Embrace and nurture the chaos of BVJ
In the work of putting together our preview section for the Big Valley Jamboree, Camrose Chamber of Commerce president Julie Girard told me, as a city, “we should embrace the chaos.”
Chaos was probably the most accurate descriptor I heard for what I experienced this weekend, but she was also very correct that BVJ is something that Camrose should embrace whole heartedly.
In talking with many people, there was certainly a willingness to accept that it is something that happens here, though the full-on appreciation for what it brings to town may be somewhat lacking.
Look, I get why many locals choose this weekend to flee the city following the kick off parade — the noise, the traffic, the lineups in the stores. For a city that likes its small-town feel, it is a lot to process for four days and nights.
But for a community that is working diligently to position itself as a magnet for tourism dollars, an annual event like Big Valley Jamboree is absolutely essential.
No other event brings as many people to the city for an entire weekend.
Camrose has other big events that involves thousands of people, like Jaywalkers and Canada Day festivities, but BVJ is unique in that it brings more than 20,000 people to Camrose just in concert goers. This does not account for the support staff, emergency services, security and vendors that are shipped in to manage the more than doubling of the city’s population.
Those people buy gas, eat at restaurants, refill at liquor stores and hit other stores when the weather changes on the fly. The economic impact on an annual basis is estimated to be between $16 and 18 million, and they have been doing it for 25 years.
BVJ also proves Camrose is capable of hosting bigger and better events.
The city has worked hard to improve its facilities like the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Performing Arts Centre and its parks and trail systems, and is in the process of building a new aquatic centre. But the question for most cities is how do we bring more people here and capitalize on tourism?
It comes down to identity, and every city I have worked in has struggled with it, be it Lloydminster with it desperately wanting to be more than a smaller Grande Prairie, or Nanaimo that still cannot get out from Victoria’s shadow — they have thrown everything at the wall to be something, anything different and marketable. Even Red Deer is mostly just that place you stop between Edmonton and Calgary for gas, and then you’re not really even going into the city.
BVJ should not be the end-all and be-all, it should be a launching point. The city has the potential to be more.
Camrose is in an interesting position where with a senior citizen population double that of the national rate, it is widely known as a retirement community. There is absolutely no shame in that, and in fact it speaks to the great services the city offers. There is also a large shift of younger people moving back to the city and opening up businesses, while the University of Alberta-Augustana continues to improve its facilities and programming.
Camrose is also uniquely positioned where it is 40 minutes outside of Edmonton and has proven for a quarter century that it can handle a large influx of people and has taken pride in how it looks and what it can offer, including a strong volunteer force.
Camrose is a rare small Prairie city that can and should build itself on tourism a being as host city. There has been a lot of work done to make the city a great place to live, but there is much that can be done to make it a better place to visit.