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New Year’s Eve party at Inner Harbour: calls to do it again

It was a first night to remember — one that many hope might be repeated in years to come.
Spirit of 150
Spectators enjoy Spirit of 150 celebrations in the Inner Harbour in Victoria.

It was a first night to remember — one that many hope might be repeated in years to come.

“A lot of people were asking ‘Can you please do this again next year?’ ” laughed Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, recalling feedback from New Year’s Eve celebrants at Spirit of 150 Victoria: First Night on the Inner Harbour.

“Canada doesn’t turn 150 every year. We’ll see,” said Helps, who appeared at the free event sponsored by the Canadian Heritage Department as part of celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday.

Highlights of the Victoria event, the first major New Year’s Eve celebration here since 1997, included the antics of giant jellyfish and octopus puppets, a Victoria Harbour Ferry ballet, digital light show, musical acts including Dear Rouge, Alex Cuba and Jérémie & The Delicious Hounds, trial bikes performances and fireworks.

The evening opened with a First Nations prayer and blessing from Songhees Elder Elmer George and Suzie Thomas, daughter of Esquimalt Chief Andy Thomas, before performances by the Lekwungen Dancers and Esquimalt Singers and Dancers.

Victoria’s event, one of 19 across Canada, ended with a fireworks show shortly after 9 p.m., timed to coincide with the midnight spectacle in Ottawa.

“Overall, I think this was better than we could have hoped for,” said Helps. “Part of what made it work so well was that we celebrated midnight at 9 p.m. A lot of people showed up for the fireworks.”

She said she was impressed by how “warm, inclusive and family-friendly” the celebration was. “I can’t tell you how many parents and kids I saw boogying on the streets.”

Despite cold, windy weather, an estimated 24,000 people attended during the course of the evening, Victoria police said.

Police had 116 calls for service throughout the city on New Year’s Eve, and three impaired drivers were taken off roads, said VicPD spokesman Const. Matt Rutherford.

Spirit of 150 Victoria was a fairly orderly event, he said. “There were 20 liquor pour-outs and no arrests at the event itself.”

Organizer Nick Blasko, whose Atomique Productions produced the event for the Greater Victoria Spirit Committee, said he was pleased things ran as smoothly as they did. “The great unknown was the weather, and how that would affect people’s willingess to come out,” he said. “It started filling up at the 7 p.m. mark, and the crowds really came a half-hour before the fireworks.”

Saanich resident Zakos Zsula came early, about 6 p.m., with his two children, Kelet, 4, and Eneshe, 6, determined to stick around until the fireworks.Even the cold winds off the Inner Harbour wouldn’t stop them, said Zsula. “Although we are still thinking about getting the snow-pants on.”

Blasko, best known for producing music festivals such as Rifflandia, credited his production manager Nathan Farquarson with ensuring the event’s multiple elements all fell into place. “We were asked to be creative and come up with solutions. We were presented with a lot of interesting ideas, and there were a lot of moving parts.”

Blasko, a father himself, said he was elated to see so many families show up. “I was on the stage, looking through the crowd up to Government street and it’s amazing how many people there were with kids on their shoulders.”

While food trucks were on site, the crowds contributed to a dramatic upswing in business for neighbouring restaurants.

“It was fantastic. Our business was up 150 per cent over last year. It was getting close to Canada Day numbers, because we’ve got the patio,” said Rob Chyzowski, owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner.

Olivia Selig, a manager on duty at Milestones that night, said the Wharf Street restaurant pulled in its highest New Year’s Eve revenues yet. “It was fuller for longer. Especially because of the cold weather we had a lot of walk-in business.”

A spectacle in lights and shadow was played in the front of the Empress Hotel. Images of swaying trees, maple leaves and schools of fish made their way across the front of the hotel.

“We were thrilled to be a part of the First Night celebrations this year. The digital projection and artwork on the exterior of the hotel was spectacular, and as a result of our renovations, our guests were able to enjoy the fireworks from both the Veranda and our new Gold terrace,” general manager Indu Brar said.

— With a file from Richard Watts