The celebration of a century

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Town of Westlock residents, current and former, answered the call to homecoming and the town’s 100th anniversary over Canada Day long weekend.

Though the full and complete tally of attendance remains speculative, participants at Westlock’s legacy parade, reception, homecoming dinner and numerous other events around town over the three-day celebration numbered in the thousands.

Mayor Ralph Leriger said that, as Westlock celebrated its 100th birthday, it was its people, stories and even council itself that had brought the town from a small settlement to the bustling hub it is today.

“It’s a very special turning point. When I ran for mayor, I hadn’t even thought that if successful my term would be within the 100-year celebration,” Leriger said.

Leriger pointed to the mayor’s luncheon on July 1 as a prime example of the people and effort that have gone into making the town’s centenary so special.

Both past and present mayors, councillors and community leaders gathered at the luncheon, which was open by invitation only.

“We’ve got a strong council and a strong vision for our future [currently], but that foundation has been set by every previous council and all of our previous leaders,” he said.

“Each successive council has left a legacy for subsequent ones and that vision is cumulative.”

Many descendants of Westlock’s founding families also attended the luncheon, including Allan Alton.

It was his great-grandparents Michael and Elizabeth Alton that originally settled the fields in and around Westlock’s modern-day Altador neighbourhood in the early 1900s.

He grew up here in Westlock and spoke fondly of his time in the budding town.

“It’s a great heritage,” Alton said. “We could ride our bikes into town. Our parents never had to worry about us, so we gained great independence, great autonomy.”

Current Red Deer resident and Westlock native Ken Newton was another who answered homecoming’s call.

Newton’s parents, the Nooitgedagts, landed in Halifax after the Second World War and arrived in Westlock in the 1950s. With eight siblings, he remembers a bustling town full of freedoms and a tough independence for those with grit.

“It was tough back then. [Mom and dad] built up our lives here in this beautiful place called Westlock,” Newton said.

“There was a small-town effect. Everybody looked after each other and helped each other out, trying to make life easier.

“It gives me chills to be back here.”

For some Westlock clubs and organizations, homecoming weekend was a chance to unveil some of the newest additions to Westlock’s history.

Canada 150 Mosaic producer Phil Alain was on hand July 1 at the Rotary Spirit Centre to help town staff reveal the town’s newest mural.

Located on the second floor of the facility, the mural dedicates Canada’s 150th anniversary and, coincidentally, the town’s centenary.

Each tile in the mosaic was hand-painted by residents from around Westlock, including council members, students, members of the Westlock Community Art Club, and community members at large.

“You created the mural and I’m just here to put the pieces together,” Alain said.

“It’s exciting to think that it’s happening when Westlock turns a century old. To have such significant celebrations coincide with one another, it really is an interesting duality.”

Myiissa Neufeld, a local student who helped to paint the mural, said the most difficult part of painting her tile was working within the project’s colour palette.

“It was kind of hard to do,” Neufeld said.

She also said that in 50 years she would return with her own family to check in on the centenary project.

The mural wasn’t the only piece of art put on display for the town’s centenary.

Also unveiled on July 1 was a centenary quilt knitted by the Westlock Crazy Quilters and local Salvation Army chapter.

Crazy quilter Donna Keller hoped the quilt would soon grace the halls of the Spirit Centre alongside the new mural.

Adorned with images from Westlock’s Pioneer Museum, the quilt is meant to be a reflection of the town’s history.

“I went to the museum and sorted through old pictures, had them printed and bought the fabric,” Keller said.

“Hopefully, we will be able to display the legend behind the pictures.”

Later that evening, a massive fireworks display got underway just before a lightning storm.

The display, the biggest in Westlock’s history, was just one of many events that dodged nasty weather all weekend, with the exception of the John Golonowski Invitational baseball tournament, which got rained out on Sunday.

Committee chair and former mayor Shirley Morie said that despite the rain, events over the weekend had gone off as well as could be expected.

“It’s really, really wonderful,” Morie said. “Everyone should be out here. They’ll be really sorry if they missed it. It’s a great experience. People are running into people that they have even forgotten about.”

Committee member Paul Taverner called the main events — the reception and homecoming banquets — an outstanding success for the town.

“We were pleased with the turnout and the number of people here. I know from our guest book that lots of people are here from out of town,” Taverner said.

Even members of council shared in the festivities, taking bows at the homecoming dinner to resounding applause and sharing their own histories in town.

Town Coun. Curtis Snell said that although he’s only been in town for 25-odd years — a youngster by some standards — the celebration had given him a chance to make new connections.

“There’s a lot of people talking to friends they haven’t seen for a long time,” Snell said. “I’m very happy with things, seeing new people and making some new friends.”

Coun. Clem Fagnan said that, although he wasn’t born in Westlock, it became an irreplaceable home for himself and his family over the years.

A long-time Westlock politician, Fagnan moved to town in 1969 and said that homecoming had given him the chance to re-connect with decades worth of friends.

“For me, this has been a success,” Fagnan said.

“Lots of people have shown up and people I haven’t seen for such a long time. We should never miss an opportunity to come and meet old friends.

“It’s something that you remember forever.”

For hundreds of more photos from the weekend check out our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Westlock-News/130628693670762

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