MANITOWANING— Last Thursday, July 16, one day before the start of the 38th edition of the Southeast Manitoulin Lions Club’s Summerfest, social media erupted with the news that the highlight Summerfest event, Sunday’s smashup derby, had been cancelled.
This newspaper called the appropriate channels and had the news confirmed for its own Facebook site: the smashup derby had indeed been cancelled by the Lions Club.
In the lead up to Summerfest, the Lions had held numerous meetings with members of Assiginack council and public works, along with members of the Agricultural Society, regarding the horse ring that had been installed in the fairgrounds last year. The Lions Club had expressed concern over its placement and its affect on the smashup derby arena. The Lions’ insurance company was also anxious about the horse ring and asked that a portion of fencing be removed. If this did not occur, their insurance would be null and void.
At a council meeting last month, and attended by Lion President Bill Smith, the topic of the horse ring was again discussed, with council and the Lions coming to an agreement that a portion of fence would be removed but that this would have to be done by public works for insurance purposes.
According to Mr. Smith, he received word late Tuesday evening of last week from the Manitoulin Horse Club that the horse show scheduled for Saturday afternoon was indeed a go. The president admits that the following day he was involved, as a volunteer, with the Knox United Church charity golf tournament and didn’t get word to the municipality until Thursday morning. According to Assiginack Reeve Paul Moffat, the municipality had been asking the Lions Club for some time as to whether the horse show was going to be part of its Summerfest program in order to schedule the public works crew to remove a portion of the controversial horse ring so as to soothe the Lions’ insurance company for the Sunday derby. He told The Expositor that it was his opinion that any Summerfest event, such as the horse show, should have been planned months in advance, not just the week of the event. Mr. Smith, however, was only able to get confirmation from the horse club of their participation in the weekend events late Tuesday night (July 14).
According to Mr. Smith, when he went to the municipal office on Thursday to speak with project and events coordinator Jackie White, he was told that public works would no longer be removing a portion of the fence and that “he should have been there earlier,” as per request. He was told that the public works crew had now been scheduled off.
“I said we (the Lions) would take it down, but she said no, we weren’t insured as third-party policy holders through the municipality,” Mr. Smith said. “When I said I guess we would have to cancel her response was, ‘oh well’.”
In speaking with Mike Deforge following the meeting, Mr. Deforge told the president that he was a third-party insurance holder through Assiginack and would be pleased to help with the fence removal. A phone call to CAO Alton Hobbs and a letter of reinstatement to the municipality and the following day the derby was back on.
“The Lions are getting the impression that the town doesn’t want them doing it,” Mr. Smith said, noting his parting words with Ms. White last Thursday in which she is reported to have told the president that “council has not been very happy with the Lions for a lot of years.”
“I didn’t know that,” Mr. Smith told The Expositor.
He acknowledged the busy nature of the Assiginack public works crew, but added that Summerfest has been a community staple for 38 years, as has been public works’ involvement in it.
When contacted Monday afternoon, Reeve Moffat noted that while Mr. Deforge volunteered to remove the fence, he in fact only removed the top railing.
“Personally, I’m upset that the Lions didn’t come to the office a lot earlier to confirm that the horse show was on,” the reeve said. “You can’t just wait until a few days before an event to say if it’s going to be running or not,” he continued, adding that he was glad that the event ended up going over well.
As to the comment that council hasn’t been happy with the Lions in some time, the reeve said it was news to him, “the Lions have always had support from council.”
Did municipal staff overstep its boundaries in providing commentary on behalf of council to the Lions Club president? Reeve Moffat said he thought not. “It’s hard for me to comment on a meeting I wasn’t privy to,” the reeve stated.
“It was a good event, one of the best in years,” Reeve Moffat added. “I think it’s in great shape and hope it continues to be in the future.”
Both the reeve and the Lions Club president were on the same page when it came to the condemnation of the municipal deer statue vandal, however. Sometime during late Thursday night or early Friday morning, hours after the news of the cancellation of the derby, a vandal or vandals dumped yellow paint on portions of the new whitetail deer sculpture erected only a couple of weeks prior to the event (along Highway 6 at the site of the Manitowaning tourist information booth). An investigation into the vandalism has been launched by the Ontario Provincial Police.
“That’s not the way you do things,” Mr. Smith said.
“I can’t conceive of anyone being that malicious,” the reeve said. “Council is doing their best to improve the municipality and it’s pretty hard when something like that happens.”
The defacement of the sculpture may not be connected in any way with the controversy surrounding the smashup derby event, however.