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Whistler council votes against bringing back 2023 Canada Day parade

Proposed resolution defeated in 4-3 vote
parade canada letter
Whistler's traditional Canada Day parade is not returning in 2023.

Cognizant of Whistler residents' desire to see the resort’s annual Canada Day Parade return, Councillor Ralph Forsyth brought a last-minute resolution to the June 6 council meeting to direct staff to add a parade to the resort’s planned Canada Day celebrations

“When I had heard about the cancellation of the parade, I was like, oh, that seems kind of sad, and my initial instinct was, I guess we're becoming too big of a town to have a parade with the little kids on their bikes and stuff like that,” Forsyth said. “But then I started to hear [concerns from residents] ... I haven't been to a dinner party or a mountain bike ride or any community event where it hasn't come up, and I haven't heard of a single person who's in favour of cancelling it." 

Forsyth’s motion failed in a 4-3 vote.

Whistler has not had a traditional Canada Day parade since 2019. The 2020 and 2021 editions were sidelined due to COVID-19, and last year’s celebrations were scaled back after the remains of 215 children were discovered on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Forsyth emphasized the significance of the yearly parade in uniting people and instilling a sense of civic and national pride in the community, and noted there is a strong desire from residents to see the parade return. 

“I think that sentiment in the community is real,” Forsyth said. 

“It's palpable to me, at least, and I think if we aren't responsive to the needs and the desires of the community … I fear that we may be missing the point.”

But pulling a parade together on short notice would be difficult at this point, said Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) chief administrative officer Ginny Cullen.

“Whistler hasn't had a parade since 2019. There are various reasons for that: COVID-19 health and safety measures, some really important considerations with Truth and Reconciliation and the national discussion that is ongoing around that and what is appropriate for Canada Day celebrations,” Cullen said. 

“Then also just the capacity of our local businesses … they're still struggling to be fully staffed. And to then take something else on for them is actually stressful, and so we've had to be sensitive and aware and upfront about that and understanding it.” 

General manager of community engagement and cultural services Karen Elliott echoed Cullen’s reasoning. 

“I think our staff have been working really hard to balance the needs of the community and those that have participated in the past in the parades. They saw declining participation from local businesses from 2015 to 2019. Then we had COVID. And we are hearing very clearly from local businesses that they cannot take on more,” Elliott said. 

“The thinking and effort that's gone into planning this year's events is about keeping people together for longer. It's about creating opportunities where our citizens can stand shoulder-to-shoulder for a period of over five hours, rather than standing shoulder-to-shoulder for 40 minutes for the parade.” 

One of the goals is to keep people in the village “so that local businesses can benefit from [more] people's presence for longer, and also adding events where citizens can reconnect,” Elliott added. “And that's been a big theme with our colleagues that are organizing events across the province.”

Instead of holding a parade, the RMOW is putting on several other festive activities, including community yoga, face-painting, photo booths, summer bobsledding, and a 108-person marching band that will make its way through the village. 

Coun. Jen Ford said she also heard concerns from numerous community members, and wished to see a parade return, even in a scaled-back form, with volunteer help from the community if it is needed. 

Staff argued that even a scaled-back parade with RMOW support is still too challenging to pull together on the short timeline, and they didn’t want to endorse a resolution they couldn’t deliver on. 

“To make a decision or be given direction to pull something together that we can see is incredibly impractical right now is pretty difficult,” Cullen said. “We would love to be able to produce what is being requested of us, but I'm concerned that the direction that's being provided is something that we aren't actually going to be able to carry out.” 

Mayor Jack Crompton and Couns. Arthur De Jong, Jeff Murl and Cathy Jewett all sided with staff and voted against the resolution, with Couns. Forsyth, Ford, and Jessie Morden voting in favour. 

“We're being told that we don't have the capacity or the time to deliver this year; I think we should heed that warning. Our team has been working on delivering a great Canada Day event for months now, and I think there's a real opportunity to celebrate well and get the full advantage of all the work that's gone into delivering Canada Day this year,’ Crompton said. 

“I think the conversation about the value of a Canada Day parade is important, but it really should be a 2024 discussion. We don't have the time or the capacity to deliver an event of this scale 27 days from now. So I'd encourage us to put this as part of the budget discussion or maybe a Festivals, Events and Animation conversation for 2024. So that if we do decide to bring back a Canada Day parade, we do it well.”