A Winnipeg tradition for decades, Canada Day celebrations in Osborne Village have officially been cancelled, sparking mixed reviews from area businesses.
After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Osborne Village Business Improvement Zone decided to end the annual street party that dates back to the 1990s.
During the event, which typically took place on June 30 and July 1, a section of Osborne Street was closed to traffic and transformed into a sea of people, vendors and beer gardens.
Lindsay Somers, executive director of the BIZ, said businesses and residents no longer benefited from the event.
"A 300-seat patio on Osborne Street isn’t indicative of an Osborne Village experience. Nobody is connecting to a business in a meaningful way, or even getting a meal they can come back for," Somers said.
The Village, where about 13,000 people live, is one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Winnipeg. Residents tend to spend their time and money locally not just because of convenience — the BIZ has 150 businesses — but because they are invested in the community’s success, Somers explained.
While the celebration may attract tens of thousands of people to the area, many spent money on lemonade, mini-donuts and trinkets from outside vendors while ignoring the stores on the street, she said.
Robbie Rousseau, a longtime Village resident, puts it more bluntly.
"Nothing more than beer and food carts," he said. "A lot of the local people in Osborne Village would tell you they would leave during Canada Day weekend."
Rousseau has lived in the Village for 28 years; he moved there from Gimli after graduating from high school.
In recent years, he said the Canada Day celebration became a "much darker" event.
"You add 50,000 drunk people on the street on the weekend and not nice things can necessarily happen," Rosseau explains. "We’ve had two years without Canada Day celebrations and this is a perfectly fine evolution."
“You add 50,000 drunk people on the street on the weekend and not nice things can necessarily happen... We’ve had two years without Canada Day celebrations and this is a perfectly fine evolution.” – Robbie Rousseau
When Somers became BIZ executive director last October, she asked 90 businesses to participate in a survey about the annual event. Of those, 27 responded. Nearly 80 per cent said Canada Day increased their sales by very little or not at all. Most felt it did not attract new or return customers.
Michelle Arcand and Brent Jackson, owners of Urban Waves and Old Gold Vintage Vinyl, two businesses that share a storefront on Osborne Street, say they did not participate in the survey but are not surprised by the results.
Urban Waves typically loses money on Canada Day because Arcand must hire extra staff. Despite the influx of people on Canada Day, she rarely made enough in sales to cover her costs, she said.
"In the beginning, man, it was about the culture. It was a smaller event and then something just changed," Arcand said.
"(It became) a reason for people to just drink a beer on Osborne. It turned into that kind of a party where businesses like (ours) would just kind of suffer," Jackson added.
Not all businesses feel the same, however.
The owner of a restaurant and bar who asked to remain anonymous described the cancellation as a major hit to Osborne businesses, particularly restaurants.
"We’ve just come out of a pandemic, and we were forced to not have anything for two years, and the one big party we were waiting for because we’re finally open is shut down," the owner said. "If you’re a clothing store or something, have a great Canada Day sale… it really sucks."
Evgheni Sipco, general manager at Osborne Village’s Nu Burger agreed.
"(Cancelling the event is) pretty bad for the business because usually, we have lots of people. Especially now, we have pretty good weather, the patio is open," Sipco said. "We have another location at The Forks… so I hope they are going to get all the sales there."
“(Cancelling the event is) pretty bad for the business because usually, we have lots of people. Especially now, we have pretty good weather, the patio is open.” – Evgheni Sipco
In lieu of the Canada Day celebration, the BIZ will hold summer-long "Happy Fridays in the Village" that will include concerts, walking tours and — with the co-operation of retailers — extended shopping hours and street sales on Fridays throughout the summer.
Additionally, the BIZ plans to develop a new patio on Osborne Street designed by RAW Almond architect Joe Kalturnyk, and has commissioned local art group, Cool Streets Winnipeg, to paint a mural on the bell tower on the corner of Osborne Street and Stradbrook Avenue.
Somers said she hopes the Happy Fridays will attract repeat visitors and become a staple of the community.
"We’re looking to engage the neighbourhood, and build pride and a sense of connection and community," she said of her vision. "We can have really beautiful public spaces… people can come, listen to live music, do their shopping and enjoy a glass of wine."
The BIZ will soon introduce the lineup of concerts and events.
Ironically, the first "Happy Friday" is scheduled for Canada Day.