Unlikely spat pits craft fair against legion in Cape Breton

Home Crafters of Cape Breton and organizers of Cape Breton's Remembrance Day ceremonies frustrated by double booking of Sydney's Centre 200

SYDNEY, N.S. – An unlikely public spat that seemingly pitted a craft sale against several local legions over the location of a Remembrance Day service, drawing hostility and threats of a boycott, was caused by a simple bureaucratic bungle, the municipality says.

Home Crafters of Cape Breton had booked Sydney’s Centre 200 arena next weekend for its annual craft sale, and came under fire when it appeared it had bumped Remembrance Day ceremonies.

“The initial story was along the lines of the services being bumped for the craft fair, and that’s not the case,” said Christina Lamey, communications adviser to Mayor Cecil Clarke of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

“It brought a lot of negative feelings towards people who do the craft fair. Those people doing that craft fair are the salt of the earth and they’ve been doing it for 30 years … and some of the comments directed to them are out of line.”

Home Crafters’ Audrey Pyke said her 29-year-old group has held its three-day event at Centre 200 for the last decade, and books the dates years in advance.

The legions have held their service at Centre 200 for the last two years without overlap, but this year Remembrance Day falls on the sale’s first day, Nov. 11.

Stephen MacLennan, president of the legion in nearby Whitney Pier, said his organization booked Centre 200 for Remembrance Day in an email with Clarke back in March — but staff with the facility didn’t tell him about the conflict with the crafters’ show until last month.

MacLennan said the service was moved to the smaller Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion, which holds a much smaller crowd — a revelation that angered residents and resulted in dozens of emails, calls and Facebook postings criticizing the crafters.

Pyke said that has caused some members to take down their social media sites because of a slew of hostile comments, including some that say they will boycott the sale because of the misperception that the group forced the veterans out of the location.

“They’re saying we’re disrespectful to veterans, which we are not,” she said.

“My grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge, I have the utmost respect for veterans. And so do many of the other crafters, we’ve never had an issue. It’s just because of this mixup at Centre 200. That’s the whole crux of the issue … had we known in February, who knows? We probably could have avoided this whole mess. But nobody approached us until all this crap hit last week.”

Pyke said the craft show takes hours to set up and can’t be moved on such short notice.

MacLennan said the legion is disappointed with the change of venue, but doesn’t fault the crafters, saying Centre 200 officials should have notified the legion of the conflict as soon as they knew about it in March.

He said the legions certainly don’t condone the torrents of abuse that have been directed at the crafters’ association over the last week.

“My mother-in-law used to be in that crafters association and her husband was in the merchant navy,” he said. “He went to Korea in ’51, so if he didn’t have a problem with her going in the craft show on Remembrance Day, why would I?

“The veterans fought for our freedom and for peace, for people to go on and threaten these crafters, we don’t condone that. It’s not OK.”

Lamey said the municipality isn’t sure exactly why the legions weren’t told sooner about the conflict.

“This is where we’re not sure what happened,” she said. “I’ve heard various different things about what happened.”

Pyke said the whole episode has left her and her fellow crafters feeling disheartened and apprehensive about attending the popular annual sale, which typically attracts anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 people.

“We’re just plain simple people. I do it because I love doing crafts. Other people, young single mothers do it to make money for Christmas, older people to help with their expenses, they’re on fixed incomes and this little bit of money they make at a craft show helps them out during the winter,” she said.

“Sure, we want to have a good show, but what we’re concerned about is that our crafters are safe and comfortable being there.”

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