After five years of celebrating Ontario's only UNESCO World Heritage site, the Rideau Canal Festival has been suspended indefinitely, its board of directors announced Wednesday.
© File photo
Rideau Canal Festival executive director Michel Gauthier.
Decreases in government funding as well as difficulty in finding corporate sponsors led to the decision, said the festival’s executive director Michel Gauthier.
When the event was founded in 2008, the city contributed $20,000, the federal government’s heritage department gave $200,000 and Parks Canada chipped in $75,000. Last year, those contributions were down to $10,000, $98,000 and $0 respectively. Parks Canada, which originally offered a three-year investment, decided not to renew its support, Mr. Gauthier said.
Because the festival is not gated, without visitors paying admission or purchasing items within it, all revenues came from government and corporate sponsors. But as government funding decreased, the festival became less of a viable option for corporations to invest in.
“We’ve had five good years, we’ve paid all our bills, but to take that type of risk and finish on a sour note is probably not the best way to go,” Mr. Gauthier said.
To better support the city’s non-profit festivals, Ottawa could benefit from a festival platform – a group of organizations supporting tourism and businesses that would help manage and promote gateless festivals such as the Rideau Canal Festival and the Canadian Tulip Festival. It’s an idea that’s also being promoted by tulip festival chairperson David Luxton.
Mr. Gauthier believes that a coordinated effort between organizations such as the City of Ottawa, Tourism Ottawa, Invest Ottawa and the Ottawa Chamber of Ottawa could help corporate money gravitate back toward the festivals.
Even Winterlude would struggle to survive without federal government support, he said, because the city doesn’t contribute to the winter festival. A large part of that festival also depends on the Rideau Canal.
“The city’s position is that the canal belongs to the federal government,” Mr. Gauthier said. “Maybe the city needs to revisit that position and say, ‘We should do everything we can to celebrate it.’”
The festival’s board will disband, with no plans to reconvene, he said.
The decision was made public the same day that Ottawa’s business community assembled to discuss the importance that tourism will play in the city’s future economic success at the inaugural State of the Economy luncheon.
The Rideau Canal Festival was launched in 2008. Since then, more than 500,000 people have attended the festival since its inception, according to organizers.
Mr. Gauthier spoke with the OBJ during the festival’s first year to discuss the difficulties that come from creating a festival with no carbon footprint, including having to purchase carbon credits to offset emissions.
“It’s probably not a very profitable thing,” he told OBJ in 2008. “It doesn’t automatically bring positives to the bottom line. In fact, it brings a negative, it’s another expense to the festival. We will need to … monitor it and develop it as a model that is comprehensive as a legacy.”
The four-day festival included events held at various locations along the Rideau Canal including the Bytown Museum, Ottawa Locks and Dows Lake Pavilion.