Car Free YYJ attracts thousands to downtown Victoria

It took little time Sunday for the nine blocks of Douglas Street closed off for Car Free YYJ to be teeming with people after an11 a.m. start. Music filled the air from the word go, not to mention an endless stream of bubbles for the children.

With the event falling on Father’s Day, dads stood out as some of the biggest fans of the popular community gathering. Jonathon Mishnigi, with 20-month-old twin brothers Cairo and Phoenix in a stroller, said he loved the idea of closing down a major street for pedestrians and that doing something similar a few times a year could be the next step.

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Chris Abra, strolling down the usually busy thoroughfare with wife Amy and one-year-old Piper, said it was an enjoyable place to be.

“We’ve been here a couple of times,” he said, adding that having it on Father’s Day makes it all the better. Like many others, he said he would support more such occasions in the future.

Mike Pelletier said he was impressed with the play area set up on the inside lane of Douglas Street outside city hall. Children, including his three grandchildren, were busy there making chalk drawings in a space usually reserved for traffic.

“It’s our first time down,” he said. “I’m surprised at how busy it is here.”

More events like it would be just the thing, Pelletier said.

For Jon Wilson, whose dachshund duo of Bowzer and Emma drew lots of attention, Car Free YYJ was simply a bonus that he came across while taking his dogs for a walk.

“It’s good for these two to be meeting other dogs and meeting people.”

Enjoying a seemingly endless lineup at the Ocean River Sports booth was store manager Jamie Dawson, who was overseeing the Blundstone Boot Toss. The object was to loft a Blundstone into a garbage can.

“If you get one in you get a chance to win a pair of boots,” he said. “So we’re giving away two pairs of boots today.”

Vendors such as Rick Blaus of Wild West BBQ Salmon also had good things to say.

“I think it’s genius,” Blaus said of the event. “Look at the flow of people.”

Co-worker Morgan York declared it to be “beautiful.” “We should do it at least three times a year,” he said. “It brings everyone together from the community. For local vendors it’s just basically like a giant street market.”

Douglas Street businesses such Veneto restaurant in Hotel Rialto were thrilled with the response from the public, especially the steady stream of diners at a patio carved out of the Douglas Street blacktop.

“We love it,” said staff member Reed Parker. “We can’t say enough about it.”

Making its usual appearance at Car Free YYJ was Walk On, Victoria, a pedestrian-advocacy group.

Member Erica Amador said the event is “exactly what we want to see more of.”

She said the group delves into all aspects of walking.

“We kind of do it all,” Amador said. “We make sure that people’s sidewalks and curbs and crosswalks are all safe, and we like to go to council and staff and ensure that they’re allocating the right amounts of money to those kinds of capital improvements.”

All told, more than 400 vendors took part, and the public could enjoy a wide variety of entertainment. The crowd grew from 25,000 in 2017 to 35,000 in 2018, organizers said. A crowd estimate for 2019 wasn't immediately available.

Victoria Coun. Jeremy Loveday said Car Free YYJ is something he would like to see continue for years to come.

“I think Car Free Day is a great community event showcasing a lot of what’s great about our city — arts, culture,” he said. “I would love to see the pedestrianization of a street downtown. I’ve always advocated for the pedestrianization of Government Street, turning that into a people-centred place.

“I’m also supportive of having community celebrations on streets throughout the city -- block parties in neighbourhoods as well as in village centres.”

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