There's a lot that isn't happening again this year in Niagara-on-the-Lake. No Santa Claus parade, no concession stands at the Virgil arenas, the Candlelight Stroll is up in the air.
The continued cancellations all have two things in common. They've been done out of an abundance of caution for public health amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – and many people aren't happy about it.
Several NOTL residents and parents are concerned some events and activities are being cancelled unnecessarily and wonder why the town can't resume more normal life – especially when other municipalities are doing just that with outdoor events like Christmas parades.
Domenic Trapasso, an Old Town resident and father, said he's worried about the impact missing important annual traditions and memories is having on the community, particularly on children.
“Our town refuses to have a Santa Claus parade. Our town refuses to open concessions at the local arena, which every single other municipality has opened. And it's a bunch of minor things, however all these things are adding up,” he told The Lake Report.
“It's making it a frustrating experience for someone who lives in the town. Also it makes it a frustrating experience for children like mine, who just want to live a normal life again and want to go back to these simple little things.”
“And I know for certain, 100 per cent, everyone I talk to with kids around my age feels the exact same way and they just don't know how to voice their opinion.”
Trapasso, who said his family is vaccinated and has followed the rules, pointed out that COVID hasn't stopped other municipalities from resuming things like public skating, “but Niagara-on-the-Lake refuses to want to move past it.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, the town announced it hopes to reopen the arenas for public skating by late October. A town official said staff shortages, not health concerns caused skating to be cancelled.
Trapasso said he's tried asking the town's parade committee why it's necessary to cancel the outdoor event, but they haven't taken him seriously and “sweep it under the rug.”
Kevin Turcotte, manager of parks and recreation for the town, told The Lake Report the decision to cancel the parade this year was made internally by the town's emergency operations group out of caution and not because of any directive from public health officials.
The decision was based on “what other municipalities were doing as well, and what their plans were,” he said.
“We were trying to kind of align with the local area municipalities that are our neighbours and see what they're doing. From my knowledge I don't think that there's too many that are going to be doing a regular, traditional parade this year,” he said.
After being told that Niagara Falls will be hosting a traditional Christmas parade Nov. 13 and asked which municipalities the decision was based on, he said, “We didn't base it off of that. We were just seeing what other municipalities were doing. So that would be a question for our CAO.”
In response to a follow up, the town said, “Through various meetings, Niagara municipalities came to a similar approach in considering alternatives to the traditional Santa parade.”
NOTL pharmacist Sean Simpson, a lifelong resident of Garrison Village who is now raising a young family there, said “It is extremely disappointing to see events like the Santa Claus parade and Candlelight Stroll being put off yet again.”
“We can all appreciate that these events were necessarily cancelled last year, but it now feels like we have fallen into an unnecessary pattern,” Simpson told The Lake Report. “It is certainly possible that things could get worse on the COVID front, but as of the data currently available, we should be planning to resume our usual seasonal festive activities.”
Trapasso said the situation has many parents flustered.
“I'm frustrated because every other municipality in Ontario, and probably Canada, is open,” Trapasso said.
“Niagara-on-the-Lake refuses to move on. So that's my concern. And unfortunately I don't see this ending anytime soon.”
After speaking with Trapasso and asking to hear from others who share his concerns, The Lake Report received several emails from NOTL residents.
Chris Semple from Old Town wrote: “It’s time for NOTL town council to explain their position on why they continue to prevent a range of activities such as the Santa Claus parade, public skating, access to town hall, etc. from opening while other Ontario communities are safely doing so. There is nothing from the medical community that would support having activities like these prohibited.”
Angela Santelli wrote she's “seriously confused as to why we cannot have the Santa parade in NOTL when we opened our town to tourists early on during the pandemic.”
“There seems to be reasonable options available to ensure a safe outdoor event like this,” she said. “It appears that town-based decisions throughout this pandemic have been more focused on providing opportunity to tourists while neglecting the opportunity for local residents to rejoin their community.”
Stèphane Aubin, another Old Town resident, said she's “very disappointed in our town's decision to cancel” the parade.
“Writing with a true atmosphere of sadness in the air at our home. We have been abiding by the rules regarding COVID for almost two years and our progress is something to be proud of. A return to normalcy would be a pat on the back for our community for our constant following of the rules all while welcoming guests into our tourism-dependent community. Cancellation of this event is truly unnecessary when we are able to host 50,000 guests in a sports stadium without problem. Being outdoors celebrating Christmas would be a gift for all this year.”
Mary Druce wrote that she's “disappointed and frustrated at the continued closures.”
“No Santa Claus parade, no concession stands at the arenas, no public skating, no candlelight walk. These are traditions that we look forward to each year. And for the second year in a row, there is a pause. It seems to me that the youngsters in our community are the ones that are still suffering. The area has only one active case with over 90 per cent of eligible individuals vaccinated. All other communities are open. What more does the city want in order to reopen and return to normal? Is Halloween next?”
Trapasso said there's a long list of people feeling the same.
He said while he's not typically the type to complain, this year is particularly disappointing because his son was meant to be in the parade on the NOTL Wolves' float.
“And this year they're not allowed. And so my son's disappointed. And I'm disappointed, frankly. It's a memorable thing to do for the children and the parade in general,” he said.
He pointed out that cases of COVID are declining in the region.
“When is it going to be good enough, then? COVID will always be here … so at what point? Is it gonna be five years from now, a decade, that the town says 'Oh, now we can do these things again.' It's frustrating.”