By Judith van Berkom –
Sandra Walby was born, raised, married, mother of three and grandmother – all from the same house on the same street in Mechanicsville. She is 76-years-of-age and has served her community for 50 years, on the board of directors of the Mechanicsville Community Association (formerly the Laroche Community Association), and more recently, as a volunteer for Westfest.
She can trace her lineage back to the horse and buggy days; the house to before the 1900s. Laroche Park has been a large part of her life, having lived across from the park all her life. She remembers fondly how her youth was spent in the park, with siblings and friends, in the days before technology captured our attention, when children ran free outdoors and only came home for lunch and supper.
“My house was a revolving door,” says Sandra. “Kids came in and out, everyone came in and out. It was a nice way to grow up. You never locked your door back then and were part of a community where everyone knew everyone else and there was always something going on in the park.”
When asked how she became involved in community service, she says, “it just happened that way.” She knew Keith Brown down the road from her who had formed a Sports Association, and the Laroche Community Association evolved from there.
The current Mechanicsville Community Association (MCA) has a younger group of volunteers with new ideas. Together with Councillor Jeff Leiper, the long-awaited redevelopment of Laroche Park is finally going to happen. Sandra says redevelopment of the park is something MCA has lobbied for these past 50 years.
“It’s always been in the books to have it done,” Sandra explains. With Mechanicsville growing, new homes being built, and new people moving in, everything in the park will be enlarged. There will be a new field house built and a new Sens rink.
The current field house is used for after school classes, Moms and Babies in the morning, a winter carnival and in summer, a variety of little festivals. A seniors’ residence nearby makes use of the park in the warmer months, sitting on park benches under the mature trees.
“It’s really going to be something when it’s finished in about two years,” Sandra explains. She thanks MCA and the councillor for going to bat for redevelopment of the park.
When Westfest was looking for a new space to hold the festival, Elaina Martin was introduced to both Sandra and Keith. “We were all for it,” says Sandra, and so began a close relationship between Sandra and Elaina, about four years ago.
“[Elaina is] very casual; a great person. There’s an unbelievable amount of time and work that goes into Westfest. Everyone’s welcome; it’s all free. And she does it from her heart. You enjoy yourself because it brings you back to how it used to be years and years ago – free, good entertainment.”
Westfest was at Laroche Park for two summers before it moved to Tom Brown Area. It’s a smaller, closer atmosphere, Sandra explains.
This year’s Westfest highlight will be Saturday’s Country and Western day. Sandra is looking forward to it and hopes everyone will come out and enjoy the festival. She’ll be in the VIP tent, named in her honour, the “Sandra Walby VIP Tent.” Sandra is one of the festival’s major donors.
Elaina Martin describes her as “a mother to all of us” who is “steadfast in her support” of the festival.
Sandra’s wish is that the whole of Ottawa would come out and see what a free festival is all about.
“Elaina treats her volunteers like gold. They come back every year; some of them are older than I am,” she remarks. Sandra thanks the MCA and Jeff Leiper for their efforts to redevelop Laroche Park, and Elaina for accepting her into her group.
Westfest takes place June 7 to 9, 2019 at the Tom Brown Arena. Admittance is free.