals (surprisingly these people were not business owners or business people in their own right) approached the Board of Trade with the idea of having an open “business fair” on the Main Street to show the region that Peace River was not beaten, and in fact was better than ever. The idea was to bring people from the surrounding areas that had stopped coming to Peace River to shop, and to invite them to know that they should return and give the town the chance to prove itself again.
At this meeting, the suggestion was made that if Peace River was going to have a business fair it might be good idea to set up a stage at the bottom of town – on the main street – and have a little concert and a party to celebrate the rebuilding of the downtown retail sector and the resilience of the community. The budget was eyeballed at about $5000.00 and the small group got to work.
The Original “We’re Back ’97” Committee consisted, in alphabetical order, of: Doug Armella, Jim Ashton, Terry Babiy, Chris Blake, Diane Brodeur, Toner Brodeur, Phil Cartier, Jana Clarke, Melody Desrosiers, Dawn Doll, Don Good, Monika Ireland, Shaun Jessome, Judy Kjemhus, Gil LaFlamme, Cedrick Leblanc, Bruce MacDonald, Brent Nixon, Rose Nixon, Marc Score, Michele Simard, Greg Staicesku, Jesse Tutt, Bob Wald, and Rich Williams.
By the date of the original celebration on July 11, 12 & 13, which by then was called “We’re Back – 97″ the budget had, with massive community support, exceeded $100,000.00 and over 10,000 people came to Peace River in one of the most successful events ever held in the region.
The original “We’re Back” celebration made over $35,000.00 to be put into flood relief. This amount was not a major economic factor in the recovery but it stood for the community’s ability to respond to a catastrophe and survive and overcome. The event served to instill a renewed sense of optimism in Peace River’s businesses and community. Norm Simard, then owner of the A&W, said in an article from The Edmonton Sun that “I was skeptical (about the slogan). A lot of people were. It seemed awfully premature at the time. But you know what’s funny? I think things will be better for Peace River. We’re coming back better and stronger. Maybe they (the slogan makers) saw something nobody else did…”
The event included welcomed support from outside the town. Peace River citizens were, and are, gratified by the support from our neighbours. The City of Grande Prairie for example gave $8000.00 dollars to the town for flood relief. This generosity will not be forgotten.
Organizations and businesses from the whole region supported the effort and most of these still, on an annual basis, contribute to the success of the continuing story of what has become “PeaceFest.”
The next year, the original group decided that the party was too good to not have again so a committee was formed and the name “We’re Back” was changed to “PeaceFest ’98” to reflect a new focus of the event.
PeaceFest consisted of a concert of generally alternative music on Friday night along with a town fair. The Main Street of the town was blocked off to set up for the next day’s events.
The Saturday was set-aside for many of the community’s organizations, clubs and volunteer groups to set up on the main street and promote themselves and their goals. Interspersed among these booths were attractions for kids and the whole family, such as the Dubble Bubble Bubble Gum Bubble Blowing Contest, which gave a child under 13 the chance to win a sports bicycle and added second and third prizes.
Saturday night included the second concert incorporating music from local, area and primarily main stream performers representing a wide variety of music.
Our event is important to the Town of Peace River for a number of reasons. Since all of these are inter-related they are listed together.
- PeaceFest is entirely volunteer driven with no paid staff
- PeaceFest reflects the community’s spirit and willingness to succeed regardless of obstacles.
- PeaceFest promotes positive relationships of the peoples of the region by giving the different groups and organizations the opportunity to present and celebrate their ideas, values and objectives in a spirit of fun and friendship.
- PeaceFest provides the different volunteer and activity groups of the region a venue to promote themselves and increase memberships and participation.
- PeaceFest annually brings thousands of people into the valley giving the region a sizable economic boost.
- PeaceFest celebrates the history of our town by incorporating the local museum and the Alexander MacKenzie Interpretive Centre into its events – Did you know that Alexander Mackenzie had one of his most important forts, “Fort Fork” just south of Peace River on the banks of the Peace River? This fort was the base of expeditions both west to the Pacific Ocean and North to the MacKenzie Delta.
As indicated in the list, the primary focus of PeaceFest is not economic. The purpose is to bring the Peace River area together in celebration of our way of life and to reaffirm our resolution to succeed and grow, even in the face of hardship.
PeaceFest is, and likely will remainfor the foreseeable future, the largest most participated in event in the Peace River region and grows by its willingness to accept additions to its program. One of the founding principles of the celebration was that “No one will be turned away, and that anyone – group or organization, will be given a place to tell their story, promote their views, contribute their opinions and to participate in PeaceFest.” It is truly an inclusive event, by design and purpose.
The core organizational group for PeaceFest consists of 8-10 people. This group coordinates the activities of hundreds of volunteers who miraculously and thankfully appear every year to lend their support.