Popular Ontario festivals in danger of being cancelled


Published March 22, 2024 at 12:51 pm

This weekend's Hamilton Latino Festival made space for Oakville vendors after a storm destroyed tents, food and goods at the Oakville Latino Festival earlier this month. OLF PHOTO

Some of the festivals everyone looks forward to in Ontario could be in jeopardy.

Summer is on the horizon for Ontario, and with it comes a desire to get out and experience all the province has to offer. As a result, festivals become a major player in the provincial economy. However, recent cancellations of foundational events have put Ontario’s festival season in a doubtful state. 

Recently, two major festivals in the province — the Taste of the Danforth and Just For Laughs — were abruptly scrapped for ‘restructuring’ purposes in Toronto, with the fallout leading to sweeping concerns for the festival season throughout other municipalities in Ontario. 

Andrew Siegwart, the president of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO), monitors economic tourist traffic during summer events, and according to his data, the initial post-lockdown period mostly saw Ontarians celebrating their summers within city limits and showing up to festivals in droves.

However, recent observations indicate the opposite.

“The domestic market was robust back then, but fast-forward to now, and there are a lot more challenges. The cost of doing business has increased drastically, and there are inflationary pressures and labor shortages. Due to this, consumer sentiment has become a little shakey,” Siegwart told insauga.com. 

On top of in-province commerce taking a hit, international tourism has yet to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels. According to Siegwart, no provincial market has rebounded to pre-pandemic standards, resulting in every region in Canada brawling for the attention of the global market.

Additional variables that impact festival season are funding incentives, as most events rely on a stockpile of provincial grants. Last summer, these funding announcements were heavily delayed, putting many festivals in a state of anxiety. 

“Last year, festivals had an incredibly tough time because government funding was delayed, and a lot of festivals didn’t find out about money until late August. They weren’t sure what was going to happen, and a lot of people had their funding cut as a result,” said Dave MacNeil, CEO of Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO), during an interview with insauga.com. 

MacNeil indicates that on an annual basis, provincial spending could reach a maximum of roughly $250,000. However, when the announcement came late last summer, the lump sum was only $150,000 — a 60 per cent decrease. Keeping this in mind, not all financial weight lies on the province, as sponsorship from local businesses also makes up for a huge dent in festival funding.

Sadly, these businesses are not immune to the cost of living crisis, and with accounts tighter than ever, festivals in Ontario are going to look very different. 

“They’ve been hit hard, if not harder than the festivals themselves, during this period. When you put all of these variables together, it makes for an incredibly tough time when looking forward,” says MacNeil. 

One ray of hope is that the province is allegedly nearing the completion of its adjudication process for festival grants, with information likely to be released in April. Even with this promising news, MacNeil believes it will still take a while for Ontario’s festival season to finish licking its wounds. 

“There have certainly been festivals that have been postponed and there are other festivals that forge ahead, even if they find out they didn’t get what they were expecting in terms of funding. We’re seeing a lot more people scaling back,” says MacNeil. 

Despite the odds that are stacked against him and his associates, MacNeil is optimistic that this summer will look better than last year, even with cancellations spilling into the provincial news cycle.

For Siegwart, on the other hand, treading water isn’t good enough, as he believes the only viable solution is a better-defined line of communication between the province and festivals, as he does not want to see any potential funding delays occur.

“We don’t need surprises; we need consultation. If we are working with the federal or provincial government on matters of policy, we need them to bring us into the fold sooner so we can identify solutions earlier,” says Siegwart.

According to Siegwart, if the agencies managing festival funding remain sloppy in asset management, lasting change in Ontario’s festival scene will be nearly impossible to maintain. 

Or, as he puts it, “things are going to go south.” 

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