After a three year hiatus, the royalty from Altona’s sister city Emerald, Australia, has returned to the community as part of the annual exchange between the two town’s respective festivals. Altona's Manitoba Sunflower Festival is this weekend, and 2022 Central Highlands Sunflower (CHS) Festival Queen Piper Rodda and 2020 Queen Grace Simpson arrived in Southern Manitoba earlier this week to begin their visit as representatives of their hometown Emerald. 

The last visit of CHS festival royalty to Altona was in July 2019, with members of the 2019 and 2020 Manitoba Sunflower Festival royalty finally having their chance to visit Emerald in April of this year. 

"It's amazing to be here so soon after the festival, it feels like it was yesterday," said 20 year old Rodda who was just crowned in April. "I'm studying a Bachelor of Secondary Education, majoring in Drama and Psychology, and I also work full time at a glass and aluminum company as a receptionist."

"It's been a long-awaited journey to get here, but we're finally here," shared 22 year old Simpson. "I was born and bred at Emerald, so lived there my whole life. Recently, the last few years, I've been working in child care, mainly working with kids with special needs, but this year I've started a new job with a contracting company in the mines."

It has been essentially two years since Simpson was crowned, and she shared how the pandemic arrived just before the 2020 Central Highlands Sunflower Festival was to happen.

"One of the requirements is we pick a fundraiser, lots of events and stuff like that too," she explained. "Money for my charity (was going to) Bush Kids which is a community that helps kids outside of town, and stuff like that, on farms and whatnot. Everything was planned, ready to go, like pretty much a week before the festival, and then COVID hit, and everything just shut down. It was very sad to hear and very different, but luckily enough, later on in the year, we just did a small gathering, which was nice, and still had the crowning." 

And now, with both Simpson and Rodda on Canadian soil getting ready to be part of the biggest event of the year in Altona, what does it mean to be doing this together?

"It's amazing," said 2022 Queen Rodda. "It's a bit scary doing that big travel stint, so it's been really good to get to know Grace."

Simpson echoed similar thoughts.

"It's really good, because it was such a last minute decision to go, like lots of our families couldn't come with us, which was really sad, but to be able to have the two of us, so we still have someone with on the way, which is really good," she added.

Looking ahead to Manitoba Sunflower Festival weekend, including the 2022 Queen Pageant crowning Saturday night, both are very excited for what's to come.

You can hear about that, and the advice both Piper and Grace had for this year's Queen contestants in CFAM Radio 950 Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner's conversation with the two below.