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What it took for the Long John Jamboree to stay afloat this year

Bogdan Stanciu/NNSL photo The Long John Jamboree kicked off Mar. 23

It wasn’t easy, but through corporate contributions, a “mad” fundraising dash, public grants and the continued support of community volunteers, board members were able to pull off the 2019 Long John Jamboree that almost wasn’t.

“We (the board members) really banded together to get everything done,” Long John Jamboree president Michelle Demeule told Yellowknifer in an interview earlier this week.

After unusually high-winds threw a wrench into last year’s festivities, forcing organizers to close the jamboree beer garden while losing a full day of events, the board was left in the red, with the future of the festival left on thin ice.

Demeule said the beer garden usually pulls in $30,000 each year. In 2018, due to windy weather that threatened the many tents used to host activities, the jamboree made half of that, leaving them in debt with local vendors.

“Losing all that revenue really affected us pretty badly,” said Demeule.

Facing financial strain caused by the hit to the beer garden last year, there were concerns the 2019 Long John Jamboree might not have the funds to forge ahead.

But De Beers Canada, a founding sponsor of the end-of-March festival on Yellowknife Bay, “stepped forward” to offer a lifeline during that uncertain time.

De Beers donated a one-time additional contribution of $11,000, equaling about 50 per cent of the board’s outstanding debts, “to help us pay down local vendors,” said Demeule.

The money was on top of the yearly contribution of $30,000 the festival receives from De Beers.

“De Beers came on board and said ‘if you can guarantee you’ll have an ice carving competition' – where they normally give us $30,000 a year – 'we are willing to pitch in 50 per cent ... to help you guys get back on your feet,’ so that we could continue with the 2019 jamboree,” she added.

“We were also on sort of a mad campaign of fundraising – bingos, chase the ace. It’s not exactly the easiest way to raise money in this town so it was very difficult to make up the difference of the money we owed,” said Demeule.

The board also received a grant of $11,000 from Heritage Canada, to go toward musicians, staging and ice carving expenditures.

“So we are able to move forward with 2019, but of course it still sets us back a little bit, because the fundraising you do after the jamboree is normally for the next jamboree, not paying off debts from last year” added Demeule. “We still start at a bit of a disadvantage but at least starting at ground zero was better than starting in the hole.”

Despite the slight disadvantage the festival now faces, Demeule said guests attending the weekend-long event can expect the same fun-filled slate of staple events and activities, including the De Beers Inspired Ice Carving Challenging.

Jamboree-goers can expect some changes to 2019’s festival, but not necessarily due to financial setbacks.

Faced with weather woes of a different kind this year – record-high warm temperatures – Demeule announced Monday the site of the festival, which has taken place on Yellowknife Bay since its inception in 2012, would be relocated to the Fieldhouse parking lot.

That means some snow-centric activities, including snow rugby and a fat bike track, will likely have to be cut from the festival’s line up.

The last minute relocation put “a lot of stress and pressure on everybody involved to pull this event off,” said Demeule, adding “At least we’re fortunate enough to make the (relocation) decision ahead of time this year, and not be caught in the middle of the weather.”

“There’s still going to be ice carving, there’s going to be a beer garden with musicians – there’s no reason why people wouldn’t want to come out and enjoy the nice warm weather,” assured Demeule.

Following suit with the Snowking Winter Festival’s considerations of starting early next year, after flooding forced organizers to close early, Demeule said the Long John Jamboree board is also mulling a revised schedule.

“We may have to look at changing dates because you never know what you’re getting with weather in March,” she said.

For the Long John Jamboree to be a success for years to come, Demeule said the board will continue to rely on corporate sponsorships, fundraising initiatives and, importantly, the time and efforts of volunteers. It takes between 60 to 100 volunteers to pull the weekend event off.

“Then we have to get back out there and rebuild community relationships with sponsors, donors, the community in general for volunteering – just really building that community spirit that I’m hoping is going to last a long time"

Editor's note: The original version of this story erroneously referred to De Beer's additional contribution as a "loan." Yellowknifer apologies for any confusion this error may have caused.