As restrictions ease, festivals return: Dragon Boat, Fringe, Saanich Fair, Ribfest, Boat Show

Organizers of large Victoria events are tentatively setting dates, booking venues and looking for hard-to-find items as they gear up for a return to hosting thousands of patrons as pandemic restrictions abate.

Groups behind the Saanich Fair, Victoria Dragon Boat Festival, Esquimalt Ribfest, B.C. Boat Show, and Victoria Fringe Festival have announced that their events are going ahead after a hiatus due to the pandemic.

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An abbreviated Canada Dry Victoria Dragon Boat Festival is expected to return to the Inner Harbour Aug. 14 and 15 as a two-day cultural celebration with no dragon racing because of the compressed planning schedule.

“It has been difficult to pick up and rebuild after being dormant for over a year,” said festival spokesman Tony Joe. “We had to mobilize in short order with no playbook to guide us.”

The theme for this year’s festival, its 26th and a fundraiser for the B.C. Cancer Foundation, is The Spirit of the Dragon — Resilience to acknowledge how the community has persevered.

Joe said the event will be similar to a folk festival, with food vendors and entertainment. “People have been chomping at the bit for an event that helps bring people together.”

Because capacity for on-site activities is reduced, musical and cultural shows will be available for viewing via social media.

A Battle of Bands will take place via TikTok and Instagram, and funds will be raised through an online campaign and auction. The annual Lights of Courage Campaign, where people come together to honour those with breast cancer, will continue.

The Saanich Fair, hosted by the North and South Saanich Agricultural Society, is set to return to the Saanich Fairgrounds over the Labour Day weekend — Sept. 4 to 6. — with the theme of honouring essential workers.

While the midway, animals and art displays will be there as usual, the fair had only one-fifth of its usual budget to book acts for the main stage, said spokeswoman Kelly Kurta. “That’s a huge drop for us,” said Kurta, who explained that the fair typically runs on revenue from the previous year, but it was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. “Our main stage is where you see that reflected.”

This year’s fair will feature more local performers and additional multicultural components, including more Indigenous content.

Planning for the fair, which usually begins the day after the last fair, only started in earnest two months ago, she said.

“It’s been a lot of hurry up and wait,” said Kurta, adding while many of the components are in place, organizers are still short between 50 and 100 volunteers.

Bottlenecks in the supply chain have been the greatest challenge for organizers of Esquimalt Ribfest, scheduled for Sept. 10 to 12 in Bullen Park.

“In normal times, we wouldn’t have to scramble to find 30 to 40 porta-potties so that the event can happen,” said Tom Woods, event chair. “We plan six to seven months in advance and we still had people in the industry laugh at our request because demand [for the portable toilets] from other sectors, such as the construction industry, has been high.”

Woods said the companies that rent porta-potties have said they have had difficulty purchasing new units due to a drop in manufacturing during the pandemic.

Last year’s Ribfest was a drive-through event, but this year, six rib-cooking teams are confirmed, along with 21 musical acts.

Organizers are hoping to build on the $800,000 they have donated to local charities — mainly children’s charities — over the last eight years.

This year will see the introduction of the Blue Buffalo Saloon, a large, western-themed corporate tent near the dance floor that can be booked by companies or groups.

Hundreds of boats and thousands of people are expected to attend the 30th anniversary of the B.C. Boat Show, Sept. 23 to 26 at Port Sidney Marina.

Billed as the largest in-the-water boat show on the west coast, it has become a signature event for Sidney.

The event comes on the heels of an “absolute banner year” for the industry,” said show manager Steven Threadkell, who noted while demand for boats has been “incredibly high,” supply is limited after a number of companies in Europe shut down production because of the pandemic.

About 35 exhibitors have already signed up, bringing examples of just about everything that floats, from paddleboards to luxury yachts. Visitors will be able to board and tour the docked vessels.

Threadkell said organizers will follow all COVID-19 protocols. “Boats will be cleaned vigorously over and over again during the show.”

He expects to see approximately 5,000 visitors over the four days of the show, the first time it has been staged in the fall instead of the spring.

Intrepid Theatre will offer a scaled-back Fringe Festival that stretches for six weeks, from Aug. 13 to Sept. 24, instead of the usual two weeks. It will be a mix of online and in-person shows.

Thirteen local troupes will take over The Metro theatre on Quadra Street, with two troupes staging five shows each week. The theatre will have a cabaret-style 40-seat setup, with socially distanced tables for two and four.

Some shows will be offered online for a fee, and others will be free.

“The big change is that there will only be one venue, and a longer date run,” Intrepid Theatre says on its website. “This allows us to implement a safety plan, provide additional venue staff to guide the audience experience, and to carefully return to live performance with time for cleaning and venue preparation between shows.”

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