The COVID-19 outbreak has forced the cancellation of the Island Farms Victoria Day Parade — an event that, until now, has run every year for 122 years, making it the longest-running annual parade in Canada.
The Greater Victoria Festival Society announced the parade cancellation on Thursday, citing a Health Ministry ban on events with more than 50 people.
The Douglas Mile run and Festival of Bands originally scheduled for May 16, 17 and 18 are also cancelled.
Kelly Kurta, executive director of the Greater Victoria Festival Society, said she and society board members agreed cancelling the weekend festivities was the only responsible thing to do, but it was still heartbreaking.
“We had been hoping, just hoping that with everybody self-isolating and staying inside for two or three weeks that the [COVID-19] would somehow start to dissipate and we would see life return to normal again,” she said.
Close 100,000 people line the Douglas Street route for the annual parade, the largest single festival event in the city.
Kurta said 110 groups had registered for the parade this year, including marching bands from B.C. and the United States.
Three thousand people were expected to march and ride floats in the parade.
She said the financial impact of the cancellation will be considerable — hotels had booked 1,000 rooms just for participants, but the parade also attracts visitors from other parts of B.C., Canada and the world, who stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and boost the hospitality industry.
“We have one lady who comes every year and she sits in the VIP section,” said Kurta. “She’s in her 90s and she has never missed a parade.”
Parade organizers are already working to help make up for the loss by contacting participants for videos, sound or pictures of themselves that can be used in a virtual parade.
“We want people to stay engaged and we want the spirit of the parade to continue,” said Kurta.