Royal Canadian Legion members started the parade during the 59th annual May Days celebration in 2018. (Carli Berry - File photo)

COVID cancels Rutland May Days again

Annual Rutland community celebration sidelined by pandemic for second consecutive year

COVID-19 will force the cancellation of the annual May Days celebration in Rutland for the second consecutive year.

Wendi Swarbrick, with the Rutland Park Society, which organizes the annual event, said the parade down Rutland Road North, the midway rides in the Roxby Square parking lot and other activities around Rutland Centennial Hall will have to be sidelined again until next year.

With the up and down history of May Days over the last 20 years, the park society had seen attendance reach 10,000 people the previous two years prior to last year’s cancellation, Swarbrick said.

“The last few years we’ve been able to revive it…for now we are just telling people to come next year. It’s all we can do,” she said.

May Days has been a community fixture dating back to when the Rutland Park Society was formed in 1939.

The group gathered funds and purchased the property at 180 Rutland Road North to create a park space the community of Rutland could call its own.

Initially an outdoor swimming pool was big attraction to the site, then in 1967 the Rutland Centennial Hall was built by volunteers on behalf of the society.

The society began to face some fiscal challenges and the need to update or replace the hall in the early 2000s, which ultimately led to the controversial sale of the park in 2015 to the City of Kelowna for $800,000 to accommodate the future expansion of transit services and extension of Shepherd Road to Rutland Road, both of which have since been completed.

The park also underwent phases of redevelopment of recreational use, the latest phase set to open this summer.

But attempts to build on the revenue from the land sale to replace or add a new extension to the hall failed to materialize, with Swarbrick saying the prior society board’s decision to sell the park has proven devastating to the society.

“Some of the events we used the park for in the past no longer were feasible to us because the city wouldn’t grant use of the park space. All we had left was the hall,” she said.

She said hard feelings about the land sale still resonate among long-time Rutland residents.

“It was a smack in the face to Rutland. Promises were made by the city with relation to the park that have not been kept,” she said, saying while the park has been given an upgrade since being acquired by the city the improvements fall short of what she says was promised originally.

She said the original option supported by the society featured a pickleball court and considerably more outdoor lighting, neither of which has since come to pass.

Swarbrick said the community hall continues to be well maintained with some improvements made in recent years, and has occupant tenants as well as being rented out for community events and weddings.

“A lot of those things have been cancelled in the past year because of COVID…so we are in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment,” she said.

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