Christmas events cancelled or in limbo amid province-wide restrictions

Several popular Christmas events such as Butchart Gardens’ Christmas light display and Santa Claus parades across the region will be suspended amid B.C’s new COVID-19 restrictions which ban indoor and outdoor community events.

The ramped-up restrictions announced Thursday include the suspension of all social gatherings and community events, even if they’re under 50 people. The restrictions are in effect until Dec. 7.

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On Monday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry specifically mentioned the Butchart Gardens’ Magic of Christmas light display and the Bright Nights Christmas Train in Stanley Park as examples of events that have previously been approved by the province but are now suspended.

“We need to monitor what we are doing right now and reduce the potential for social interactions,” Henry said. “That has meant pausing all in-person gatherings and shifting to virtual services whether they’re religious services, performances, fundraisers.”

On Monday evening, Butchart Gardens wrote on its website: “Due to the latest provincial health order, The Butchart Gardens regrets to announce that our Christmas evening viewing will be delayed until December 8th.” The company said anyone who booked a ticket or dining reservation between Nov. 27 and Dec. 7 will be contacted. No one from Butchart Gardens returned calls for comment Monday.

The Victoria Wonderland event at Ogden Point is also in question.

Organizer Mike Wilson said Monday afternoon that after hearing the provincial health update it’s likely the drive-through light show will be cancelled.

“We’ve been trying to reach out to ask if we can proceed for the past five days, but we haven’t heard anything back from anyone,” said Wilson. “We are still trying.”

Victoria Wonderland, organized by local companies Transcend Victoria and Sigma-1 Productions, sold out all its online passes in two days. It sold hundreds of tickets for the event, which was designed to keep families and bubble groups in their vehicles while they drove a 25-minute route over the Ogden Point pier, warehouse and parking lot. It is planned to run from Dec. 7 to 31.

Wilson was dejected by the possible decision to cancel, saying he felt the event was safe.

“If we are allowed to continue, we are prepared to extend it into January,” he said.

Esquimalt Coun. Meagan Brame was looking for a way to proceed with a drive-by Santa Claus parade on Dec. 6 that would weave through five kilometres of Esquimalt neighbourhoods, allowing people to see lit-up floats pass by their homes. Brame was also looking for a way to live-stream the parade for those who don’t live in Esquimalt. It would have been the only Santa Claus parade in the region, which Brame hoped would give people “a little bit of hope, a little bit of light.”

“People are going into dark times and I’m worried about the mental health of our world,” she said on Monday morning. However, on Monday afternoon, Brame said it appeared the parade was off.

When asked about whether drive-through Christmas events can continue, Henry said “right now all of the events are on pause.” She said that doesn’t necessarily mean events have to be cancelled, noting that if COVID-19 cases go down, “some of these lower-risk events may happen again. But right now we need to stop all of those opportunities for us to congregate to go out and do things socially.”

The Greater Victoria Festival Society cancelled the 39th annual Santa Claus Parade but has replaced it with a five-week “Light Up the City” food drive campaign to secure donations of non-perishable food, new toys and cash across the region for food banks, the Salvation Army and toy banks.

Every Saturday between Nov. 28 and Jan. 3, there will be drive-through drop-off events in Esquimalt, Victoria, Oak Bay and Saanich. The society had planned to have Santa and Mrs. Claus, lit-up convoy trucks and music to entertain people as they drove through with their donations but it’s unclear if the provincial orders will have an impact those festivities. For more information on donation locations, visit gvfs.ca.

The Huron Carole, a Christmas carole event that has spanned 30 years and raises money for the Mustard Seed Street Church, will be held virtually by Zoom.

The Township of Esquimalt will keep its Christmas Tree Village display, in which community groups and local businesses decorate trees at the Esquimalt Recreation Centre and Archie Browning Sports Centre. However, people can see the displays and vote for their favourite tree online starting Dec. 2. Visit esquimalt.ca/treevillage for more information.

Uptown Victoria was planning an outdoor skating rink, which families could book by appointment only, and a 150-foot hand-painted road mural flanked by illuminated igloo domes but it’s unclear if that event, set to launch Nov. 28, will be another casualty of the COVID-19 restrictions.

Christmas events that are cancelled include:

  • Sidney Sparkles Christmas Parade
  • Ladysmith Light Up
  • Greater Victoria Festival Society 39th Annual Santa Claus Parade
  • Island Equipment Owners Association 22nd Annual Truck Light Convoy
  • Oak Bay Village Christmas Light Up

kderosa@timescolonist.com

— With files from Darron Kloster

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