Canadian Heritage eyes Canada Day festivities at LeBreton Flats

Canada Day fireworks
Canada Day fireworks

After last year’s Canada Day bash on Parliament Hill was scrapped due to the pandemic, the federal agency responsible for the annual celebrations says it is looking at various options for this year’s event ​– including a large stage with all-day programming at LeBreton Flats and a “musical pyrotechnics” show featuring fireworks and hundreds of drones.

The department of Canadian Heritage is currently seeking bids for a contractor to provide pyrotechnics, fireworks, music and a minimum of 200 drones for the performance on the evening of July 1. 

The request for proposals says the show, which can last up to 12 minutes, must be “spectacular, colourful and eye-catching for spectators.”

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While noting there will be no stage on Parliament Hill due to the Centre Block renovation project, Canadian Heritage says it “will propose revised and varied programming for visitors who come to Parliament Hill throughout the day and in the evening.”

That suggests the department believes there’s at least a chance that Ottawa will be in a position to host public celebrations by the time the country’s 154th birthday rolls around. 

Safety the top priority

In an email to OBJ this week, spokesperson Caroline Czajkowski said Canadian Heritage is “closely monitoring the recommendations and the health and safety measures of public health authorities.” She said the department is “exploring various options” for Canada Day festivities and will provide more details as summer approaches.

“In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the government’s priority is the safety of Canadians,” Czajkowski said.

While the door to some sort of Canada Day party might be open a crack, local tourism officials aren’t popping the champagne just yet. They say a lot has to happen ​​​– including more widespread vaccinations ​– before the industry can even think of hosting major events that attract tens of thousands of spectators.

Ottawa Tourism spokesperson Jantine Van Kregten said Canadian Heritage officials are likely preparing for a best-case scenario and will scale back their plans should public health authorities continue to deem large crowds unsafe.

“It definitely offers some hope,” she said. “We need to stay positive and plan for recovery, whatever form that takes. So much is out of our control, but we can spend some time thinking about best-case scenarios and then planning for every other scenario.”

Van Kregten said she’s confident fireworks, for example, could be enjoyed while following COVID-19 protocols such as physical distancing. 

“When you think about it, you don’t have to stay in one spot only to see fireworks,” she said. “It’s not like (watching) a band. I think there’s ways to promote that – you can be in different locations.”

But Steve Ball, the president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association, doesn’t see his industry bouncing back until a much bigger chunk of the population has had the vaccine and feels comfortable with travelling again.

“As long as we’re promoting stay-at-home, hotels are going to continue to stay empty.”

“If we’re able to meet as groups, I think the hotels will benefit, but up until that point, it doesn’t really matter what activities there are,” he said. “As long as we’re promoting stay-at-home, hotels are going to continue to stay empty.” 

Van Kregten said Ottawa is “lucky” because it’s within easy driving distance of the country’s two largest cities, making the city a natural destination for a huge potential crop of visitors with a pent-up desire to jump in their cars and hit the road once the pandemic abates.

“That makes us perhaps a little better off than some locations that depend heavily on international travel or U.S. travel,” she noted, adding the agency is holding off on launching any big promotional campaigns under the coronavirus situation is more stable.  

“I think we’re watching closely to see what happens in Toronto and Montreal to when we could be a little more proactive in those markets, but we’re not quite there yet. It’s tough. It’s uncharted territory.”

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