By Rebecca Peng –
In the next few issues we will be introducing readers to some veteran Westfest volunteers. We’re starting things off with Norm Morrison, who’s described as the “father” to Westfest staffers.
Norm Morrison has been a resident of Westboro for 18 years and a part of Westfest since its “humble beginnings,” when then-councillor Christine Leadman asked him to co-ordinate a parade down Richmond Road. Over the past 11 years, he’s seen the festival blossom.
“It’s gone from a modest affair with a single stage to a three stage event that draws about a hundred thousand people over the three days,” Morrison says. It’s not such a modest affair anymore.
Organizing a festival of this size means there’s plenty to do, and Morrison has had a hand in almost all of it. He helps co-ordinate the advertising and marketing for the festival, managing public relations with all the businesses in the neighbourhood, and distributes the postcards that get passed onto their customers. “I go to everyone in every store. I meet everyone. It keeps me in touch with the neighbourhood and introduces me to those shops I might not have gone into otherwise.”
This year, Morrison bought himself a red wagon to help him transport all those cards. “If you see an old guy with a wagon and plenty of boxes,” he laughs, “that’s me!”
During the festival, however, Morrison might prove more elusive, and can usually be found around the VIP area and helping out backstage. He also helps with the three-day set up and two-day tear down pre- and post-festival.
Rosalyn Stevens, the festival’s Media Relations Manager, describes Morrison as being “like the father figure to most staff. We love him.”
Though his Westfest duties may sound exhausting, Morrison is committed to several other volunteer positions as well. Morrison is the chair of the Westboro Community Association, and has helped out with the Shriners. There are a couple of other Ottawa festivals that get a slice of his time too. For nine years, he’s volunteered with the Ottawa Tulip Festival and, this year, has been approached to help out backstage at Bluesfest. Still, Westfest is special. “I enjoy it more,” Morrison admits. “It’s also only a block away from my home – that helps!”
Morrison is equally enthusiastic about the team behind the local festival. He’s filled with compliments for Westfest founder, Elaina Martin, and reflects how the festival benefits from being able to work with the same people year after year; how it’s built a community of dedicated volunteers.
“It’s a family affair. It’s all-inclusive,” he says when describing the festival. But it’s more than just bringing Westboro neighbours together. “It gives Westboro a presence outside of Ottawa as well. It’s a showcase for the neighbourhood and the city too.”
One of Morrison’s favourite aspects of Westfest is the Main Street Stage. “It gives local entertainment, younger people, an opportunity to perform. It’s probably the first time they’ve ever performed in front of that many people,” says Morrison. “I think that would be my recommendation for something to check out.”
Regardless of which stage visitors visit, the festival won’t be short of excitement. “Now that I’m retired,” Morrison explains, “I do the things that I like.” Seems that even after all these years, Westfest is something that never gets old.