Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

This is shaping up to be Ottawa's silent spring — and summer's sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

"This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year," Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival's 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa's first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

"We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists," Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

The Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival won't go ahead at the end of June either, and the Festival franco-ontarien has been postponed from mid-June until September.

The 2020 Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival is now cancelled and its inaugural Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Awards ceremony has been postponed until 2021. 

Organizers of Ottawa's Italian Week haven't yet announced their plans.

Nor has one of the region's biggest draws, Bluesfest, though last week organizers issued what amounted to a warning to fans to practise physical distancing or abandon any hope of seeing their favourite artists this summer. It's not at all clear whether the artists booked to perform at the July 9-19 festival are still interested in coming.

The Ottawa Race Weekend has been replaced with a "virtual" challenge for runners, while the Great Glebe Garage Sale has been called off entirely.

Justin Tang/Canadian Press

The Canadian Tulip Festival said bulbs are still being planted, but all events are being moved online. Nor will there be any volunteers, staff or concessions at Dow's Lake this spring.

That's a massive loss for restaurants like Mexicali Rosa's at the nearby Dow's Lake pavilion.

"We wait around for May all year, it's our best month of the year," said co-owner Eli Aramouni, who said he's hoping the restaurant's landlord, the National Capital Commission, will provide some sort of rent relief.

Huge financial hit

Ottawa Tourism is warning the region is going to take a huge financial hit this summer. 

Catherine Callary, the agency's vice-president of destination development, said visitors spent $2.2 billion on hotels, restaurants and shopping last year. Cut that in half in 2020. 

"Our projections are looking at somewhere in the realm of over a billion dollars that we will not be seeing coming into our community through visitor spending this year," Callory said.

Nevertheless, Callory said the tourism industry is fully behind Ottawa Public Health's efforts to keep the people safe during the pandemic.

'Soul of our city' lost

The ban on gatherings in a city that prides itself on its vibrant festival scene hits especially close to home for the executive director of umbrella organization Ottawa Festivals.

"Festivals are the soul of our city," said Carole Anne Piccinin.

Piccinin said public safety is a priority for festival organizers, but that doesn't make what's happening any easier to take.

"It means the loss of culture, the loss of economic vibrancy," she said.

Piccinin pointed out most festivals are non-profits that also engage in free events, education and charitable giving, and said she hopes the Ontario government will lend them a hand so they'll be ready to resume when the pandemic ends.