British Columbia

B.C. festivals seek ways to recover from wildfires

As festival season comes to a close with the end of summer, event organizers in B.C.'s Interior are trying to come up with ways to recover from cancelled festivals and diminished tourism after months of wildfires.

Five festivals cancelled in the Cariboo this summer and tourism numbers down

ArtWells Festival's opening parade this August. (ArtWells Festival/Facebook)

As festival season comes to a close with the end of summer, event organizers in B.C.'s Interior are trying to recover from cancelled festivals and diminished tourism after months of wildfires.

Julie Fowler, the executive director for Island Mountain Arts, runs the ArtsWells Festival in the Cariboo every summer. After emergency meetings with RCMP, firefighters and the mayor of Wells, her art festival was able to continue, despite nearby fires, but it was a close call.

"It was a bit of a miracle," Fowler told CBC's host ofRadio West Sarah Penton. "But still, it was a day-by-day thing right up to the festival. Certainly, I gained my nerves of steel this summer."   

Fewer people than usual showed up, Fowler said, but she considers herself one of the lucky ones.

Other festivals were not so fortunate. In the Cariboo region alone, Fowler said, five festivals were cancelled due to wildfires.

Festival cancellations have a big impact on the community, affecting everyone from small businesses that rely on tourism to local artists, Fowler said. Refunding tickets can be a massive economic hit and stop festivals in their tracks for years to follow. 

The Cariboo region was one of the worst hit by wildfires this summer and five festivals planned there had to be cancelled. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Parks Canada-M.Kinley )

Insurance plan

Fowler said a relief fund is needed to help protect festivals from emergencies like wildfires and other extreme weather conditions.

She is exploring the possibility of setting up an emergency relief fund — essentially a pooled insurance fund — with other festival organizers.

"Can we create an insurance fund amongst ourselves — tack on an extra five dollars to our tickets — to create a fund that can help any of the festivals … if they face these kind of things?" she said.

Fowler said these kind of questions will discussed at the third annual Northern Exposure Conference next month, when music leaders and festivals organizers will gather to share stories and swap advice.

The Northern Exposure Conference runs from Oct. 13 to 15, 2017. 

To listen to the full interview with Julie Fowler, click on the audio link below:

With files from Radio West.