Rideau Canal Festival suspended

Courtney Symons
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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.

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.

Organizations: Parks Canada, Ottawa Chamber, Bytown Museum

Geographic location: Ottawa, Rideau Canal

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Recent comments

  • Claire Gerencser Masswohl
    November 07, 2012 - 15:26

    It is really a shame to see such a longstanding professionally organized event being cancelled. Michelle Gauthier is a seasoned festival organizer and he and his board did a great job in promoting the Rideau Canal but also Ottawa and the community. We applaud the work of the Rideau Canal Festival.

    • Linda Goodman
      November 08, 2012 - 15:43

      Whoever heard of a festival that doesn't charge anybody for anything? Using grants etc., to get a Festival off the ground is one thing, learning to charge necessary fees for vendors, entry etc., and developing a viable base to attract business sponsorship is something else and could certainly have been accomplished within a 5 year period! Sounds like Canadian Government business is the same as US Government business, they don't have a clue! Just so you know, a Market Researcher is writing this, and we've been successful for ten years without government assistance from day one! We work across the USA (as an outside third party) at festivals and events and provide organizers with demographic, economic and psychographic information concerning attendees so the organizers are not operating in the dark! Hope I was courteous enough, I get so frustrated when I read things like this! Step into the real world and learn and treat every grant or other financial assistance as your local residents' hard earned money (which it is) and you'll think with a different hat on! The money is not there to be spent at your leisure, but to be invested!