Way back in the late 70’s, I first met Sandy Graham (pictured below) who was running a fabulous nightclub called Route 66 on Jarvis St down near Dundas.Route 66 was a 50’s theme bar and dance club, sorta like Arnold’s on Happy Days but with a big dance floor instead of diner booths. Sandy held court there nightly, leading the talented waiters/dancers out on the dancefloor, getting the crowd up on their feet doing the triple swing, the stroll and even the hand-jive. During this time, I was running a similar club, Ollie’s, located inside the entertainment complex called The Ports of Call (or The Ports for short) up at Yonge & Summerhill. Instead of rivals, we became fast friends.
Skip ahead a few decades(!) and Sandy is still entertaining crowds but this time she is sharing her Celtic heritage and presenting an annual family-friendly festival as a tribute to her late mother who was an accomplished highland dancer and true-blue Scottish lass. So welcome to the 14th annual Beach Celtic Festival! www.thecelticfestival.comEach September, Sandy hosts this 2-day party for Toronto’s Scots, Irish, English and Welsh descendants with lots of great musical entertainment, dancing, a vendors village where you can pick up all sorts of treats and treasures, and a great community spirit. I’m so pleased to help her promote this year’s event and I asked her to share her thoughts on putting on such a show…..
How did you come up with the idea for a festival celebrating Celtic heritage and culture in Toronto?My Mum (pictured below) passed away in Montreal on June 30, 2001 and because the next day was July 1st (Canada Day) we could not get to her in the funeral home until after the long weekend. I took a walk and ended up in Kew Gardens where the 48th Highlanders of Canada were performing and that was it. I knew I had to do a celebration in that park. It took a few more years and then September 2003 the Beach Celtic Festival was ‘born’.
After 14 years, how has the event grown/changed since you first launched this unique outdoor ceilidh? Originally, the Beach Celtic Festival was only supposed to be a one-off event, a celebration of life for my Mum. It was so successful that first year that we decided to keep going. It stayed as a one day event until 6 years ago and has now grown into a two day event. It is now embraced by the neighbourhood and beyond. It’s lovely to get emails from all over the world asking us about the Celtic festival.You are also hosting a fundraising event at The Duke tavern on Queen St East this Tuesday night (Aug. 22) – how expensive is it to produce a 2-day family festival in Kew Gardens? And do you receive any government funding or corporate sponsorship to underwrite these expenses? The Beach Celtic Festival costs close to $10,000 to produce which includes permits, insurance, portable toilets, stage and sound requirements, expenses and publicity. We do not receive government funding and Kew Gardens is a public park and so it cannot have a gate entrance fee. I don’t think people realize how expensive it is and unfortunately there are restrictions to sponsorship as well.
Do your local Beach neighbourhood businesses support or contribute to this event that draws thousands of people to the area each year? The Beach residents are very supportive of this event and I get asked on the street all the time about when it is and what they can expect this year. I think the businesses appreciate that we don’t host a lot of competitive vendors i.e. coffee, food, clothing etc. and that our vendors are very strictly Celtic in theme and flavour. I always say that it is a tough rent on Queen Street East and if we can all bring more people into the Beach to spend money and enjoy our little Brigadoon for the weekend then that is all good.Over the years, what has been the most fulfilling experience you’ve enjoyed as producer of the Beach Celtic Festival? There are times during the Celtic that I just stand on the gazebo and look around at the park and realize these are the same trees, the same baseball diamond, the same park my Dad ran around in as a little boy so it has come full circle. There is something magical to see the park full of people enjoying the Celtic ways and hearing all the accents. Smiles galore.Any other comments you’d like to share? Although the Beach Celtic Festival is my ‘baby’, it truly would not happen without all the love and support I get from everyone involved in the yearly production. Everyone rallies around to push it through year after year and I am eternally grateful for those people. From friends, family, talent and the Celtic Team (including yourself, Glenda) there is great comfort in knowing the Celtic Festival will be around long after I am gone as it is safe in the next generation’s hands. I also wish to extend a welcome to all nationalities to come experience some of the music, ways and wares of the Celtic Community. So watch the skies over Kew Gardens for flying dragons…better still, come on down and bring the kids, bring granny, bring your BFF. The Beach Celtic Festival is FREE!
Saturday Sept. 9 & Sunday Sept. 10 (9am-6pm)
Kew Gardens, Queen St East in Toronto