By Chad Ingram
Algonquin Highlands residents will be able to tune into Zoom for a virtual Christmas tree lighting celebration featuring members of council and scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 9.
During a Nov. 19 meeting, councillors discussed what such an event might look like, and who would be invited to take part during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Normally, annual tree-lighting community celebrations take place in Oxtongue Lake and Dorset.
“Instead, we came up with a virtual event where we would like to be able to essentially host a tree-lighting, using [online conferencing app] Zoom,” parks, rec and trails manager Chris Card told councillors. As Card explained, the idea would be to have tree lightings in Oxtongue Lake and Dorset, as well as Stanhope, featuring councillors in each of their wards, an address from the mayor, carol-singing led by a local musician, perhaps a visit from Santa Claus, etc.
Card said it was recommended that members of township advisory committees also be invited to physically attend the events, but that a wider public invitation to the community not take place.
“Admittedly, having a bunch of people in any location makes me a bit nervous given that we have worked so hard to not offer those opportunities,”said Mayor Carol Moffatt.
“There has been appetite at Oxtongue Lake for a reduced, socially distanced, COVID-responsible gathering during the tree lighting,” said Ward 3 Councillor Jen Dailloux, adding the longstanding event is a highlight of the season for many residents.
“It’s one of those opportunities where being COVID-responsible is possible,” Dailloux said, making reference to the outdoor nature of the event and suggesting that attendees could arrive at scheduled, staggered times, making their way to hula hoops set out in the snow, indicating where to stand. “It’s one of the few opportunities where an outdoor event might be possible, with in fact limited movement.”
Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen said that ultimately she couldn’t support having groups of people assemble.
“We’re seeing increasing numbers by the day,” Danielsen said. “Haliburton County is extremely fortunate in remaining in a green zone [under the province’s COVID-19 restrictions framework], and it’s just this kind of activity that, no matter how carefully planned it is, when you gather a large number of people together . . . there’s so many risks associated.”
“Personally, I just can’t support a gathering at a time when the numbers are increasing so rapidly in Ontario,” Danielsen said.
Numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province have climbing toward 1,600 per day, while in the county, at press time, the total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic began is 25, 23 of them considered resolved.
“My concern with Councillor Dailloux’s request is that we have to do the same thing in all three communities,” Moffatt said, adding that Dorset and Stanhope were more populated than Oxtongue Lake. “ . . . The more that are involved in terms of public attendance, to me, just creates more logistical challenges for a smooth event.”
Dailloux said there have been other events where pre-registration is required, and limits are put on the number of attendees. A children’s Halloween party at the Minden Hiils Cultural Centre last month worked in that fashion.
“We aren’t allowing our committees to meet,” said Danielsen, referencing the fact that township advisory committee meetings have been suspended since the pandemic began. “So if they can’t meet for the business of council, how can we say that they can meet under other circumstances? Inside or outside, you know, I’ve got an issue with adding too many people.”
Ultimately, after a lengthy conversation, it was decided that the event would basically include councillors and staff.
“I think it’s the best way, given the circumstances,” said Councillor Lisa Barry.