TIMMINS -- In a 2020 summer without COVID-19, Timmins would have looked forward to a slew of events and festivals, attracting both locals and tourists and bringing economic benefits to the region.

But for groups like the Timmins Festivals and Events Committee, this pandemic is putting that on hold. The committee announced on April 23 that it would have to cancel its popular “Rock on the River” festival, following provincial legislation banning gatherings of over five people.

‘Flipped, turned upside-down’

Echoing the feelings of many event organizations across the province, committee vice-chair Jeremy Wilson says it's a stressful and uncertain time to think about when communities will be able to resume their pre-pandemic lives. It also makes planning future festivals difficult, he says.

“The music industry has just been flipped, turned upside-down right now, you can’t really plan anything,” Wilson said. “Everybody’s just sitting still, waiting on word from the government.”

Any money spent on booking bands, venues and attractions will be returned, he said, but its usual summer fundraising campaigns will have to be cancelled as well.

With “Rock on the River” typically adding over $1 million to the local economy through hotel bookings, food and retail shopping, Wilson expects the whole community will feel the impact.

But if it results in stopping COVID-19, he said it’s worth it.

“Ultimately, the health and safety of our people, our audience, our artists, our staff, our volunteers — that’s paramount to us,” Wilson said. “We just have to do what’s best for the greater good and move forward.”

Right now, TFEC is planning to postpone its Beer Fest event to the fall, if restrictions are released by then. Otherwise, Wilson said his team will plan a bigger music festival in 2021 to make up for this year’s cancellation.

Organizations under ‘financial threat’

Tourism Timmins also organizes events like the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge & Festival, which usually attracts paddlers and vendors from across the province and has not yet been cancelled.

The city’s festival and events coordinator, Marnie Lapierre, said there’s a financial threat for both small and large events that will affect how they return from this situation.

“It depends on how well the economy can bounce back ... it could be end-term,” Lapierre says. “It also could be an opportunity to re-brand and provide a completely new and unique experience for those events that are looking to stay the course.”

In the meantime, Lapierre says the city is working on taking its annual “Summer Concert Series” events online and Wilson said his committee is exploring virtual entertainment options as well.

Relying on community support

Lapierre said many groups rely on government funding, like the province’s 'Celebrate Ontario' program, and aggressive fundraising to stay afloat. For Wilson, that means doubling down on campaigns once his committee can do so.

But Lapierre said it’s also up to community members to support those organizations so that these get-togethers can return in full-force.

“Events are part of a community’s identity ... and they represent the culture,” Lapierre said. “We want to see that, once we’re able to start gathering again in large groups, that people get out and really support the events.”


The Great Canadian Kayak Challenge & Festival was initially reported as being cancelled for this year, but has in fact not yet been cancelled.