Ghouls will oust cars on Government Street for October festival

Ghouls will be used to attract the living to Government Street next month, when a downtown stretch of the street will be closed to vehicles in an effort to breathe life into an area some see as an off-season dead zone.

Government Street will be blocked to vehicles from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 25 from Humboldt to Yates streets to play host to Wicked Victoria, an event sponsored by the Greater Victoria Festival Society, featuring music, a fun fair, a harvest market and a kid zone.

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“We’re going to rename it Boo Boulevard,” said festival society general manager Kelly Kurta.

“We’re pretty excited. It should be a lot of fun.”

Some Victoria councillors had proposed that — as a pilot project — Government Street be closed to vehicle traffic for a Sunday in August in the hope of drawing local people to the street. The idea is the closing could be the start of something more permanent for the strip.

But after hearing from a number of stakeholders, councillors decided that a better test of the idea would be to hold a series of Government Street pedestrian-only Saturdays or Sundays in the shoulder season months of October, November, possibly December, and January and February.

Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman said that for such closings to work, it’s important that they include animated events.

“If the goal is about economic and pedestrian vibrancy and linking the two, if you don’t add some animation — and I don’t want to call it a theme, but that’s what it comes across as — then you don’t draw the people in to see how it can be,” Coleman said.

There have been several experiments in other cities where road closings aren’t accompanied by events “and they’ve turned into a dead zone.”

“Then when they do animate it, people are drawn and, all of a sudden, it’s quite vibrant and that’s where you get the economic impact,” Coleman said.

An estimated 20,000 people flocked to downtown Victoria in June when the Downtown Victoria Business Association sponsored Car Free YYJ Day. A stretch of Douglas Street from Herald to Fort streets was closed to cars and the street was jammed with musical stages, food trucks and a string of commercial and community booths.

Wicked Victoria is being presented in co-operation with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, downtown merchants and the city.

Plans call for a Feeling Ghoully Music Zone with a small stage, lights and entertainment, from Courtenay to Broughton streets.

From Broughton to Fort, a Ghostly Giving area will give non-profits a chance to engage with the community through games and other activities.

There will be a Moonlight Harvest Market from Fort to View and a Too Cute to Spook Wicked Kids Zone from View to Yates, with pumpkin designing, colouring, face-painting, games and a family dance.

There’s also going to be a Monsters Mash March dressup parade for kids.

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