Family Day has been celebrated in Tillsonburg since its inception in Ontario in 2008, and over the years the activities have expanded.
"It has grown over time," nodded Brent Shepherd, one of three organizing committee members, with Rick Cox and Sarabeth Strathdee, planning Family Day activities at the Tillsonburg Community Centre. The small organizing team is backed up by a group of coordinators and event volunteers, last year totaling more than 40 people.
"We've got a carnival zone (10 a.m. - 3 p.m.) and that's a big draw because it's unique," said Shepherd. "It has bounce castles and you don't see it in the winter usually. We've added an entertainment zone and beefed it up. Last year we had the reptile show, which was really great. This year we have entertainment in the Senior Centre. In the morning we have the Fire and Ice Show by Mad Science (9:30 a.m.), and in the afternoon, vogelJoy (1:30 p.m.), which is really exciting."
Both the carnival and entertainment are free thanks to support from generous sponsors, a key focal point for the local Family Day celebrations.
"Fun, local, and affordable," said Shepherd, noting the Monday, Feb. 16th events kick off at the Community Centre in the 'food zone' sponsored by McDonald's. Doors open at 8 a.m. in the Lions Den where breakfast – at $5 per family – is served from 8:30-10 a.m.
"That's one of the big things we keep hearing from people, to make it affordable. This is not a money-making event – we get sponsors and those sponsors are helping drive an event that is so free and affordable that anybody can come."
Pizza is available for lunch at $1.50 per slice or $10 per pizza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"The food zone is going to be a space where people can bring their lunch, or they can be part of the lunch we're selling. The canteen (Beres Concessions) is also open."
Canadian RBC Olympian Mark Oldershaw (canoeing/kayaking), a bronze medalist at the 2012 London Summer Games, will be in the arena lobby area from 9-11 a.m., presented by the RBC Olympians program.
"People can meet an Olympian and have their photo taken with him, which is very cool."
The arenas will be buzzing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. On the Kinsmen Memorial side, there will be free skating (helmets recommended) all day. On the Colin Campbell Community side try broomball from 9-10:30 a.m. – all ages welcome (again, helmets recommended), curling from 11:30-1 using mini-rocks from the Tillsonburg Curling Club, or learn to skate from 2-3:30 p.m. Goodwill will be at the event to loan skates.
"We added an ice pad this year. We have skating all day, as well as 'try a sport,' which adds a nice element to it."
Free swimming is available in three time slots – 8:30-10 a.m., 11:30-1 and 2:30-4 p.m.
"You can pre-register to reserve a spot."
There are 150 spots available for pre-registration per time slot, which 'holds your spot' for 15 minutes from the swim start time. After that, it's 'first come, first serve.'
"It went great last year. We had about 50 per cent of the people pre-register. It's very popular – it was full last year."
A Toddler Lounge will be set up in the Marwood room from 9-12 and 1-4, previously held in one corner of the Lions Auditorium, for families with five-and-under children.
"Sonbeam Daycare is having interaction activities throughout the day. It is not a drop-off area," Shepherd stressed. "This year we added a smaller bouncy for that age in the carnival area, and then there's the Marwood toddler area with stuff that you'd find in a daycare at that age group. It allows them to have that playtime for families with young kids."
Organizers hoped for 1,000-1,500 participants last year. Shepherd said they hit the 1,500 target and the free carnival was easily 'most popular.'
"It was jammed last year, for sure," he laughed.
Shepherd's involvement in Family Day started four years ago when his church – where he's minister – rented ice and made it available to the community. Earlier Family Day skates and swims at the complex had required admission fees.
"We got some feedback from that – 'we love it, it's great, do more' – and we also had a pancake breakfast the next year. Some other people were putting on things that day and we said, 'let's make this a big thing.' So we rented out the whole complex and kind of turned it back to the town."
The goal, he said, was to make it an event 'by the community, for the community.'
For more information, and a complete list of sponsors, see their website at tillsonburgfamilyday.ca.