Friendship Festival this weekend
The Friendship Festival in Fort Erie offers lots of rides and activities for all ages. Postmedia file photo
Special to the Times
There is lots going on this weekend at Fort Erie's Friendship Festival, but Festival Flo says it's her last.
Flo Odding, the manager of the Friendship Festival for the last 29 years, is calling it quits after this year’s celebration, which runs from July 13 to 16.
She’s seen all the ups and downs over the last three decades, including performances from Johnny Cash (The Highwaymen), and several other successful recording artists known around North America hitting the stage.
The festival is an important part of the town’s identity but like many other local events started to scale down more than 10 years ago when it became illegal to smoke in bingo halls..
This resulted in a major decrease in people patronizing Fort Erie’s bingo halls, a major source of revenue for community groups, including the Friendship Festival.
At its peak, the annual event pulled in almost $1 million every year with the help of bingo. That amount has shrivelled significantly and today about $60,000 from that source of funding helps pay for the festival.
“It affected the whole community – it wasn’t just us,” said Odding.
“We got really big really fast because the money was there and we had to spend it,” she added.
Turning 70 years old later this year, Odding said it is her time to retire.
“I love it, but it’s enough,” she said, saying that she feels like she is graduating from college, hoping she doesn’t part ways with the many people she has worked with during the last 29 years.
“I’ve made a lot of great friends,” she added.
In its 31st year, the annual event in Fort Erie will offer a variety of art, craft and food vendors, as well as plenty of entertainment in the area of Mather Arch and the Niagara Parkway, along Fort Erie’s waterfront.
There will be a strong focus on arts and multiculturalism, including demonstrations from the local Indigenous community.
There will be a beer garden on Friday and Saturday night during the festival’s concerts.
Friday’s music will include Welland’s Under the Influence, Canadian XSports and Green River Revival, a Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute band.
Saturday night’s concert will feature Sunset Strip, Neo Young, a Neil Young tribute, and Hotel California, a popular Eagles tribute band.
Friday’s concert starts at 7 p.m. and the music begins at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Odding says any local artists who wish to display their work are still able to make arrangements for a booth. They can call her at 905-871-6454 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the office located at Mather Arch during the festival to register. For a full list of events, visit www.friendshipfestival.com