Calgary

Holiday tradition bittersweet for outgoing Banff mayor as she reflects on time in town hall

Karen Sorensen makes hundreds of cookies every Christmas for town staff. This year is her last as Banff’s mayor.

Karen Sorensen makes hundreds of cookies every Christmas for town staff

Banff's mayor on why she baked hundreds of cookies each year for town staff

CBC News Calgary

4 months ago
1:03
Karen Sorensen has made cookies for town staff every Christmas but this year will be the last for the decade-long tradition, as she isn't running for re-election. 1:03

It's her mother's recipe — the Christmas cookies she spends hours making for town staff every December. 

Karen Sorensen started the tradition in 2010 when she went from being a town councillor, to being elected mayor of Banff, Alta. 

"I make 224 packages with three cookies each and so I need about 700 cookies" Sorensen said. 

Every Christmas, Karen spends a couple of days baking cookies from scratch in her home, to drop them off on the desks at town hall, the fire department, the rec centre and the operations building as a way to say thank you.

"We call them townies — thank your townie. Be grateful, whether they're out plowing the snow or making sure you have fresh water to drink or collecting the waste — even the bylaw officer who might have given you a ticket deserves your thanks," Sorensen said. 

After 10 years as mayor and six as a councillor before that, Sorensen isn't running for re-election next year. 

She said it's a decision she made after she won her third term at the helm in 2017.

A meaningful gesture

What she didn't know was a global pandemic would cancel many of her "last" moments in the role, like Canada Day celebrations, Remembrance Day ceremonies — and now is forcing her to adjust her Christmas cookie tradition.  

"I will miss absolutely going and seeing the different departments in their actual workspace and walking up to each of the individual workers as they do their job, and I interrupt them, say Merry Christmas and make sure they get their cookies — that's unfortunate, but in terms of the intention of the gesture, I think it's even more meaningful this year," Sorensen said.

Sorensen's time as mayor has seen its challenges. 

The 2013 flood, some scary fire seasons — one she remembers in particular was 2017, when forest fires nearly threatened the town limits — and now the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen uses her mothers recipe to bake Christmas cookies for town staff each year. (Submitted by Karen Sorensen)

Sorensen said she gets emotional thinking about having to leave. Showing emotion as a woman in politics can be difficult to do.

"I don't know if gender plays a part in it or not, but it does seem that as a female, if I cry or get emotional, somehow it's judged differently. But I do try to be authentic," Sorensen said.

And on this day, as she prepares tiny gift bags with handwritten greetings on them, the 61-year-old is authentic, speaking through tears. 

"It has been such a privilege. It's a very special place in Canada, and it's just been a real privilege to serve and there's no doubt about it, it will be very hard to walk away," Sorensen said. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terri Trembath

Video Journalist

Terri Trembath is a video journalist who joined CBC Calgary in 2008. You can reach her at terri.trembath@cbc.ca.

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