Word that this year's “Relay for Life,” set to go this Saturday afternoon at the new Rainy Lake Square, likely will be the last one held here is sad but not all that surprising.
The fundraiser for cancer research, which was both a memorial to those who succumbed to the disease and a celebration of those who had beaten it, saw 10-member teams continuously walking around a track all night long. And it certainly got off to a rousing start in its inaugural year back in 2001, when some 350 participants descended on Point Park and raised almost $75,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society.
It was a festive atmosphere, starting with the “Survivors' Lap” to kick things off and then plenty of entertainment and activities all through the night. There also was the poignant moment, too, with the lighting at dusk of the hundreds of luminaries lining the track in memory of loved ones who lost their fight with cancer.
Like any annual event, though, participation and enthusiasm began to wane over the years. Just 16 teams participated in 2009—down from the 25 that had taken part the previous year. That prompted organizers to make a renewed commitment to “Relay for Life” in 2010, in which they were shooting for 30 teams and to raise $60,000.
Unfortunately, the momentum couldn't be sustained. There were venue changes—from Muskie Field behind Fort High to the Fort Frances Curling Club last year. It even was held at the Memorial Sports Centre one year when a nasty storm necessitated a last-minute move from the riverfront, where “Relay” was going to be held in conjunction with the dragon boat festival.
It also was changed from an all-night affair to a 12-hour one during the day in an effort to boost participation.
But the event never really recovered and now, in 2018, it likely will see its swan song with a small ceremony at 4 p.m. at yet another new venue, followed possibly by head shavings and a few teams that may choose to walk around the Rainy Lake Square for a while. And this year, the luminaries are being lit in the front window of Curvy Chick across the street.
There's always a chance someone will step up to save “Relay for Life,” with maybe the thought of holding it every second year instead of annually to offset both donor fatigue and volunteer burnout.
Whatever happens, it's always a shame to see such a prominent community event fall by the wayside. It also serves as a stark reminder of how much work goes into planning an event and keeping it fresh year after year—and how important it is that everyone gets on board to ensure its ongoing success.