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Victoria Day Parade’s new leader marches in step with late patriarch

Kelly Kurta is marching to the beat of her own drum, but Ron Butlin is never far from her thoughts.
Victoria Day Parade route map
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Kelly Kurta is marching to the beat of her own drum, but Ron Butlin is never far from her thoughts.

Kurta stepped in as organizer of Victoria’s parades last fall, after the death of Butlin, 89, general manager of the Greater Victoria Festival Society, who had overseen the Victoria Day and Christmas parades for 21 years.

Kurta, 45, marched with the Oak Bay High School band in both the Island Farms Victoria Day Parade and Island Farms Santa’s Light Parade. She and her family had a close personal relationship with Butlin, whom she called Grandpa Ronnie.

Putting together her first Victoria Day Parade, she said, was “terrifying.”

But Barbara Coultish, president of the festival society board, said Kurta has done an admirable job. “She’s added a lot to the parade.”

That includes a flypast by a Sea King helicopter from 443 Squadron in Butlin’s memory.

Kurta said the helicopter is scheduled to fly over the Gorge waterway just before the parade start time of 9 a.m., hover above the Inner Harbour and head north over Douglas Street.

“Then he’s going to turn around and, at 9 a.m., he’s going to drop at Douglas and Finlayson to 500 feet, and he’s going to go low and slow and loud all the way down Douglas Street to honour Ron.”

Perhaps the ultimate tribute to Kurta’s efforts is that the public won’t really notice any difference from other parades, said Coultish.

Parade day for Kurta will begin with a 5:45 a.m. breakfast for volunteers, then on to the marshalling area in the Mayfair Shopping Centre parking lot.

She will have with her two binders with lists of all parade participants — 113 general entries and 16 military entries.

In all, Kurta has about 50 volunteers in the fold, including a “phenomenal” group of community-leadership students from Mount Douglas Secondary. Local Lions Club members organize entries at Mayfair before they head out on the parade route.

Kurta has advice for parade-watchers this year — stick around until it’s over.

“We kind of made a joke. We said, ‘We’re going to rock it to the end,’ so the last entry is Atomique Productions and Rock the Shores.”

The parade roster also includes life-size puppets, courtesy of Tim Gosley, and members of the Songhees First Nation leading an entry from Morioka, Japan, marking 30 years as a sister city of Victoria. In front will be the military contingent, with the Naden Band leading the way. Capt. Steve Waddell, CFB Esquimalt’s base commander, will be at the reviewing stand at city hall.

Also on parade day, the 5th B.C. Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery will fire a 21-gun salute at the legislature at noon to mark Queen Victoria’s birthday.

Those arriving early can listen to the Victoria Concert Band perform in front of city hall at Douglas Street and Pandora Avenue from 8 to 9 a.m.

The parade should take less than three hours to complete, Kurta said.

Coultish said Kurta has worked long and hard to make the parade happen, but Kurta would rather spread the credit around. “All the kudos go to Ron,” she said.

She said she has done a few things differently, such as using the computer technology that Butlin never embraced, but is honoured to continue with a foundation that he established over many years.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

Victoria Day Parade route map

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