A FAMILY FESTIVAL

by Taylor Blewett

 

When you walk through the gates of the Atlin Arts and Music Festival you see a pile of sand parked in the middle of the event grounds. Rain or shine, it’s a playground for hundreds of children who frequent the festival with their parents every year. Atlin has a reputation for family-friendliness that sets it apart from other festivals. Cultivating this atmosphere was a prerogative for its founders from day one.

“We wanted to make sure we had lots of kids activities so it would be a family affair and it certainly is,” said Cindy Merry, a member of the local association that founded the festival in 2003.

As the festival grew over the years, so did the scope of its family programming. This year’s iteration offered two kids camps – vaudeville and rock and roll – as well as an abundance of workshops featuring everything from storytelling to square dancing.

Three months of preparation went into the weekend of children’s activities, according to its coordinator, Rhoda Merkel. Since taking over the position last year, she said the number of activities offered has tripled in size.

“We have figured out that the Atlin music festival has between 500 and 700 children,” Merkel said. “There’s all kinds of different needs, ages, and interests.”

 
 

 

The festival’s Family Fun Park is a testament to this. Children crawl and cartwheel from a playground to a fiddle band performance to a face-painting station. Many seem to enjoy an unfamiliar independence. Outside the festival gates, they bike through rows of tents without a parent hovering behind.

“Atlin is small, it’s safe,” said Naomi Crey, a vendor at the festival who brought along her three children. She said that of all the festivals she works, Atlin is the most family-friendly.  

Wade Fisher, the corporal in charge of the Atlin RCMP detachment, agreed.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I’ve worked a lot of festivals where the theme is much less family-oriented,” he said.

Fisher and his family live in Atlin. His children, eight and ten years old, are among the few who populate the community year-round.

While you wouldn’t know it by the strollers and children’s toys strewn across town during festival weekend, Atlin has an older population.  The town is home to between 300 and 500 people but its only school has around 30 students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“There aren’t a lot of kids here so [the festival] is a great opportunity for my kids to be around other kids and for us to meet other families, ” said local resident and mother of three, Rosie O’Reilly.

Merkel said the annual festival is a good way to expose young families and children to life in Atlin, perhaps leading them to form a connection to the place that will keep them coming back year after year or even prompt a permanent relocation.

“There’s a lot of young people moving to Atlin. The kind of people that can live off the grid, who want to live a self-sustaining lifestyle, and I find a lot of that age group are bringing their kids,” she said.

But even if the festival’s family programming only results in a fun weekend for those participating, Markel said it’s a win for everyone.

“Kids are what matter… If you care about the kids, the parents are happy and it just blossoms.”