It may be a long time before large festivals return to Vankleek Hill’s Main Street – if they ever return at all.
For the third year in a row, Excellent Events in Vankleek Hill does not plan to host any of its regular annual events in their usual format, including the popular May Show and Festival of Flavours. The May Show has been held on Main Street in the village for more than 30 years, while the Festival of Flavours regularly attracts thousands of people to Vankleek Hill’s downtown core.
But the organizers of Excellent Events say those events may never again be held in their past formats, as the COVID-19 pandemic has possibly changed public festivals for good.
“What we’re looking at is a new way to approach things,” said Samme Putzel, who along with her late partner Phil Arber has hosted events in Vankleek Hill for decades. “Everybody is going to have to look not at the things we cannot do, but the things that we can create again, in a new way.”
Putzel said Excellent Events is changing with the times and will try to continue to promote local culture and events.
“But the past way of operating, which was to gather together thousands of people, close down the streets and invite people from all over to come to (Vankleek Hill), is not something we are going to be able to do anytime soon,” Putzel explained. “What we’re looking at is creating events that will be over time, in smaller spaces and smaller groups.”
The Christmas Craft Show is one event which Excellent Events has already converted into a new format. Previously hosted at the Vankleek Hill Community Centre with dozens of vendors and hundreds of visitors over one weekend, for the past two years the craft show has been held as a smaller event at the Vankleek Hill Creating Centre, with fewer vendors spaced over a period of several weekends.
“Instead of having (the craft sale) in two days, we’re having it over six weeks,” Putzel noted. “It’s the same number of vendors, but we can’t gather them all in the same spot at the same time.”
Like its founder Phil Arber, Excellent Events is adapting with Vankleek Hill, Putzel said.
“Phil always used the town as the setting for his events and the street was a wonderful location, but now we’re going to look at other kinds of settings in town,” Putzel said. “Including the businesses, the park and garden areas that we can use outside, and smaller spaces where we can encourage people to come together, but not be so close.”
One exception could be the annual Horse and Buggy Parade held in Vankleek Hill, whose format is more suited to social distancing.
“The Horse and Buggy Parade is a favorite and if there is any parade we can do it will be that one,” Putzel said, noting this year will be the 25th anniversary of the parade and would coincide with Vankleek Hill’s HOPE 225 celebrations.
In addition to the pandemic, larger events are facing continuing problems in obtaining insurance, Putzel said. All of the issues faced by organizers of events will have an effect on how they are structured going in the future.
“What I see is a new world and a new social way of bringing community together and we will be there to do that,” said Putzel, who described social media as a tool, but not the ultimate solution to live events. “I think the internet is one way, but it’s not the same.”
“We have to try to find other ways to reach people in a more physical way. I think we will, but we just have to figure out what way is the best and the safest.”