The Charlottetown waterfront is awash in red and white today with thousands of Islanders and visitors in their Canada Day best visiting the P.E.I. 2014 Celebration Zone.
The Celebration Zone officially opened this morning and was immediately filled with people, curious about this $5-million, 70-day cultural festival area.
“People have been talking about for the last couple of months, so we thought we’d come down here and check it out,” said Lisa McGuirk of Fort Augustus.
“Normally we would go to our friends’ house or they would come here and we would just hang out by the pool on Canada Day, but this year we decided come down here because they talked about it so much.”
During an opening ceremony held this morning, Premier Robert Ghiz said the Celebration Zone is an unprecedented festival in P.E.I. that will commemorate and celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference.
“With Prince Edward Island being the birthplace of Confederation and during this significant anniversary year, we’re celebrating our distinct role and place in Canada’s history like never before,” Ghiz said.
“Over the next number of months, the Celebration Zone will be showcasing a diverse array of Canadian talent, while keeping in the context of that great meeting of 1864.”
The zone encompasses almost the entire green space area of the Charlottetown waterfront, encircled by bright red P.E.I. 2014 fencing.
Inside, a number of striped circus-like tents house pavilions, each with a different experience for visitors.
The children’s pavilion features arts and crafts, toys and Lego, a reading area and foosball tables.
A giant inflatable version of the S.S. Queen Victoria lets toddlers bounce and jump while also keeping with the Charlottetown Conference theme.
The Canada pavilion has a small stage with a line up of artists and workshops scheduled for the summer. It also has some high-tech fun with touch screens games like Canadian trivia and virtual sports.
Also for sports lovers, exhibits from the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame are on display in the Canada pavilion.
In the centre of the Celebration Zone, a big stage has been erected, which will feature free concerts throughout the summer. Facing the stage, people can enjoy a cold beverage at the Fathers Pub and Oyster Bar.
Watching it all come to life after two years of planning has been exciting, said Penny Walsh-McGuire, executive director of P.E.I. 2014 Inc.
“It’s always amazing when you look at something on paper that actually turns into what it is in 3-D, it’s really thrilling.”
The idea of having a centrally located gathering spot where people could mark this anniversary was a key part of the planning for the 2014 celebrations, she said.
“We wanted to have that central place that was always open, always operating and celebrating Canada right here in the birthplace of confederation.”
One woman made a special trip to P.E.I. all the way from New Zealand for the 2014 celebrations.
Charlotte Town fell in love with P.E.I. after realizing she shared a name with the Island’s capital city. She is on her fourth trip to P.E.I.
“When I was about 18, I wrote to the mayor of Charlottetown at the time, and he invited me over,” she said.
She first came in 1998 and returned several times after. During her visit in 2000, she received the key to the city of Charlottetown.
She said she especially loves walking around, seeing her name everywhere.
“It’s just brilliant,” she said. “I really thrive on it.”
Local resident Joyce Robertson went with her daughter and grandsons to take in the festivities on the waterfront.
She said she liked the fact it offers family activities and promotes the idea of bringing people together.
But she questioned whether the expense of this 70-day festival area will be worth it in the end.
“We have a province that’s really struggling in many ways, a lot of people without things. I find that you don’t always notice that in the big celebrations,” she said.
“But it is important to bring people together and celebrate too.”
The Celebration Zone will feature music, dancing, theatre, and comedy every day until Sept. 7. All events and activities within the zone are free.