Events Edmonton is the organization behind some of Edmonton’s largest, longest-running and most impressive events. A lot goes into creating memorable, family-friendly entertainment for Edmonton’s residents and guests, and today Paul Lucas, general manager, explains what goes on behind the scenes of its flagship event, Taste of Edmonton.
“Events Edmonton is a non-profit charitable association and a major festival producer in Edmonton that produces the Taste of Edmonton, Canada’s largest outdoor food festival that attracts over 400,000 people every year,” says Lucas. “As part of the summer festival scene, Taste of Edmonton is an iconic event that is loved by many Edmontonians, and that adds to the vibrancy of the festival world here in Edmonton. Events Edmonton also supports 13 charitable and non-profit groups with honorariums of upwards of $80,000 a year, and it has a volunteer base of 700. Our connection to the community is one of our core goals as an organization.”
The organization has a long and interesting history.
“Events Edmonton was founded from a need to support the Edmonton Exhibition’s launch of Klondike Days in the 60s,” says Lucas. “A board was formed that included business leaders within the Edmonton region, and it was funded by Edmonton Exhibition, the City of Edmonton and a volunteer board along with hundreds of volunteer supporters. The Klondike theme was embraced during the 60s, 70s and 80s, and events were created to support the Klondike theme that was embraced all over the city.”
As the years went on, however, Klondike Days would undergo several changes, and this affected the organization.
“The Klondike Days theme and our funding was pulled in the 1980s,” Lucas explains. “Our association was advised to cease and desist from using any reference to Klondike Days, hence we were rebranded in 2005 to Events Edmonton.”
However, Klondike Days, now known as K-Days, was far from the only event the brand produced.
“As the Klondike Day association formed in the mid 60s, so, too, did many activities in and around the city,” Lucas continues. “The Klondike Kate tea party, Sunday in the promenade, bath tub races, sourdough raft race, strong man competitions, parades, Canada Day celebrations, New Year’s Eve celebrations and fireworks were staple events undertaken by Events Edmonton.”
Events Edmonton also launched one of the city’s most hotly anticipated, and well-attended, annual festivals: Taste of Edmonton.
“Pip Martin (Philip Gosford Martin) was instrumental in bringing the concept of Taste of Edmonton to life after visiting the Taste of Chicago,” Lucas explains. “At the time, when the first Taste of Edmonton was held, Pip Martin was the executive director of the Edmonton Klondike Days Association. The team that helped to produce the first Taste of Edmonton Event included Gregory S. Martin, Shelley J. Martin, Don Clarke, and Beth McIntyre.”
Lucas loves being a part of growing Edmonton’s history and contributing to its reputation as Canada’s festival city.
“As a general manager, I am blessed to be here to continue the good work laid before me by previous management and past board of directors’ visions. I am very creative and always look at things from different perspectives before making decisions with my team. I am extremely proud of all the accomplishments my team has achieved in the past five years. Seeing the new brand of Taste of Edmonton flourish, introducing taste-sized bites for our guests and reducing the number of tickets required per person is something the public had been asking for – for a very long time. When we decided to rebrand and listened to many comments from the public about their perceptions of Taste of Edmonton, it became very clear that we were doing the right thing, and our public embraced it.”
This festival is backed by some surprising statistics.
“It costs approximately $200,000 to set up Taste of Edmonton for 10 days,” informs Lucas. “We start our setup on Monday afternoon and have it completed and ready for selling to the public by Wednesday night. With upwards of 20 contractors and service providers, we could not pull this event together without their dedication and attention to detail in making the event work. Around 9,000 volunteer hours are put into manning the event.”
In addition to the contractors and volunteers, these events are successful thanks to the efforts of the expert leadership team to make sure everything runs smoothly, on time and on budget.
“Empowering others and allowing for all opinions to be heard and debated is vital,” says Lucas of his leadership style. “Any leader is only as good as the team around him. I like having people with different points of view, left field thinkers and right filed thinkers, who help give different perspectives, have passion in discussions and provide input into decision making. Hearing other ideas and concepts often opens doors to a different way of looking at things—and it gives the person the confidence to be heard and respected.
“Work/life balance in the events business is challenging, but having gone through this for many years, I have learned the consequences (the hard way) of putting work first and myself last. I have matured and now take care of my needs first. Since doing that, I have balanced my life to be more equitable, and from that I feel I am a happier person. Empowering others and trusting in others is key to giving up the need to always stay in control of every decision.
“As the custodian of leadership for the past five years, I feel very proud of the product we put before the public every year. We constantly want to improve and grow as a non-profit charitable association. It is challenging to stay ahead of the curve and keep the product fresh and new. The public loves our festival, and it is fun and enjoyable to celebrate our ethnicity through the sharing of food and music.
“Our suppliers, contractors and supporters of Taste of Edmonton, along with every single owner and manager, believe in our business model and are always there to support us in every way they can. I am very blessed to have so many good contractors, staff, volunteers, board members, chefs, restaurant owners and the public all supporting our event and making it one of Edmonton’s most popular events to attend each year.”
Lucas and his team are not afraid to adapt, change and grow to meet the needs of the Festival City.
“Rebranding Taste of Edmonton, and bringing in the Canadian Food Championships two years ago, has been one of the most gratifying moments in my career in the events business. The board of directors for Events Edmonton has created an environment of trust and positive reinforcement.
“We have a huge challenge for 2018 when we are relocating from Churchill Square to make way for major renovations on Churchill Square and the new LRT station. We have looked at eight different sites over the past two years and we have still not settled on a suitable site to host 48 restaurants, 16 food trucks, the main stage and the Canadian Food Championships. The risk to our revenue sources are significant if we move our event away from the downtown core, as that could mean a drop in net sales of over $250K. Our future site selection will be critical because infrastructure, like power, water, sewer – and above all, location – are important elements in putting up a fully serviceable restaurant in the middle of the street in downtown Edmonton that is accessible to the public.”
Yet, Lucas knows that he and Events Edmonton, a group that has kept Edmonton in celebration mode for over 50 years, are more than up for the challenge, and they will keep providing Edmonton’s residents and tourists with the important cultural events that make their hearts, and taste buds, sing.