Blue Christmas lights still dangle from trees in the courtyard, after Santa paraded through the streets, decorated boats sailed by onlookers, and fireworks lit up the night sky as pellets of snow rained down.
The 21st Winterfest has passed, and it would be remiss to overlook the woman who continues to make this festival a reality.
Joy Sundin has been the special events coordinator since 1992, with a couple breaks in between. This hazel-eyed pixie-haired force of nature works tirelessly to rally volunteers to help make festivals happen in the city — which she said is getting more and more difficult.
“Last year, I was ready to resign and say, look I’m done. I can’t keep doing this. Not only am I doing all the prep for the festivals, I’m having to do it. There’s not enough people to be out there,” Sundin said in the special events office at the base of City Hall, amidst a small disaster of boxes and cookies left over from Winterfest.
With a background in community recreation education, Sundin answered the advertisement for the special events coordinator when the society first formed in the early nineties. Over the years she has continued with the society, nurturing her sense of wanting to give back to her community.
Sundin is Métis, and was raised in the north. Her father was an accountant, and they lived in northern Saskatchewan town near Flin Flon, Manitoba. There were only about 40 families there and not much to do other than enjoy the outdoors and be involved in the community.
In her 20s, she studied outdoor education, taught water safety, lifeguarding, and she was a canoe and kayak instructor. Twice, she took nine to 12-year-olds on the West Coast Trail for a week with a 120lb backpack. “I don’t know how I did it,” she said. “I had lots of brawn.”
In 1969, she lived in Fernie, B.C. where she met her husband Don. He was a pilot for the RCMP and she travelled with him wherever he was sent for work, which was how they ended up in Prince Rupert.
They lived all over the country from Vancouver Island, Edmonton to Goose Bay, Labrador, where they had their first two children, Morgan and Karl. They moved to the North Coast in 1983, where they had their third child, Sten. They stayed for 13 years until Don was sequestered back to Labrador.
Three years later, the Sundin family was sent back to Prince Rupert once and for all. The Special Events Society asked her to please return to them. As coordinator, she volunteers 75 per cent of the time she’s there and receives a small stipend for doing the paper work.
Aside from the work she does with the Special Events Society, Sundin is the on-call community coroner. In 2001, the coroner at the time started to slow down after a heart attack. He took her out with him one night to see if she could handle the job.
“The hard part is talking to the people,” she said. “There was no training for the first two years, I flew by the seat of my pants. In those days we did the whole investigation. Now it’s really minimal. You do the scene investigation and that’s all.”
On top of her work with the Special Events Society, Sundin also helps organize Hallowe’en Fest, she is the vice-president of the Prince Rupert and District Métis Society and she has been involved in the community in many other ways from being president of the Prince Rupert Amateur Swim Club to president of the Canadian Parents for French.
Her three children are grown now, and she looks after her grandson in the afternoon after he goes to daycare.
How long she intends to continue with the special events is the sixty-four-dollar question, she said.
Sundin has rheumatoid arthritis and takes chemo every week to keep the inflammation at bay. There weren’t enough volunteers for this year’s Winterfest, and she had to do a lot of the preparation and clean up in the cold. By the time she was finished on Sunday night, her hands were cramped.
Despite the hard work, she finds volunteering and organizing the festivals to be rewarding. Festivals breathe life into the city throughout the year — most notably Seafest — and it’s all due to the work of the volunteers and the Special Events Society.
“The community has fun and it’s building the social fabric,” she said. It doesn’t matter what if you’re rich or poor, anyone can enjoy the festival.
Keeping that Prince Rupert tradition alive seems tentative on how long Sundin will be able to keep doing the work, and who can take over once she retires.