By Chad Ingram
Algonquin Highlands council has cancelled popular winter festival the Dorset Snowball amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Councillors made that decision during a Sept. 17 meeting after hearing a report from parks, rec and trails director Chris Card.
Card told councillors that normally, organizing for the February event, which includes a host of winter activities and attracts thousands of people, begins in September.
“Committees are not currently meeting due to COVID-19 restrictions and no date is currently known about when this will be possible,” read a report from Card. “The Dorset Snowball committee meets regularly during the planning phase and is a paramount component of the event.”
“I have reached out to the health unit, and we have done some research on what other jurisdictions and locales are doing,” Card told councillors. “Nobody is announcing anything on their winter festivals yet. The health unit is reviewing it, and [is] going to be getting back to us, but I haven’t heard anything back from them as of yet. The way that the restrictions look right now, if we were to plan the event, we’d have to plan around being able to manage an event that draws several thousand people, without having more than 100 people gather at any given time. Everybody would have to remain socially distanced. All of the types of protocols that we have come to live with and expect would have to be in place, which I also anticipate would be a lot more effort from staff, we’d need more volunteers just to be able to sort out lineups, etc., and cleaning and disinfecting regularly of all of the booths and all of the visitor experiences.”
Provincial restrictions had been 50 people for indoor gatherings and 100 for outdoor ones, but since last week’s council meeting, the limits have been decreased to 10 and 25, respectively.
Councillors agreed they couldn’t see how the festival would be logistically workable.
“We know that events all over have been cancelled,” said Mayor Carol Moffatt. “Our focus needs to be on the public safety issue and our ability to actually undertake the recommendations across any of the aspects of the event.”
“For me, the death knell really is the limit on gathering sizes,” said Councillor Jennifer Dailloux.
“At first, I sort of went through my head, how could we possibly do this in a safe way, and we just can’t,” said Deputy Mayor Liz Danielsen. “And it’s one of the most disappointing things that we would do, is to cancel it, but I just feel strongly that we are going to have to cancel it.”
“Asking our volunteers to come and participate when there’s so much unknown is just not fair,” said Councillor Julia Shortreed, whose ward includes Dorset. “I just can’t see a way of making it work where everyone is safe enough.”
Next year, 2021, would have marked the 31st year of the Snowball. Almost all annual public events that take place throughout Haliburton County have been cancelled amid the COVID-19 crisis.