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Can-Am Days | celebrating 50 years of friendship to Myrtle Beach area

Snowbirds visit the Grand Strand every year from December to April, but the area opens its doors even wider for a few weeks in March, welcoming Canadian and American visitors to Canadian-American Days. This year marks the event's 50th anniversary.

The event began in 1961 as Canada Days, which were meant to attract Canadian families who were on Easter Week, a school holiday in Canada, according to Nora Hembree, public relations coordinator for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. In 1963, the name changed to Can-Am Days and has blossomed into a nine-day celebration for Canadians, snowbirds and locals. It now attracts as many as 100,000 Canadian visitors.

This year's event takes place March 12-20, which will coincide with all three St. Patrick's Day festivals that are being held March 12 in North Myrtle Beach, at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach and in downtown Myrtle Beach.

"Can-Am Days celebrates our snowbird visitors, who escape the cold and snow for the moderate climate and wealth of attractions in the Myrtle Beach area," said Brad Dean, the chamber's president and CEO, in a news release. "Many of these visitors have been traveling to our destination for decades, and we strive to create new memories for each generation with each festival and event."

Hembree said what used to be the opening event this year, which was formerly held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, has been moved to Coastal Grand mall. The Canadian-American Days Festival Expo will be held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on March 17 and includes live entertainment, exhibits and drawings for prizes.

Other highlights feature the popular concert series, with No Strings Attached and The Top Hat Matching Orchestra on March 14 and the 282nd Army Band on March 18. The concerts and the expo are all free events. No Strings Attached is a 20-piece band that plays an array of tunes, and the Top Hat Marching Orchestra is from Ontario and is considered one of Canada's premier show bands.

The 18th annual South Strand Wildlife and History Day is set for March 17 at Huntington Beach State Park. It is a family friendly event that offers entertainment, exhibits and activities and is paired with the Taste of Murrells Inlet. Different samples from area eateries will be available; the event is $5 for adults, $3.25 for senior citizens and $3 for kids ages 6-15.

An event that is picking up steam is the Battle at the Beach golf tournament, now in its third year. It's slated as a friendly competition between Canadian and American golfers, and this year it will be played at Prestwick Country Club.

New at the golf tournament this year is a festival for nonparticipants, which includes vendors, giveaways, food, entertainment and free golf lessons.