Blues revival: One of the city’s biggest festivals gets funding injection from feds

Ottawa Bluesfest, which has struggled along with countless other festivals and attractions during the pandemic, is getting a boost from the federal government that will see it expand its facilities and increase its capacity for high-profile shows.

The 10-day, multi-stage music festival will receive $9.8 million through the Major Festivals and Events Support Initiative, administered through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. The announcement was made Thursday by the minister responsible for FedDev Ontario, Helena Jaczek. 

“Major festivals and tourist attractions in Ottawa are vital to the local economy for Ottawa residents and visitors,” said Jaczek. “Ottawa Bluesfest attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually … bringing in significant revenue and creating jobs throughout the region.”

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The funds will help the festival return to its pre-pandemic scale and will include the expansion of the main stage area from its current location on the grounds of the Canadian War Museum to the adjacent Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway, as well as the purchase of a new portable stage.

“After a difficult two years of Ottawa Bluesfest being cancelled due to the pandemic, this contribution … is going to ensure the viability and growth of the festival in 2022 and beyond,” said Bluesfest executive director Mark Monahan in a news release. “With this support, we look forward to seeing Ottawa Bluesfest come back bigger and better than ever.”

Significant economic hit

The cancellation of Bluesfest in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic resulted in significant loss of revenue for the local economy. Before the pandemic, festivals, including Bluesfest, brought over 300,000 visitors to the city and accounted for $220 million in annual spending. Billboard Magazine tagged Bluesfest as one of the top 10 music festivals in the world. 

The festival tried alternate formats during the pandemic, including drive-in concerts and a series of live and pre-recorded performances streamed to guests at participating Ottawa hotels. This year it will run from July 7-17 at LeBreton Flats, with acts such as Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette and Rage Against the Machine.

Three other Ottawa attractions will benefit from the federal government’s Tourism Relief Fund, it was also announced. 

Haunted Walks will receive $98,000 to introduce new programming and add historic sites to the company’s tour offerings.

“As a creative tourism business, it quickly became clear we would not survive the pandemic with innovation alone,” said Glen Shackleton, founder of Haunted Walks. “The investment … was a critical piece in the puzzle of how to adapt to survive and thrive during the most challenging period in our company’s long history.”

Alicja Confections will receive $100,000 to support improvements to its new factory location, as well as the purchase of new operating equipment to resume tours and chocolate-making experiences.

Escape Tours and Rentals will receive $53,000 to expand its current offerings and develop a new paddle-sport rental facility.

The Major Festivals and Events Support Initiative is a $200-million national fund to support major festivals and events that have been hit hard by COVID-19. The $500-million Tourism Relief Fund helps tourism-oriented businesses and organizations recover from the pandemic and prepare for future growth. FedDev Ontario is delivering nearly $120 million of the fund across southern Ontario.

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