Used book sale marks 40 years - May 17, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
Last week’s Blyth Festival used book sale raised more than $7,000 for the theatre group, making the 40th annual iteration of the event a success.
The book sale started as a smaller part of a larger event, according to long-time volunteer and Blyth Festival board member Lynda McGregor who has been there since day one.
The event started when fellow board member and local artist Rob Tetu proposed an antique and craft show, something he felt would prove to be a good fundraiser for the organization.
As the mother of a two-year-old at that point, McGregor said she was at home, which gave her some time to help Tetu organize the event, which was held on the floor of the arena.
Susan McLean, a board member and part of the family that owned McLean Publishing, said she had used books that could be sold through the event and a table was set up to accommodate that at the event.
Another board member, which may have been Susan Howson according to McGregor, suggested setting up a bake table “as a little extra”.
“I’m not sure if it was the first year or the following year, but we had a great rhubarb crop,” she said. “My mother-in-law made rhubarb custard pies that I’ve always thought were good, so I made some and brought them in.”
Rhubarb pie has always been a staple of the sale, McGregor explained, because people seem to love them and, financially, they’re an easy project to tackle, which is of paramount importance for a fundraiser.
The second year of the event saw McGregor pregnant, so she wasn’t able to help as much, leaving Tetu to take command of the event, she said. After that second year, however, the volunteers looked at the project and the only profitable components were the bake table and the book sale.
“The antiques and crafts just weren’t turning a profit,” she said. “We let them go and decided to focus on the book sale and the bake table.”
McGregor said she believed the third year of the event was when it was moved to Memorial Hall, which helped to illustrate the cause supported by the book sale. That year, the north addition to the hall was the target of the fundraising, including the change rooms and accessible washroom.
McGregor said that Marian Doucette took over the event after that and, having worked in a library, she was a natural choice for the position.
“Her mother Verna helped dust the books and sort them and Marian was in charge of the sale for years,” McGregor said. “She added guest speakers, like Timothy Findley one year.”
McGregor said that most of her memories of the event revolve around the people involved, like Alice Munro and her husband Gerald Fremlin, who she remembers as wonderful volunteers, especially once the sale was done.
“They would open a window and just start to pitch the boxes of books outside to get them out of the building,” she said. “During the 1980s, we tried to keep the books year-to-year. We used an old schoolhouse in Morris [Township] to store them.”
McGregor said that, even with great volunteers like Munro and Fremlin, there was difficulty in maintaining that kind of collection.
“The amount of human power to sort, store, box, unpack and clean the books was immense,” she said. “It became difficult as time went on.”
Eventually, it was decided that books not sold would go to other book sales or groups that would welcome them. This year, for example, the books were donated to local thrift stores.
In the early 1980s, McGregor said the group began baking the pies on site instead of having volunteers cook the pies in their home. The tradition continues today.
“The smell of the pies baking brought people in off the street,” she said.
While the pies are the longest-standing tradition as far as baked goods go, there have been many other foodstuffs sold at the used book sale over the year, including miniature pies which were introduced this year. In the 1980s, however, there were sandwiches.
Volunteers prepared ham, egg salad and tuna sandwiches and, like many aspects of the Festival, those sandwiches were a product of community spirit.
“Don Scrimgeour donated the ham,” McGregor said. “I could just walk up to him and he would have ham delivered. Lois van Vliet always made the eggs, and had them chopped and ready the day of the event. I bet I wouldn’t have even needed to call her to have her show up with her eggs.”
Thanks to the great people involved like Scrimgeour and van Vliet, McGregor says she doesn’t remember the long hours preparing for and working at the event, just the wonderful community event that results from it.
“That’s the true value of an event, a community event,” she said. “You get to work alongside people you otherwise might not have even met.”
She said that community groups like the Blyth Lions Club as well as different church events are a testament to that and, just like their events, the book sale draws a large number of people in.
Much of the success of the event can be tied back to the volunteers, but without the event’s co-ordinators, it wouldn’t exist.
McGregor pointed to people like Jerry and Carol McDonnell and Marg Webster as a reason for the event’s success. She also lauded Blyth Festival Audience Services Manager Lisa Harper for her success in taking over the event.
The event provides an opportunity for the community to give to the Festival, but it also provides a chance for the board of directors to be involved in fundraising in a hands-on and meaningful way, McGregor explained.
“The event is run by volunteers and the board of directors is welcome to be a part of it,” she said. “Does it make a lot of money? No. It brings in thousands, but there is a lot of work for that money.”
“The value is the people coming together, showing that the Festival is still here and working with the community and keeping it in people’s minds before the season starts,” she said.
The sale raises the profile of the Festival, so, while it may never raise $20,000 a year, the continuum of the sale is proof of the Festival’s longevity.
Having the book sale happen while the box office is open has also proved to be good synergy, McGregor said, as people have bought tickets when there for the book sale, or visited the book sale when they normally might not have.
Personally, the event also teaches McGregor something new every year, most often in the kitchen.
“I always learn something, and it’s usually from the real pie-makers and cooks,” she said. “I’ve learned different ways to crimp a pie, different ways to put the ingredients together and other tips and tricks.”
McGregor said the skills that the volunteers bring are different every every year, but always valuable.
“The value of those skills was magnified 1,000 times over last week,” she said. “At Trinity Anglican Church, we prepared 80 pie shells but, by Friday, I knew we would run out of them.”
At that point, McGregor saw herself having a long night at home preparing pie shells, but two of the volunteers stepped up and volunteered to help out.
“They said they weren’t doing anything at that particular moment and asked for the ingredients,” McGregor said. “I trust those two implicitly and my trust wasn’t misplaced because, between Friday and Saturday, they made 30 more pie shells.”
The effort was worthwhile, McGregor said, as between the smaller pies introduced this year and the regular large pies, the sale set a new record for pies sold.
The sale was labelled a success by Harper who said that slightly more than $7,000 was raised through the event.
The sale brought in so many book donations that organizers literally couldn’t take any more as the event drew near and had signage up to that effect.
Harper said that the 30 volunteers, both in the book sale and in the kitchen, made the event a success and she was very happy with the results.