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Surrey Pride rescheduled due to double-booked park date

Organizer questions city support, but city says committed to working with Pride

(Shawn Ewing stands in front of Surrey Prides giant rainbow flag./Courtesy of Shawn Ewing.)

Organizers of the Surrey Pride Festival are scrambling after moving the date of their 16th annual event forward a week because of a scheduling snafu at the festival site.

Shawn Ewing, president of the Surrey Pride Society, says her organization had reserved Holland Park for Sunday, July 5, Pride’s date and location since 2010. A problem arose when they realized that the park would be the site for a huge concert festival on the Friday and Saturday. While Surrey Pride technically still had the park for Sunday, the concert organizers would be tearing down the stages and other infrastructure, pushing the Pride festival to the periphery of the park, Ewing says.

“It’s a substantial show,” she explains. “It’s going to take them a week to bring in all the stuff and Sunday they’re breaking it all down. And I said that’s not really good for a festival. Our festival was scheduled for Sunday. So we went back to the city and said it’s just not going to work. So they said, ‘well, what dates would you like then?’”

Facing the unpalatable options of changing the date or being cramped into a corner of the park, the organizing committee opted to move this year’s Surrey Pride up to June 28. Going later into July was not an option due to other events planned for the site.

The change has caused difficulties for some touring vendors whose weekends book up well in advance.

“We’re down about a little less than 50 percent at this point,” Ewing says, referring to confirmed vendors and exhibitors. “We’ve got some promises of some other stuff coming in but it’s been a real slog.”

Ewing, who was president of the Vancouver Pride Society for three years starting in 2002, says the City of Surrey has made all the right noises, but she doesn’t feel a sense of real support.

“Everybody talks about really wanting to support the organization,” she says. “We had a meeting with the [city’s] cultural group and the manager said that the people on city council are on board and totally supportive and stuff like that. It doesn’t feel that way.”

Laurie Cavan, general manager of Surrey’s department of parks, recreation and culture, says the city is committed to working with organizers for a great Pride.

“We continue to want to work with them so that they have a very successful event,” Cavan says.

She acknowledges that the tear-down of the concert venue meant that Pride would not have access to the whole park, but says the city offered to cordon off the area where the concert venue was being dismantled and that the concert organizers offered to publicize the event to the thousands of attendees as well as provide some free tickets to the concert.

“We were going to have an area where their [Pride] event still could take place,” Cavan says. “We were making every effort to work with them. There was going to be a stage provided. We were going to be able to scrim and fence off the area where the larger stage was being taken down . . . We wanted to do everything we could to make it successful and my understanding was through those discussions that the leadership of the Pride group then decided that their preference was to change the date.”

She says that Pride and the city “mutually agreed to move the date.”

Cavan says city staff will meet with Pride organizers after this year’s event “and see which of the two weekends they preferred and how we can work together to make their event successful in the future.”

Surrey neighbours generally welcoming, Ewing says

Before moving to Surrey herself, Ewing was in there with the best of them when it came to Surrey jokes.

“I would just crack jokes like crazy,” she says. “I had friends who lived out here. I was probably verging on not being very nice, but I did it.”

Then she started looking for real estate.

“When my wife and I got into the housing market and we looked at what we wanted and what we could have in Vancouver and the pros and cons and all that kind of stuff, we found a place in Surrey,” she says.

Surrey residents are often stereotyped as unfriendly to gay people. But do the stereotypes have any legitimacy?

Ewing and her wife moved into their new place in winter so, this being the suburbs, coming home meant driving into the garage and closing the door. When spring came, she was excited about pushing her own new lawnmower over her own new lawn. But she was also aware that it would be the first opportunity to really get to know the neighbors.

“I’m really excited about mowing my lawn,” she says. “And I see the old guy from the corner house coming over and he’s struttin’. It looks like attitude and I’m thinking, ‘I’m ready for you.’ So he got close to the lawnmower, I turned it off and he said, ‘You’re cutting your lawn too damn short. It’s south-facing, it’ll burn. My name is Bob, my wife’s Suzanne, we live in the house over there, welcome to the neighbourhood.’ And he walks off. That was the biggest calling out I’ve had in six years in Surrey.”

The couple is not overly demonstrative in public, Ewing says, “but we certainly hold hands. We exchange affection, kisses.”

So far, so good.

“The people in my neighbourhood are all aware that there’s the gay girls’,” she says. “It doesn’t prevent them from having their kids come over and hack around in our front yard and wanna play with our dog.”

Another anticlimactic potential drama scene was when Ewing was drying out the Pride society’s giant Pride flag on her driveway.

“We all have stereotypes and I thought the guy on the far end corner was a redneck firefighter. We had exchanged pleasantries but I thought, if there’s gonna be a problem, it would probably be with him,” she says. “He brought his kids over and he was explaining that this was the Pride flag and that their aunt, his sister, is gay and this is the flag that she sort of waves as well as the Canadian flag. It became an education piece. I think that’s a lot of what’s going on is. It’s education.”

“Lots of the people that have come out here, not unlike my wife and myself . . . we’ve done downtown and the right-in-the-heart-of-the-thick-of-things. Now we’re just about living life, going to work and mowing the lawn.”

For all the information on this year’s Surrey Pride events go to surreypride.ca