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Canton Labor Day parade cancelled

Even 40 years before this September, 1946 photo, Canton’s Labor Day parade had made memories for thousands of spectators in Haywood County. The Log photo Even 40 years before this September, 1946 photo, Canton’s Labor Day parade had made memories for thousands of spectators in Haywood County. The Log photo

Canton’s elected leaders want to ensure that the public knows the last remaining element of the Town of Canton’s 114th annual Labor Day festival — Monday’s parade — has indeed been cancelled. 

A story published Aug. 30 by The Mountaineer claimed the parade was still on for Monday, Sept. 6, despite everything the town has been through with flooding from Tropical Storm Fred.

However, in the immediate aftermath of the flood, Canton officials were hesitant to make such a statement, with one speaking off the record and saying it wasn’t likely going to be feasible. 

Aldermen had spent lots of time over the preceding month debating the wisdom of holding the festival, believed to be the oldest in the South, because of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the county. 

First, aldermen met for nearly three hours on Aug. 9, discussing whether or not to move forward with the events, which were to feature country superstars Diamond Rio and bluegrass legend Doyle Lawson as headliners. 

Days later, after deciding to hold the festival, aldermen deliberated for two more hours on Aug. 12 and ultimately decided to cancel Lawson’s performance, along with all the others on Monday, in the name of safety. 

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At that time, the parade was still scheduled to take place, but then came the devastating floodwaters that inundated critical town infrastructure and displaced police and fire department employees, who were all working extra shifts to ensure public safety as relief efforts — and state and federal politicians — flowed into town. 

Just hours after the premature Mountaineer story was published — apparently without consulting any Canton Alderman or Alderwoman — the entire board voted unanimously to cancel the parade. 

“I struggled with what I was going to do, and you know this is a tradition, the Labor Day parade, but what has made it a tradition have been the people and it’s because of the people that we have had this tradition,” said Alderman Dr. Ralph Hamlett, who made the motion to cancel the parade. “When you think about the families who have lost so much, particularly the families who have lost loved ones — six families — it would be tone deaf. It would be wrong.”

Alderwoman Kristina Smith, who joined Hamlett in voting to cancel the parade, said she didn’t want to do it, but plenty of good reasons compelled her to cancel. 

“With this storm and its aftermath, everything is evolving. We’re doing the best we can with the information we have at the time,” Smith said. “With [Hurricane] Ida coming and the potential for even more damage in our county, as well as the fact that we’re waiting on a federal emergency declaration, it just felt disingenuous to have a parade right now.”

Smith said that only about 20 entrants had applied for spots in the parade. 

In fact, one of the original concerns voiced over the flood was that many of the usual entrants, including churches, were busy coordinating their own relief efforts and wouldn’t have time to think about building, transporting and staffing a float. 

“It was with a heavy heart that I voted to cancel it, but it wasn’t going to be the parade that this town deserved,” said Smith. 

Hamlett also remarked on the incongruity of holding a parade meant to honor the labor movement by asking already-exhausted first responders to help put on a celebration. 

“Besides the people who have lost so much, we have had staff and police and firefighters, emergency workers in the town of Canton who have been on call ever since this happened,” Hamlett said. “And what better way to honor the tradition on Labor Day than to let these folks take a day of rest or a weekend of rest — if they can — so they can be with their families to catch their breath, maybe refresh just a bit, not all the way, but refresh just a bit instead of having to come out and marshal the parade, and police blocking traffic, and staff cleaning up.”

Hamlett’s motion passed the board by a margin of 4 to 0, with votes from Smith, Mayor Pro Tem Gail Mull and Alderman Tim Shepard. 

Mayor Zeb Smathers, who only votes in the case of a tie, said he supports the board’s decision but declined to give his opinion on whether or not the parade should have been held. 

The Mountaineer’s story has since been updated to excise the inaccurate information. 

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