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Tuesday, January 31, 2023
COVID-19: All NOTL’s summertime fruit festivals cancelled

Almost all of NOTL’s major annual summer festivals and events are a no-go as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The strawberry, cherry and peach festivals, Rotary Canada Day celebrations and the NOTL Horticultural Society garden tours have all been disrupted, to name a few. 

As of this week, the TD Niagara Jazz Festival is one of the only major mid-summer festivals still holding off on making a decision, as executive director Juliet Dunn is hoping things might improve before the July 16 event.

Music Niagara, which brings world-class musicians to venues all around Niagara, has postponed its major fundraiser, Big Night, which was scheduled for June 6.

As well, the festival’s board of directors is reviewing its options for the summer festival, “including online alternatives to keep the music alive for our community,” said Music Niagara chair Margot Hickson.

Rev. Maureen Ellison, minister of Grace United Church, said the Festival Market is “so far out” that no decision has been made about it yet.

“We’re the last festival of summer, so it might be possible,” she told The Lake Report. “If we had a crystal ball, things would be a bit more clear.”

For now, the church is holding off on making any concrete decisions, but is hoping the festival can still happen.

The mid-June strawberry fest at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church traditionally kicks off the summer fruit festival season in NOTL.

However, festival co-ordinator Julie Hunter informed the congregation this week that the church is abiding by the town’s emergency declaration and cancelling the event.

At least one festival is hoping to hold an alternative fundraising community event later in the year, likely around Christmastime.

Ben Buholtz, who helps oversee the Cherry Festival at St. Mark’s Anglican Church, said organizers are planning a large Christmas market this year in lieu of the annual July cherry fest. In addition, plans are afoot for a jewellery sale at St. Mark’s in the fall.

With the town, region and province all declaring states of emergency, “Unfortunately at this time it is seems unlikely we will have enough time” to organize the July 1 celebrations, NOTL Rotary Club president John Boot said via email.

Among their activities, the Rotarians help out at the July 1 party by cooking pancakes and hosting a popular barbecue.  “Maybe we’ll celebrate a month or two later.”

However, Boot is confident some kind of Canada Day celebrations “will likely go on one way or another, even if we have to celebrate it virtually.” 

Rotary’s Holiday House Tour has also been cancelled for this year.

St. Vincent de Paul’s Rev. Randy Gallant said the decision to cancel its Peach Festival, which normally takes place in August, was made to protect people and the public, as well as due to uncertainty about timelines for planning the event.

“There’s things that we would be wanting to get organized sooner than later, and the town itself is closed down until June 30,” he said. “We can’t wait till July 1st to start putting something together for August.”

Even if it wasn’t cancelled, he expects people would still be nervous about travelling or being in big crowds.

“It’s probably not going to be as well-attended as it normally is for any of the festivals here in NOTL. Who wants to be around crowds? Like even the churches … I don’t think when they open everything up it’s not going to be filled up like it was before. People are still going to be concerned about gathering in groups and social distancing and all that stuff. So it’s a learning curve for all of us, for sure.”

He said he’s expecting a different experience in NOTL this tourist season.

“It’s probably going to be a completely different summer in Niagara-on-the-Lake from what we’re used to. So, I think we’re all going to experience that this summer, even if they lift some of these restrictions and things, it’s just not going to be the same type of a summer that we’ve had in the past here.”

It’s disappointing, Gallant said, but everyone is in the same boat.

“There are a lot of people who are disappointed over things that they’ve had to cancel or change or move or rebook. I mean we’re going through uncharted waters right now. And it is very fluid, it changes from day to day, hour to hour.”

He said he and the peach festival committee hope to come back bigger and better in 2021.

The NOTL Chamber of Commerce also holds a peach festival in August but chamber officials did not respond to requests for information.

The news of the cancellations comes after decisions by various organizations to also cancel the Virgil Stampede and the St. Davids Lions Carnival.

Here is a list of NOTL events cancelled or delayed so far:

* Strawberry Festival (St. Andrew’s)

* Cherry Festival (St. Mark’s)

* Peach Festival (St. Vincent de Paul)

* Rotary Canada Day celebrations

* Rotary Holiday House Tour

* Music Niagara's  Big Night

* Shaw Festival season (until at least June 30)

* NOTL Horticultural Society Garden Tour

* Shaw Guild Garden Tour

* Virgil Stampede

* St. Davids Lions Carnival

Know of an event we missed? Send an email to editor@niagaranow.com.

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