This year’s Canada Day marked the 17th annual celebration at the Sooke Flats, and the retirement of Judithe Ann Gatto, Sooke Canada Day Society president.
Gatto founded the society and local Canada Day celebration, and has been at the helm since it’s inception.
Working fervently for nearly two decades, Gatto is ready to pass on the torch.
“It means a lot to me, I started it, it’s my baby, but it’s time to move on while things are good,” she said, adding it’s hard to leave as the event has been her saviour in times of despair.
Three years into the event’s life, Gatto buried her husband, mother, and father all within a month-and-a-half’s time.
“If it hadn’t been for doing this event, I don’t know if I would’ve been here today,” she said. “Going through (my husband’s) death, and everything prepared me, forced me to do this day. It’s kept me sane since.”
But now, it’s time for life’s simple pursuits for Gatto, who turned 63 on July 1, Canada Day.
“I’m getting to the point where I want to be with my granddaughter, when her mom goes to work,” Gatto said. “I want to see my sewing room, I want to work in my work room.”
The large event at the Sooke Flats began in 1995, after Gatto noticed there was little to no patriotism in Sooke on the nation’s birthday.
“This town, nobody was celebrating Canada at all. They were very lethargic about it, it was a day that you didn’t have to go to work,” she said.
Working as a volunteer co-ordinator for the Sooke Royal Canadian Legion at the time, Gatto was approached to build a local event. With support from her husband and “higher powers that be,” she pulled together the first Canada Day event in just two months.
The large event now costs between $20,000 to $30,000 to run and a year to plan.
Gatto said the event has grown each year. She stated the concept behind the event is to get different members of the community to work together to put on a large celebration.
“Everybody is coming to help everybody to show our community what we do have,” Gatto said, listing the Sooke Lions, Rotary Club, different vendors and various fire departments as exemplars.
There is currently a local man willing to take over the role as president of the Sooke Canada Day Society, and Gatto said it’s just a matter of gathering five members to keep the society intact.
“I’m hoping that the next team will step in and take it over, and hopefully keep basically the same thing,” she said. “I’m sure everybody does their own thing, their own way, but the idea is not one group do it all. It’s done by the people for the people.”