Port Rowan’s Bayfest cancelled because of pandemic

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Bayfest of Port Rowan is the latest victim of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

The Bayfest committee has announced that the 19th annual Labour Day weekend festival has been cancelled. In a post on its website, the committee says complications arising from public health directives have accumulated to the point where this year’s festival is no longer feasible.

“It is disheartening for us, as it is for our community, but we want to keep the safety and health of our community our top priority,” the committee says.

“With no clear outline on when people will be able to gather in groups – let alone large settings such as a community festival – the committee cannot properly plan for an event of this scale.”

The Bayfest committee knew cancellation was inevitable when Norfolk County said it has stopped issuing special-event permits till at least Sept. 7. On May 14, event treasurer Erin Friesen said the committee’s inability to fundraise was also a factor.


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Events such as a fashion show and assorted banquets have raised money for Bayfest in the past. Due to the open-ended nature of public-health orders limiting gatherings to five people or less, the Bayfest committee cannot make plans in this area.

Merchants who benefit from the busy weekend also donate generously. With many of these businesses closed and struggling, Friesen says this support is unavailable as well.

“You don’t want to ask these businesses to donate,” Friesen said. “They may not have the funds this year.”

Port Rowan merchant Cindy Vanderstar, a member of Norfolk’s tourism and economic development advisory committee, says the cancellation is another blow to members of the Long Point Country Chamber of Commerce.

“One of the good things about Bayfest is it extends our season,” Vanderstar said. “The next one to consider is `Shop the Shore,’ which extends our season into November. Is that on the chopping block too?

“But the cancellation of Bayfest – it’s another hit. We have to consider the health of the community first, but yeah — the economy.”

Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele was disappointed to learn that Bayfest has joined the list of events in Norfolk falling by the wayside.

“Because it is a September event, I thought we’d get away with it,” Masschaele said. “But apparently not. It’s unfortunate for the people in Ward 1. It’s our big event. We have fewer big events in a year than other communities. But I know they’ll understand that this is part of fighting COVID-19.

“There are so many volunteer hours in this. It’s a shame when that goes to waste.”

Bayfest grew out of Port Rowan’s Tomato Fest, which was established more than 30 years ago. The name was changed to Bayfest in 2001.

Popular events over the three-day festival in the past have included a parade, a dog show, a baby contest, a soap box derby, an ice-cream eating contest, a talent show and fireworks.