File photo White Rock’s sandcastle competition, as it appeared in 1984.

White Rock keen to rebuild sandcastle event

Semiahmoo First Nation approval, dealing with environmental concerns would be key to moving forward

A comeback of White Rock’s Canadian Open Sandcastle Competition by August next year is possible, according to White Rock council, who Monday evening gave a friendly reception to a request from the volunteer White Rock Events Society.

“I think we can pull it off and make this happen,” Coun. Bill Lawrence said.

But, while sending it on for a full report, council and city staff warned society members that the real sticking point for reviving the legendary contest could be gaining approval from stakeholders such as Semiahmoo First Nation and Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society, and also satisfying provincial authorities who have placed more stringent environmental regulations on beach usage since the glory days of the competition, held 1979-1987.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin counselled members to start small and not try to re­create, in a first year, the scope the original event ultimately reached.

Society director Christine Tobias was requesting council’s blessing for the one-day event, planned for Aug 17, 2019, marking the 40th anniversary of the launch.

The society is hoping to persuade city council to kick in $30,000 in cash support and more in in-kind services.

Society treasurer Deanna Pedersen told council, however, that more important at this stage would be to receive an indication of city approval for the event.

“As soon as we can hear it is OK for the city to allow this to happen, the sooner it will be a go for media and for everything else,” she said.

The overall draft budget for the event estimates expenses of $157,500, to which council is being asked to contribute direct funding of $25,000 and an arts grant of $5,000.

“We know this would be a financial boost for the businesses in White Rock as well as the community at large… also, great promotion for the city,” Tobias said.

The society is the one that resurrected the White Rock Sea Festival in 2013 and ran it for four years. That festival is now a city-sponsored event.

Council members echoed Baldwin’s comment to the society that “it’s always great to see a volunteer group come forward…(and) you guys did a great job of reviving Sea Festival.”

In response to a question from Coun. Lynne Sinclair about whether the society had received reaction from SFN and Friends of Semiahmoo Bay, particularly on environmental concerns, Tobias said no answers had yet been received.

“I’d like to know what the situation is vis-a-vis the wild life and the environment,” Sinclair said.

When Coun. Helen Fathers queried staff about such reaction, city administrator Dan Bottrill sought input from recreation and culture director Eric Stepura, who said he has been working on “blending in” this year’s sea festival with the SFN’s Semiahmoo Days celebration.

“I did have a conversation with (SFN) councillor Joanne Charles,” he said. “She felt the SFN would strongly oppose a sandcastle competition on the waterfront.”

SFN Chief Harley Chappell was not available for comment at Peace Arch News press time.

Coun. David Chesney, while also voicing support for a revived competition, referred to the necessity of SFN and Friends of Semiahmoo Bay approval as being a “stumbling block” for the proposal.

Baldwin said SFN would “have to be consulted, and you will have to get their consent on this and that will be not easy.”

He noted permission from the provincial government will also have to be sought.

“They have put some restrictions on us with respect to beach access and so on. Crushing the sand and so on, and when you start digging in it, it becomes an issue.”

Even if SFN and provincial environmental concerns were successfully addressed, Baldwin’s advice for the society was to limit the scale of the event.

“As someone who was there and was helping organize the event,” Baldwin, the former city manager, said, “start off a little smaller and don’t try to replicate what the sandcastle competition was in its heyday.

“It was more good luck than good management that made it work,” he added. “Every year was an experiment…don’t try to go too big, too fast.”

Although children’s sandcastle competitions have been a feature of recent sea festivals, one on the scale proposed has not been attempted.

One reason for that has been that the event was cancelled, following the 1987 competition, over city and police concerns that the large crowds it was attracting would no longer be manageable.

Tobias said, however, that the society has been researching the logistics of the contest for the past six months, and has won support from White Rock RCMP, noting that the police preference is for Marine Drive to be closed during such an event.

“Thankfully, a lot has changed in the 31 years since the last sandcastle competition – for instance, no overnight RV and car parking,” she said.

Coun. Megan Knight said she was glad to hear that police response to a revived event was favourable, as the competition had drawn as many as “200,000 people” to the beach in the past.

“I fully support you,” she told society members.

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