The talkers, the doers and the dreamers
Maria Steernberg and Mercia Sixta are looking back on a hectic few weeks as they were very involved in the nine-day-long Steamship Days celebration. They were very, very busy but not too busy to have loads of fun in the process (examples of events can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_qJ3imHL8U&sns=em). Sixta could be seen with a clipboard and printed pages of the latest schedule as she was responsible for organizing the musical events and scheduling volunteers. Steernberg coordinated the wooden boat show, helped out with computer input and general issues and was on duty with her camera, capturing the fun for Sea Snaps Photography.
The success of Steamship Days was due to the effort of the dedicated organizers and countless volunteers. Sixta says that the organizing committee was made up of Bowen Island Chamber of Commerce manager Rob Wall, Alan Mills and Murray Atherton and that Lorraine Ashdown came on board for the last few weeks to lend a hand. Sixta said, “I was involved right from the beginning. I went to the first meeting at Doc Morgans and Norma [Dallas] pulled up my hand and told me that I should volunteer.”
Steernberg added that she remembers Dallas talking 10 years ago about the idea of hosting a festival that would recall the spirit of the Steamship era.
Sixta is a relative newcomer to Bowen Island – she moved here in 2010 – but she brings considerable experience in organizing events to the table. “I’ve organized a lot of events,” she said. “I was involved in the West Coast Sea Kayak Symposium, a five-day international event that ran for 20 years.” The event included teaching skills related to kayaking and touring and Sixta said that it was exclusively carried by volunteers. Sixta used to live in West Vancouver until she decided to spend some time traveling. She sold her house, car and possessions, traveled to Great Britain and then went to live in the southern United States. After returning to Canada, she recalls asking herself: “What now?”
“I thought living on a boat would be interesting,” Sixta says. “So I went looking at boats.” She bought an old 35-foot Monk boat and was on her way to Ladysmith when she got a call from the Union Steamship Marina informing her that there was moorage available. That’s where she lives now. “It’s a really nice community down there at the marina. It’s peaceful and beautiful and I also like that it’s easy to get into town,” she says.
Sixta says that the challenge in putting together Steamship Days lay in the short time frame. “We only had three and a half months to pull it together and get the community behind it,” she explained but added that a number of supporters and sponsors came on board right away and their contributions made a big difference.
Steernberg believes that the event went a long way toward bringing the community together. “It was lots of fun and the first weekend was very busy. I got the feeling that this was when community suddenly realized the potential,” she said. “I walked [my dog] Marina in the park when SKY had the picnic in Crippen Park and one of the ladies said that she had the most fun at Steamship Days she’d had for 55 years.” Steernberg adds that the woman went on to explain that this was exactly how long she had lived on Bowen Island. Another person who had so much fun that he expressed an interest to come back was Dal Richards. “He had a good time,” Steernberg said. “And his 95th birthday is coming up next year in August so we are really hoping that he’ll be back on Bowen.”
At the question whether she will be involved in organizing the next Steamship Days, Sixta laughs and asks for a couple of weeks to make up her mind. “I’ll definitely consider it but there need to be some changes,” she explained. “For a first time event, it went great but there were some glitches, some things we couldn’t do.” Sixta found working with the volunteers very rewarding and the group she has a lot of praise for are the Seniors Keeping Young (SKY). “The SKY volunteers were a great help and they were very reliable,” she said, adding that an area where she sees possible improvement was to have guides available that could help with tour groups that came to the island.
In addition to working closely with the volunteers, Sixta was responsible for booking the musicians. “I talked to bands and made sure that the music was appropriate for Steamship Days,” she said. “The Barber Shop Quartet has previously won international awards. The musicians told me that Bowen was one of the best places where they’ve sung and that everyone gave them a warm welcome.” Sixta added that they went into stores and serenaded staff and customers alike. “You should have seen [Barbara] the barber’s face when they came in to sing, she was so excited.”
“I didn’t know anybody before,” Sixta said. “I would get a name and phone the person. I’d ask them to help out. Now I know lots of people. I know the doers, the talkers and the dreamers.”
Sixta said that Bowen Island needed an event in July and that she got a lot of positive feedback. For her, the highlights included the wooden boat show, the historical fashion show and the music. “Music always pulls people in,” she said, adding that she felt that some of the musical events were not as well attended as she had hoped but she had heard that it is tough for live music in other places as well.
Another happy memory for Sixta includes the antique cars show. “It was unbelievable to bring the cars in and put them on Rondy [Dike]’s lawn,” she said. “They made a fabulous backdrop to the fashion show.” To Sixta, the excitement was palpable: “There was so much buzz. I felt that for the first time since I got here.”
And Steernberg agreed, “I also heard that from the visitors as they were coming off the boat.” For Steernberg, it was the hats that were really special. “The hats were something to see,” she said. “And the dances were great and well attended.” For her, the success of this year’s event paves the way for future Steamship Days. “The seats have already been sold,” she said.