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Fireworks over the Little Falls Harbor during Canal Celebration.

By Dave Warner

The City of Little Falls invites you to attend Canal Celebration. The festival is in its 36th year and celebrates the community, heritage, and spirit that makes Little Falls a unique place in the Mohawk Valley. It will run from August 7, 2023, through August 13, 2023.

The beginning idea for the festival started with local business leaders who wanted to showcase Little Falls, what it had to offer, its importance geographically in the State, and its relation to the Erie Canal.

Tony DeLuca, chairperson for the event, stated, “They wanted a vehicle to bring people into Little Falls to benefit the businesses. The business association was teetering, and they didn’t have a strong local presence at that time, but the people that remained in the group thought that a celebration would bring people into town, see what we had, look at the storefronts, and realize that we had a lot to offer.”

The group also felt that focusing on the Canal was unique, so the name Canal Celebration seemed to fit.

“The group created a committee that worked on different aspects, including themes, programs, and dates. They settled on an August date. It started as ‘maybe let’s do a weekend,’ but as ideas surfaced, it grew into a ‘let’s set aside a whole week,” he said.

DeLuca said they scanned the calendar to ensure they didn’t interfere with other events in the area and settled on the second week of August. “It looked like August was a good month, and they stuck with it, so here we are.”

He said that it was a growing festival each year, which had a few bumps in the road. “It was driven by volunteerism. There wasn’t any paid staff to organize this thing.”

As more and more volunteers got involved, more ideas evolved. “Either the person with the idea did it, or they rounded up some friends to help. So all these little pockets of program people started working on craft festivals, parades, and entertainment. At its height, we had an organization with a chairman, a finance person, and others. We had to raise the money for everything we did,” stated DeLuca.

They sold t-shirts, ads in the program book, and other things to make sure there were enough funds to pull off the event.

“All the different committees had a chair, from program to entertainment to brochure, and it grew and grew. There was a lot of activity because there were a lot of volunteers,” he said.

Over the years, though, as the volunteers were asked to do more with less and less, the volunteers faded away. As a result, some of the programs fell by the wayside.

“So now we’re at a point where extraneous things like the pandemic impacted it. We were probably at the smallest group ever handling the event when it hit.”

DeLuca said that the pandemic worsened the situation. “We tried to keep things going the best we could with the guidelines that we had, but after that pandemic pause, we’ve seen a situation where people are not re-engaging. Not just the general public coming to the  festival, but also volunteers hesitating to reengage.”

He continued, “That’s where we are today. We’re trying to rekindle the interest and bring it back to its past year’s grandeur, and we hope this year is even better than last year.”

Here are some of the daily featured events:

Wednesday, August 9:

36th Annual Little Falls Canal Celebration Fireworks Spectacular “Thunder on the River” at Rotary Park (marina) features live music by Moss Back Mule, food trucks, Rotary’s duck dash fundraiser, bounce houses, and more.

Thursday, August 10:

“Big Kids” Adult Fishing Derby and Mike’s Cruise In car show at Rotary Park (marina).

The “Big Kids” Adult Fishing Derby is an annual Little Falls Canal Celebration event that showcases the numerous species of fish that inhabit the waters of the Mohawk River/Erie Canal between Locks 17 and 18. Cash prizes are awarded for the heaviest of each species caught.

The derby is a catch & release format that promotes wildlife conservation of the local waterway. Door prizes are awarded to participants following the tournament, financed by the continuous generous support of Feldmeier Industries. The various fish species caught will be displayed for all to see in an observation tank and later released.

Cruise In by Mike features local favorite cars, trucks, and anything with wheels and goes from 5-8 pm.

Friday, August 11:

Eastern Park Craft Fair & Farmers Market from 2-10 pm on East Main Street. Local and regional crafters with their favorite wares. Food and entertainment & live music.

The Grande Parade goes down Main and Albany Streets and starts at 6 pm, rain or shine.

Following the parade, Kids on Main will be in front of M&T Bank, featuring a 3-on-3 youth basketball tournament, kid’s games, a DJ, and food.

The Elks host live music with the “Pine Ridge Mountain Band” and their annual party on the deck. Rock Valley Brewing Co. has live music with “Rev-D” featuring local musician Phil Scarano.

Saturday, August 12:

The day starts with the 33rd Annual John Serow Memorial Youth Fishing Derby at Lock 17 with a 7 am registration. Canal Place will be alive with Chicks Along the Canal in Sterzinar Park, and there’s an Iron Man classic powerlifting competition at the Youth & Family Center. The craft fair continues in Eastern Park, and Veterans Memorial Park hosts Vintage Baseball. The Dr. Tony Piana Annual Rotary Club Golf Tournament is at the Mohawk Valley Golf & Event Center, and the Little Falls Farmers Market is in the M&T parking lot. The Elks host live music with “The Posers” and their annual party. Rock Valley Brewing Co. has live music with national recording artist “J. B. Aaron.”

Sunday, August 13:

Burke (Western) Park features the 36th annual Little Falls Canal Celebration Car Show while the Elks host their famous chicken BBQ at noon. The craft fair continues in Eastern Park, and there will be live music at the American Legion Post 31 with the “Pine Ridge Mountain Band.”

A full event schedule is available below, with locations and times for the many programs which happen through the generosity of donors, sponsors, volunteers, businesses, and community members.

The Little Falls Youth & Family Center and the City of Little Falls lend a hand every step of the way to ensure the festival has the resources it needs to provide a fun and safe festival.

This project was made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature and administered by CNY Arts.

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