Remember that famous quote from John F. Kennedy’s speech during his inauguration on January 20, 1961: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”?
While the anniversary of that uplifting speech has just passed, I was reminded of the inspirational words as I recently sat in a packed room in the Liverpool Town Hall Arts and Cultural Centre. The outgoing executive of the Privateer Days committee, the signature tourism event of the Region of Queens, had called the meeting to recruit replacement members for the board to take over by the end of January.
Before we get into the festival, however, a brief history lesson may be necessary. As the festival website explains, privateers were privately owned ships that were authorized by a government to raid ships from other countries — a form of legalized piracy on the high seas. The men who served aboard these ships were also referred to as “privateers.”
After the American Revolution, American privateer ships ranged up and down Nova Scotia’s South Shore, ambushing merchant shipments, disrupting commerce and occasionally stealing ships right out of Liverpool’s wharves.
Desperate to defend their homes, their families and their livelihoods, many leading citizens of the Town of Liverpool petitioned the British government for the right to retaliate against these ocean raiders. In 1777, these citizens were granted authorization to launch privateer ships of their own.
Liverpool quickly emerged as one of British North America’s leading privateer ports, eventually deploying more privateer vessels than even the much larger city of Halifax. Ships like the Lucy, the Rover, and the Liverpool Packet gained international renown for their workmanship and speed, and the prowess of their crews inspired respect and fear.
Although privateers no longer roam the seas, and the day of the great sailing ships has long since passed, Liverpool’s significance in maritime history lives on in the town’s nickname to this day — Port of the Privateers.
The annual Privateer Days Festival, held since the mid 1970s, is a proud celebration of Liverpool’s colourful privateering heritage. The three-day event features a variety of fun-filled activities and attractions including a battle re-enactment, historic encampment, rum run, sporting competitions, guided walks, live musical entertainment, an artisan and crafter’s market, fireworks and a grand street parade.
While, like most long-running events, Privateer Days has undergone many changes over the years, it has endured the metamorphosis to become one of the region’s premier festivals. It is certainly one of the Queens County’s lynchpin attractions that kicks off the area’s summer tourism season. To lose the festival would be a major blow to the community’s tourism and economic infrastructure, leaving a void that would be difficult — if not impossible — to fill.
Sadly, that was a real possibility as the executive board had announced late in 2018 that current members would be stepping down at the end of this January. Basically saying they felt they had run their course and pointing out that they felt it was time for new blood to take the festival in new directions, the board set the Jan. 10 information meeting to present a status report and to recruit new members to take the reins.
Being responsible for a premier festival such as Privateer Days is, without question, a major and often daunting undertaking. The sometimes Herculean-like task requires a huge commitment of time and energy and is a job that often falls on the shoulders of only a few brave souls dedicated enough to take on the responsibility.
On that note, it’s time to give kudos to outgoing festival chair Tanya Long, executive director Brian Fralic and all members of the past executive for all their efforts in recent years to keep the event on course and sailing on smooth waters. But like everything else, there does come a time when it becomes necessary to pass the baton and in the case of Privateer Days, it appears, this was its time.
And there in lay the challenge. It’s easy for armchair quarterbacks to sit back and give advice and their personal opinions and views on what they like or don’t like about anything and everything. Since the advent of Facebook and other social media platforms, that has become painfully obvious. We all have our personal likes and dislikes but more often than not, we feel compelled to offer the negative opinions over the positive ones.
I guess that’s human nature, but that’s also the easy way out. The real challenge is to step up to the plate and take on the responsibility. While some would rather complain from the sidelines than jump in and contribute, thankfully there are many people in the Region of Queens who will answer the call to serve and those people deserve praise and applause.
In the case of Privateer Days 2019, those people include new executive members including chair Catherine Croft, vice chair Jessica Van Dyne-Evans and treasurer Linda Rafuse. The search is on for a few other executive members and committee chairs, but for the most part, it appears the festival is safe once again, for the immediate future at least.
And here is where, as I sat in the January 10 meeting, I was reminded of the JFK quote, only with a twist: “My fellow Nova Scotians, ask not what your community can do for you, ask what you can do for your community.”
When our community asked what we could do for it, these people answered the call. Thankfully, because of a group of dedicated and community-minded volunteers, the event lives on in 2019.
But let’s be honest here, if the Privateer Days festival had been allowed to flounder, it would never be replaced and it would likely never been resurrected and that’s the view from here.
Vernon Oickle was born and raised in Liverpool where he continues to reside with his family. He has worked for more than 30 years in community newspapers on the South Shore and is the author of 28 books.