Ottawa pursuing return visit for La Machine

Local tourism officials in talks to bring popular spectacle back to capital as early as 2020
La Machine

Ottawans who were captivated last summer by the mechanical creatures of La Machine might not have to wait too long for a return visit if the capital’s tourism boosters have their way.

The man behind Ottawa’s Canada 150 celebrations spent four days in France earlier this month with La Machine’s production company to discuss the possibility of bringing the much-publicized spectacle back to the city as early as two years from now.

“There’s definitely strong interest, strong desire from local stakeholders, political leaders and obviously from the public’s perspective,” said Guy Laflamme, executive director of the Ottawa 2017 Bureau.

“It’s far from being a done deal. We’re pursuing discussions and further exploring possibilities to make it happen.”

About 750,000 people are estimated to have flocked to the city’s downtown core over a four-day span last July to witness the massive fire-breathing dragon-horse, Long Ma, and the towering mechanical spider Kumo walk the streets of the ByWard Market and square off in choreographed battles.

With a price tag of $4.5 million, La Machine was the most expensive event on the Canada 150 calendar, but Laflamme said its payoff was immense.

“It was the ball out of the park,” he said. “It was the most successful component of our program, definitely in terms of wide reach, branding impact, marketing impact, economic return on investment.”

The French embassy paid for the bulk of the trip to La Machine’s headquarters in Nantes, France, which Laflamme visited along with representatives from the mayor’s office and Ottawa Tourism.

Laflamme said it will likely be 2020 or 2021 at the earliest before the spectacle returns to the city, in part to build public anticipation and allow time to work out all the logistics.

La Machine

Ottawa 2017’s chief event planner suggested local tourism officials might want to partner with another North American city to share the estimated $500,000 cost of shipping the giant mechanical creatures across the Atlantic.

“It would kill the magic and the novelty effect” to bring the event back next year, Laflamme said. “Just in terms of the planning and everything that is required to possibly bring them back, it would be at least a three-, four-year cycle to get everything aligned to be able to move forward.”

He also said the city might want to consider other sites in the downtown core for the staged battle scenes, noting the lawn in front of the Supreme Court of Canada proved to be too cramped for the thousands of spectators who thronged to witness the spectacle.

Chaudiere Island

Laflamme suggested Chaudiere Island, one of the homes of the new $1.2-billion Zibi residential, retail and commercial mega-project, could be a potential location for the event next time around.

“With the development on the island, that clearly opens up all kinds of new possibilities for additional potential sites,” he said.

Laflamme is not alone in musing about turning some of the most successful Canada 150 events into more regular occurrences. Mayor Jim Watson has repeatedly said he’d like to see a revival of last year’s popular Interprovincial Picnic on the Bridge, and other events such as Ottawa Welcomes the World are also prime candidates to return in the near future.

Ottawa Tourism head Michael Crockatt told OBJ late last year the agency recently hired a full-time employee to study the economic impact of events such as La Machine with the aim of determining which ones would be most worth bringing back.

“I would say without a doubt we will be able to continue some of these (events), either in 2018 or in future years,” he said. “The costs of some of them are high, but the benefits are enormous. We want informed, smart decisions that are based on data and evidence, and that’s our next step.”

Watson has said funding such spectacles could be a challenge, adding the city and Ottawa Tourism will likely have to seek out private-sector partners to help foot the bill for their return.

The new four per cent hotel tax, which debuted on Jan. 1 to replace a former voluntary levy and is expected to generate up to $12 million a year, could also help offset the costs of hosting such events, officials say.