Bigger isn’t better when it comes to hosting festivals during a pandemic.
Most large-scale events held annually in the spring and summer will likely be cancelled again this year because of COVID-19, said Shannon Paiva, Chatham-Kent’s supervisor of tourism development.
tap here to see other videos from our team.
But some smaller events are returning to the calendar as flexible organizers find ways to follow all health and safety rules.
“A lot of people are looking at how they can continue to hold their events, whether they should push it back to the fall or reimagine it in a virtual way,” Paiva said. “We will see events cancelled, as we’ve already started to see, but at the same time that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be a summer of absolutely nothing.
“It’ll be similar to last year in that I think that a lot of the larger-scale events won’t happen simply because of the numbers that the province is allowing in terms of gatherings. But what we have seen this year is a creative alternative that people are putting in place.”
Many museums and galleries are reopening with appointment-only visits, she said. Event organizers are looking at timed-entry tickets as a way to keep a tight rein on how many guests attend while also following safety guidelines.
“I think that we haven’t seen complete cancellations yet in a lot of things because people are starting to look at, well, how can they make it happen? Or they’re looking at, what can we do to make it happen in a different way?” Paiva said.
It’s not known if the RetroFest classic car celebration will return in May to downtown Chatham after being cancelled last year, and no decision has been made on holding the Wallaceburg Antique Motor and Boat Outing in August, WAMBO chairperson Bill Wolsing said.
The Thamesville Threshing Festival scheduled for June has already been cancelled. So has the Boulevard of Dreams car show in Erieau.
“We won’t see absolutely everything return,” Paiva said. “We will see many of the large-scale events not happen.
“What we’re hoping in tourism is that while maybe they can’t hold that event, we’d love to see them take that event virtual and online so that maybe they’re sharing pictures of events past and still getting and building that momentum, so that when the event happens again next year or the year after, people have still embraced what we could do anyway.”
For example, the 97th annual Buxton Homecoming in North Buxton went ahead on Labour Day weekend last year with online events, such as a history conference, musical performances and a worship service. The popular parade was replaced by video clips of previous parades and interviews about the homecoming’s history.
“What I’d like to see is that this doesn’t stay as simply a COVID pivot, but it’s something that we can continue past COVID, so there’s really a hybrid of virtual experiences and in-person experiences because it only helps any business out there build their economic impact and footprint,” Paiva said.
Drive-in events are also being held, she said. The Chatham-Kent Crime Stoppers’ fundraising concert will be a socially distanced drive-in show July 15 at Pain Court Park.
Blenheim’s Art in the Park was replaced last August by Discover Art Blenheim as artists and craftspeople set up displays at 22 locations around town. Guests could pick up a map and visit the booths, many of which were in socially distanced clusters.
“We’re seeing people really take creative choices to make events happen so that people can get out and appreciate what we have, just in a different way this year again,” Paiva said.
The Mitchell’s Bay Open has already announced its return July 9-10. The focus will be on the bass tournament, so organizers have cancelled the anglers’ dinner and the children’s event. Spectators will not be allowed.
The Great Erie Salmon and Walleye Hunt based at Erieau Marina will also be held July 1-18.
It’s easier to hold fishing tournaments than other events while still following COVID-19 safety rules and Ontario’s size limits on gatherings, Paiva said.
If organizers have questions about what they’re allowed to do, they should contact the public health unit. They should also contact Chatham-Kent’s special events co-ordinator, if the event is to be held on municipal property, and the tourism department for suggestions on how to proceed, Paiva said.
“There are so many opportunities to create events in a different way,” she said.
However, tourism officials can’t say when restrictions might be lifted and what the rules for gatherings will be weeks or months from now.
“Everything changes day to day,” Paiva said. “We just don’t have those answers, so we’re just encouraging people to stay positive and think about COVID-friendly ways to do it. They are possible.”