In early December of last year, Mayor Al Friesen of Altona extended an invitation to this writer to meet up and chat about the upcoming 125th Anniversary of ‘The Sunflower Capital of Canada’ and hometown of the Manitoba Sunflower Festival, one of the province’s much-anticipated summertime events.
It was a meet-up that was roughly five months in the making. It all started back in August of 2019 when this writer and his family – who were on their way to the Winkler Harvest Festival – took a side trip to Altona and had its many scenic attractions leave a lasting impression on them. Among the town’s memorable attractions are the giant replica of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, the Gallery in the Park, and the so-called Official Sunflower Selfie Plot. Since then, every effort was made to come up with a reason to re-visit the picturesque town.
A jovial reception from Mayor Al Friesen and Community Development Officer Sarah Radmore awaited this writer at the town’s Civic Centre. Radmore provided an overview of Altona – its residents, amenities, attractions, and facilities. Her briefing also touched on Altona’s inclusion in the IRCC Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot program which creates a path to permanent residence for skilled foreign workers who want to live in the community. The pilot is designed to support economic development and strengthen local business’ capacity to develop and retain a skilled workforce.
Altona is also home to a growing population of newcomers coming from the Philippines. The most recent census estimates that there are around 200 resident kababayans, most of them working at Friesens Corporation, Altona’s largest employer with about 575 employees. Holding the distinction as Canada’s largest printer of hardcover books, Friesens Corporation works with the Provincial Nominee Program to be able to recruit skilled workers from 25 different countries around the world such as the Philippines, Venezuela, Syria, and China. Radmore provided a set of complimentary hardcover and softcover literature about Altona, as examples of Friesens Corporation’s printing quality and capability.
After the briefing, Mayor Friesen offered a guided tour of the town aboard his pickup truck. A life-long community volunteer, Friesen was first elected to town council in 2014, and then as Altona’s Mayor by acclamation in the 2018 Municipal Election. Prior to his foray in local governance, Friesen enjoyed a storied 41-year career with Golden West Broadcasting. He was a long-time host of the station’s Morning Show and an inductee in the Western Association of Broadcasters (WAB) Hall of Fame. He managed to stay close to his broadcast roots through ‘In the Mayor’s Chair’ — a radio guesting on CFAM 950 every first Wednesday of the month to share updates about the town.
The first stop of the town tour was at Potpourri of Flavors, owned by kababayan Jose Legaspi who used his experience as a cruise ship cook and turn it into a business. The resto offers dine-in or catering services of Asian and Canadian fare. As a testament to its popularity in town, Potpourri of Flavors was booked to cater the town’s Holiday Banquet the following evening.
After driving by the snowy giant replica of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, the Industrial Park, around the Outdoor Aquatic Centre, and the Gallery at the Park, the tour’s last stop was at the Millennium Exhibition Centre, a state of the art 75,000 sq. ft. multi-use recreation facility. It serves as a venue for hosting many events such as hockey tournaments, curling bonspiels, banquets, socials, weddings, recreation programs, meetings, craft facilities, and a place to get together with friends and family.
As the tour wrapped up back at the Civic Centre, Mayor Friesen invited everyone to the town’s anniversary celebration, as well as to the Manitoba Sunflower Festival on July 24 to 26. “This 2020, it will be the 125th birthday for the Town of Altona.
Wonder Shows and Midway are going to come to our party. We’ll have downtown street entertainment, a variety of foods, some pop-up markets, so we invite the entire province to come on June 27th! Mark your calendars!”