Summer events waiting for the green light as vaccine plan rolls out

All eligible B.C. adults might receive a first COVID-19 vaccination by summer, but that doesn’t mean organizers of some of the region’s biggest events are planning a return quite yet.

The province has said that vaccinations are progressing ahead of schedule, and Premier John Horgan has indicated that restrictions will likely be relaxed as the vaccination plan rolls out.

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How and when that happens will be determined by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and members of the government’s health team.

Darryl Mar of the Victoria Jazz Society, which produces the annual TD Victoria International Jazz Festival and Vancouver Island Blues Bash, is awaiting word from the ­provincial government regarding when — or if — in-person performances can return this summer.

For now, both of Mar’s events are cancelled.

“We’re ready to go, we’ve got the money, we’ve got the sponsors. It’s just a matter of getting the green light from the provincial government,” he said.

“If I found out [concerts could return] by May 1, we could do something with Canadian acts for September.”

Mar, who uses both indoor and outdoor venues for his festivals, said his decision to move forward will be based solely on site capacities. “If it remains at 50 people, for a ticketed indoor event, that doesn’t make much sense to us.

Even if theatres are open, and you can only have a maximum of 100 people in a 1,000-seat theatre, that’s not going to make very much financial sense.”

Barring any major changes, Mar said he’s planning a smaller, virtual version of Jazzfest in late June, with a focus on Vancouver Island-based bands. A return to live concerts might make Blues Bash, which was originally scheduled for Sept. 5 to 7, a possibility, however.

“I haven’t ruled that out yet,” he said. “We can activate ourselves if we have four months lead time to book some acts. But that would be false optimism if someone thinks they can do anything substantial before Labour Day weekend.”

Many events have already been cancelled for this year.

Organizers of the Oak Bay Tea Party have said the June event is not going ahead for a second year.

Oak Bay Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, who serves as a Tea Party director but does not represent the municipality in that role, said that June is too soon to put on such a large event.

In Nanaimo, chamber of commerce chief executive Kim Smythe said none of the Harbour City’s major events are happening this year.

He said the Nanaimo Bathtub Race and Dragon Boat Festival as well as the Downtown Night Market, which normally draw thousands of people, have been cancelled and there are no plans for smaller versions.

The Symphony in the Park Concert is also on pause, although Smythe said there is a hope for a concert in December if health orders permit.

“I don’t think you’re going to find too many [event organizers] spending tens of thousands of dollars to plan an event that might not happen,” he said.

In Saanich, the annual Canada Day Picnic organized by the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association has been cancelled, and it’s likely the Strawberry Festival in early July will be called off as well.

The annual Mother’s Day paint-in at Royal Roads University has been cancelled, as it was in 2020.

Others plan to go virtual or make other adjustments.

CEO Matthew White said the Victoria Symphony has been producing virtual concerts since September and is looking at livesteam concerts even when in-person gatherings are permitted again.

But when that might happen will depend on what happens in the coming weeks and months.

White said the symphony is taking part in a round table with Henry and Arts Minister Melanie Marks this month to explore options for the performing arts. “We hope to get a better picture of what to expect then.”

That said, the symphony is already planning for series of outdoor concerts this summer with Pacific Opera featuring small numbers of musicians and singers performing to small audiences, he said.

The plan for the Island Farms Victoria Day Parade in May is part of discussions between the Greater Victoria Festival Society and broadcast sponsor CHEK-TV.

“The plan is to hold a virtual telecast with a reduced number of entries,” said parade organizer Kelly Kurta.

It will be a multicultural event with a “superheroes” theme.

The parade was canceled in 2020, and CHEK aired parade highlights from past years.

The Sidney Street Market that sprawls down Beacon Avenue on Thursday nights in the summer will be replaced by Sunday markets in the parking lot of the Mary Winspear Centre from May 9 to Oct. 10. Guidelines allow only food vendors, though organizers hope that might change

With Canada Day, planning by the City of Victoria has yet to get going.

“We’ve not received any funding or direction from the federal government for Canada Day, and we’re not sure about public-health orders at this time, so we’re in a holding mode right now,” said city spokesman Bill Eisenhauer.

An announcement on the Saanich Fair is expected in April.

“Stay tuned,” said Dave Hamer, president of the North and South Saanich Agricultural Society, which normally holds the event over three days at the beginning of September. It typically sees about 50,000 people pass through its gates.

Laketown Ranch Music and Recreation Park in Lake Cowichan, home to the annual Sunfest Country Music Festival and Laketown Shakedown Festival, would be among the first sites to return in late-summer, given its size and social-distancing capabilities.

“We’ll have to make a decision within the next month-and-a-half,” general manager Mike Hann said of the 172-acre site.

“We’re taking it one day at a time. I’ve chatted with the Vancouver Island Health Authority a lot about alternative plans, and they are not quite able to tell us yes or no. But we’re hopeful. It seems like things are advancing more quickly than we thought.”

— With files from Jeff Bell, Mike Devlin, Darron Kloster, Jack Knox and Carla Wilson

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