Resignations spell uncertainty for Privateer Days

By Scott Costen

One of Queens County’s most popular annual events is facing an uncertain future.

Brian Fralic, executive director of Privateer Days, is resigning his position effective Dec. 31. The four volunteer members of the festival’s executive committee are also stepping down.

“It’s a hard decision for me to walk away from the festival, because I know it’s going to be hard to get a new group in there,” Fralic said. “But I have to take care of myself. This last year was not fun at all, so I need to move on from it.”

Festival chair Tanya Long, vice-chair Troy Smith, treasurer Frances Younker and secretary Debbie Page are also leaving.

“We will be holding a public meeting in January for those who wish to step forward,” said Long, who plans to spend more time volunteering with the Liverpool Baseball Club. “We have built the festival into a huge success for our community and hope that someone new will take over the reins and make it even better.”

Fralic credits the executive committee for sticking with him in the face of ongoing hostility from some quarters in the community. “They’ve gone through all that with me and they’re just tired of it,” he said. “In a volunteer position, you shouldn’t have to deal with all that stress. They should be extremely proud of what they’ve done.”

Fralic, an elected councillor for Region of Queens Municipality (RQM), volunteered with Privateer Days for seven years before serving as a paid executive director the past three years.

“I couldn’t continue to do volunteer work to the degree that I was doing it,” he explained. “I asked for a nominal honorarium to do it, which is public information. I was being paid $5,000 a year for it. But if you divide that by the number of hours, it’s about a dollar an hour.”

RQM regularly provides financial, logistical and in-kind support to Privateer Days. However, the annual three-day festival is run by an independent, non-profit society. Fralic said he recuses himself from all council votes concerning the Privateer Days Commission.

Brian Fralic is stepping down as executive director of Privateer Days at the end of the month. (Photo: Scott Costen)

This year’s festival was hit by several controversies that helped convince him to step down. “There was just a whack of things that were happening,” he said.

Most upsetting for Fralic, who is gay, was the controversy over several drag queens marching in the Privateer Days parade. “It wasn’t about putting an agenda out there,” he said of the Pride float, which was entered by Oscar’s Cafe. “It’s a parade, there’s a parade committee, they put in their application like everyone else,” he said. “My sexual orientation has nothing to do with the festival.”

Region of Queens Municipality does not proclaim Pride Week, nor does it host an official Pride event or parade. The municipality does, however, fly the Pride banner from an unofficial flagpole for two weeks in July.

While many in the community supported LGBTQ participation in the Privateer Days parade, Fralic was targeted by those who were vehemently opposed. “I’m getting angry texts from people, I’m getting hate email,” he recalled. He claimed to have seen social media posts suggesting he be “publicly hanged” in Privateer Park.

Fralic said some local businesses threatened to withdraw their parade sponsorship because of the drag queens, but declined to identify them when asked.

In an email to the Observer, Oscar’s manager Kim Myra said the shop’s Pride entry was her idea, not Fralic’s. “My son is gay and the LGBTQ community is close to my heart,” she said. “We decided collectively to ask the LGBTQ community to be part of our float.”

Negative feedback from some members of the community — including what Myra described as “the threat of physical harm to the participants” — caused Oscar’s to briefly withdraw its float. However, an outpouring of public support prompted the shop to reconsider and the Pride float and drag queens paraded without incident.

Since then, things have taken on a much more positive tone. “We have had nothing but support and positive feedback from the community and we appreciate it very much,” she said.

Myra lamented the loss of Fralic at the helm of the community’s annual summer festival. “Brian offers his time selflessly on many projects that promote Liverpool,” she said. “His energy and involvement will be missed and we thank him for his efforts in promoting Privateer Days.”

While the Pride float went off without incident, a seemingly minor event in the Privateer Days beer tent caused Fralic more grief, particularly when it appeared in the pages of Frank Magazine.

“We had won a lot of public support and then there’s a gay catfight in the tent,” Fralic said of a drink-throwing incident chronicled in the Aug. 7 issue of Frank. “The fallout from that was larger than you can imagine. I was just there in the tent doing my job. For everything that we gained because of the parade and the float, which caused so much controversy, I feel like we went back to square one that night.”

Fralic said the decision to incorporate multicultural celebrations into the Privateer Days festival also drew criticism. “Certain members of the community didn’t like that part because they felt it didn’t have anything to do with history,” he said. “But it brought in thousands of new people”

Fralic said the need for “self-care” was a key factor in his decision to resign, but so too was the reputation of the festival. “I didn’t want all this negative stuff to be associated with Privateer Days,” he said. “We work hard at putting a positive image out there and getting people in.”

Outgoing vice-chair Troy Smith said he chose to resign in solidarity with Fralic. “I have seen the many years of hard work that (he) and others have brought forth and I felt it was best to support him as he was stepping away from the festival,” he told the Observer. “I believe this is one of the greatest festivals in Nova Scotia. It’s very sad that a few narrow-minded people with hidden agendas can have such a negative impact.”

Members of the King’s Orange Rangers re-enactment group participate in the 2016 Privateer Days parade. (Scott Costen)

Smith remains hopeful Privateer Days will endure and said he’s still willing to contribute. “I truly hope that others step up and continue the great success that we have seen over the past number of years,” he said. “I will continue to support the festival and do what I can to help the next group of executives.”

Queens County Museum director Linda Rafuse said her organization has been involved in Privateer Days the last three years and enjoyed a good working relationship with Fralic. She’s concerned that, without the festival, the museum could lose a high-profile opportunity to showcase Liverpool’s colonial and privateering heritage.

Museum officials run the festival’s history committee, helping to coordinate a historical encampment at Fort Point Lighthouse Park, tours of the community’s Old Burial Grounds, long boat excursions on the Liverpool waterfront and a colonial market at the main festival site. The museum would not be able to expand its involvement to compensate for the loss of Fralic and the executive commitee, Rafuse said. “We can only handle the history component that we’re already doing.”

Privateer Days has existed, in one form or another, since at least the 1960’s, Rafuse said. “It was always a celebration of the history of our town.” The Privateer Days Commission was first incorporated in 1981, according to the Nova Scotia registry of joint stock companies.

While attendance and economic impact figures are not measured, Privateer Days is undoubtedly one of the most popular and successful annual events in Queens County. Festival goers, vendors, musicians, artisans and others descend on Liverpool each year to participate.

“It’s been a big community event for a number of years,” Fralic said. “It’s what we use to promote Queens County, draw people in. I don’t think people will recognize the importance unless it goes away.”

Mayor David Dagley, in an email to the Observer, described the summer festival as a “major event in Queens.” He said he was unaware of “any recent potential executive changes,” but noted departures from the executive committee have “the potential to impact the existing knowledge base” of the organization.

Although he’s resigning at the end of the month, Fralic said he’s willing to help new volunteers transition into their roles. “I’m not going to leave anybody high and dry,” he said. “We’re very proud of what we’ve done. We have no debt. Everything is paid for. The grants are in place for next year. We leave it in much better shape than it was when we took over.”