The Wounded Warriors Weekend that was expected to take place in Chilliwack in just a few weeks has been cancelled. The decision was made by the board of directors, and officially announced on Tuesday morning.
The weekend was to be the fourth annual event, and would have drawn in about 250 soldiers, firefighters, paramedics, RCMP and other uniformed members from around the world who are affected by post traumatic stress disorder. Funding for the event relied entirely on partnerships, sponsorships and donations, including a $25,000 grant from the Province of B.C., presented by MLA Laurie Throness.
The WWW Foundation founder and executive director, Blake Emmons, has not replied to a request from The Progress to explain the cancellation.
Emmons, a performer, divides his time between Saskatchewan and Nashville, but visited Chilliwack as recently as Canada Day. He appeared on stage briefly during the community celebrations, to promote the event and announce a partnership with ReLeaf, a local bottled water company.
While this was to be the fourth event Emmons had planned, it was the first time it would be hosted in Chilliwack. In previous years it was held in Nipawin, SK and Slave Lake, AB. A Chilliwack committee of volunteers was working under the direction of Emmons and other Saskatchewan-based board members via phone calls, emails and occasional visits.
Fundraising to date has included several local events over the past eight months, including a Canucks Alumni game at Prospera, a Valentine’s Day gala dinner, a golf tournament, T-shirt sales and numerous pub nights and raffle draws.
It’s not yet clear why the event was cancelled so close to when it would be held, July 31 to Aug. 4. The event was originally intended to be held at the Pacific Regional Training Centre’s grounds, with the attendees staying in the Executive Hotel there. They would have also enjoyed a weekend of rest and relaxation, with opportunities to enjoy local recreation amenities. There was to be no cost to the attendees and their spouses and children.
Throness, who handed over a cheque to the foundation in early May, said he was saddened to learn the event won’t be taking place. But, he added, he has been assured by both the local committee and Emmons that the grant would be returned to the province.
“It’s still a real disappointment,” Throness said. “The volunteers spent a ton of hours already.”
The local volunteers have been meeting since at least December, planning fundraisers, organizing the logistics and looking for sponsors to help make the weekend a success.
“It seemed like everything was a go (on Canada Day),” Throness added. “I’m not sure what happened internally but it’s a sad thing. They said they’re getting some legal advice about how to pay everybody back, but they said we were first in line. Blake Emmons of the foundation has already assured me they have no claim to that money.”
Mayor Sharon Gaetz had been named the unofficial spokesperson for the weekend at a presentation earlier this year, and city staff had been working with the local committee to organize a parade route and other details.
Gaetz had not been informed of the event’s cancellation when contacted by The Progress.
“It’s a real loss for Chilliwack,” she said. “It seems like such a noble cause and something that just resounds in our community.”
It’s not yet clear where all the money that was raised in Chilliwack will be directed. However, a note on the Weekend Foundation’s Facebook page that is attributed to Emmons was posted on Tuesday morning.
“It is with heavy heart that I regret to inform everyone that we were met with some challenges in Chilliwack that have proven to be insurmountable. I have spent the last two days teleconferencing with my Board of Directors,” he said. “We took into consideration all potential avenues and have made the incredibly difficult decision to cancel our Wounded Warriors Weekend event in Chilliwack. We carefully considered the integrity of all concerned when we made our decision and are deeply appreciative of all those who have supported our previous Wounded Warriors Weekends. Unfortunately, we were unable to raise sufficient funds this year to present our Wounded Warriors Weekend in the same manner as in previous years.”
It also notes that they will “press forward” for an event in the future, back in Nipawin where the event was started. He did not thank the local volunteer committee.
Emmons had previously said that it would cost $2,500 for each of the attendees to come to Chilliwack, including airfare, which would have required $500,000 in funding.
The weekend began because Emmons wanted to create a relaxing getaway for soldiers to bond and to help recover from PTSD. The weekend has also gone hand in hand with Kate McEachern’s Long Way Home walk. McEachern is a soldier living with PTSD, currently walking from Nipawin to Chilliwack. She would have been passing over a cheque to the foundation at the weekend, as it was one of her beneficiaries. The details of when and where her walk will now end have not been released.
McEachern, Emmons, and the local committee have not responded to a request for comment.
There have been concerns that the foundation does not have a registered charitable number with Canada Revenue Agency, and instead have been using the number of another organization. It is not listed on the CRA directory of registered charities, despite being in its fourth year.