By Tim Kalinowski
Agricultural societies across the prairies play a vital role in helping to keep communities vibrant. They run rodeos, exhibitions, pen-shows, fairs and other important events which intertwine the surrounding rural residents with their neighbours in hamlets, towns and cities.
In the hamlet of Irvine the Irvine District Agricultural Society takes that intertwining one step farther by not only running the annual 20 Mile Post Days extravaganza during the September Long Weekend, featuring a Bed and Craft Show, a parade and rodeo, it is also the managing body responsible for the Irvine Sports Complex. Don Wong, past president of the Ag. Society, explains further.
“If that complex wasn’t there, there wouldn’t be much to do in Irvine,” says Wong matter of factly. “You’ve got the hotel, the library, the coffee shop and us. The complex has a hockey arena, a curling rink, banquet room and a lounge, and it’s the only centre in Cypress County that has all that. It’s a major pillar of the community, but it’s not just an Irvine thing. It’s a regional thing. It’s important to everyone who lives in the area.”
For smaller communities like Irvine, in particular, the local rink plays a unifying and central role; it is truly the heart of community life. Wong says it hasn’t been easy to keep it running. The budget of the complex goes about $500,000 a year, much of that paid for by user fees as well as by provincial and county grants on the operational side of things. But for additional events like 20 Mile Post Days or the Irvine annual community Christmas celebration, (which the Ag. Society also sponsors), extra fundraising is always required.
“We have a major fundraiser in November each year to raise extra money to hold community events like our annual community Christmas celebration and other special events,” explains Wong.
Probably the Irvine District Ag. Society’s defining yearly event remains, as it has been since the foundation of the Ag. Society, the 20 Mile Post Days celebration in September.
“That’s the first thing the Ag. Society was ever involved with, and it was there from day one,” states Wong. “The 20 Mile Post Days has more to it than just the rodeo. We also have the Gymkhana. There is the Bed and Craft Show in the complex, and then the parade. And this year we are planning to have a street dance downtown. We are probably going to also have a car show this year.”
Wong says over the many years 20 Mile Post Days has been operating it has not only enhanced the profile of the community of Irvine in the region, it has been an essential building platform for community spirit.
“We just want to make it bigger every year. The idea is to try to have something to entertain the people all day rather than have them come for a few hours and leave. We want to enhance our community profile in the county, but we also want to enhance community spirit for those living in the area.”