“The community really comes together for Sunsplash. My favourite thing is seeing all the happy people. Families are out together, and there’s such great community spirit. The businesses have sidewalk sales—for some of them, it’s their busiest weekend,” Janel says.
Every summer, the Belle River community makes a splash downtown and on the waterfront. Organised by the Belle River on the lake’s business improvement area, the Sunsplash Festival features outdoor family activities along Lake St. Clair.
Reaching a Milestone
“It started way before I started working as coordinator for the BIA almost 19 years ago,” explains Janel Gagnier. “The community got together on the waterfront doing jet ski races and other activities. Then, the year before I started, they created the car show. Looking back on our records, this was our 25th year,” she says.
The Belle River BIA is made up of commercial property owners downtown that work together to attract shoppers and tourists. The Sunsplash Festival is one of their signature events, featuring vendors, rides, a beer garden and more.
“The community really comes together for Sunsplash. My favourite thing is seeing all the happy people. Families are out together, and there’s such great community spirit. The businesses have sidewalk sales, and for some of them, it’s their busiest weekend,” Janel says.
The Sunsplash Festival takes place in mid-July and is the perfect opportunity to spend time by the water.
Down by the Water
“We wanted to make the waterfront more accessible to our guests, so this year, we worked with On Point Athletics to put on a beach volleyball tournament. We also added a corn hole tournament this year and all money raised went towards youth hockey. Everyone had a lot of fun,” she says.
The event offered a chance for other community groups to fundraise as well.
“The Legion did a 50/50 draw during the car show, and the Lions club sold hot dogs and hamburgers,” Janel says.
A Classic Tradition
Downtown, the streets are filled with classic cars as part of the Classic Cruise Car Show.
“It was one of the best car shows ever. We had over two hundred cars pre-registered and a new crew working on this part of Sunsplash, including some BIA board members and students. Overall, more than four hundred cars participated—the most we’ve ever had. There were cars everywhere!” she explains.
Janel says they’ve started using more digital tools to help with the event planning, like using online forms for car registrations and signing up volunteers. It’s just one way that they’ve been working on bringing new elements to the event.
“There are a lot of great ideas for future Sunsplash events, like having a people’s choice award during the car show. It does take a lot of volunteers to put on this event and work on new features,” she says.
Putting in the Hours
More than 80 volunteers are high school students looking to complete their community service before the next school year begins.
“One high school student worked 12-hour days from Thursday to Sunday. One day, she told me she was close to reaching her 40 hours of community service, and I told her there are awards for students who have the most hours when they graduate. So the next morning, she came early and told me her goal was to get 100 hours,” says Janel.
It takes the entire Belle River community to put on the Sunsplash Festival, from managing the barricades to decorating, cleaning and setting up.
“We couldn’t have done this without our sponsors and the in-kind support of the Municipality of Lakeshore,” she says.