COVID-19 concerns have forced Ucluelet to cancel its three-day Ukee Days festival this summer, along with the event’s popular Baby Crawling Contest. (Westerly file photo)

COVID-19 concerns have forced Ucluelet to cancel its three-day Ukee Days festival this summer, along with the event’s popular Baby Crawling Contest. (Westerly file photo)

Ucluelet officially cancels Ukee Days festival

“We’ve been dragging our feet on this decision for a while,” said Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel.

After weeks of speculation, the District of Ucluelet has officially dropped the axe on this year’s Ukee Days celebration.

The annual three-day summer festival had remained on the town’s July calendar up until the district announced its cancellation on Friday, June 5.

“It is with great regret that we are taking a hiatus from Ukee Days this year but in light of the current pandemic, our priority is the health and safety of our community,” Ucluelet’s manager of recreation and tourism Abby Fortune said through the announcement. “We are looking forward to the future where our community can once again celebrate.”

Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel told the Westerly News that he and his council had held out hope that creative solutions could be found to keep the festival feasible this year, but ultimately agreed to cancel it.

“We’ve been dragging our feet on this decision for a while,” he said. “All your elected council really, really, struggled. Staff wanted to come out with that announcement three or four weeks ago and we pumped the brakes on that, really trying to figure out if we really had to say no this year and, unfortunately, that’s the way it looks right now with the information that we have before us.”

He noted that provincial restrictions continue to limit all public gatherings to under 50 people and that the district could not be confident that those restrictions would be lifted in time for the event.

“We can’t say that we’ll be able to have any kind of large gatherings and that’s what Ukee Days is all about. So, it was unfortunate, but we had to make that public announcement that it would not be happening this year…We’re all going to miss Ukee Days.”

He added that the district hopes to put together some alternative community events this summer and cited a potential outdoor theatre and local fishing derby as ideas currently being worked on.

“Not to backfill Ukee Days, but at least give us some kind of community minded event,” he said. “We’re trying to come up with some creative options. Things are moving quite quickly. The province just allowed playgrounds to be opened up last week, so things are changing quite quickly and hopefully they’ll be less restraints and we’ll be able to do something.”

He said he is confident Ukee Days will return next year.

“We have to be confident that we’re just going to continue down this path and the world will get a little more normal as the weeks go on. We want to make it come back bigger and better, but right now we’re still licking our wounds from the fact that we had to make that announcement,” he said. “Next year, I’m the mayor and I turn 50 during the same weekend, so we’ll have a good old party.”

He added that while the festival will be missed, he still expects the vibe in town to be positive this summer.

“I believe it’s going to be very vibrant…It’s going to be very outdoorsy,” he said, adding local restaurants are working hard to come up with outdoor patio solutions.

“The business community is taking on the responsibility of making sure that the tourists understand the sensitive topic of coming to the West Coast so, in general, I do believe it’s going to be a vibrant summer…Those businesses that have been put on pause for the last 90 days are anxious to get back to work.”

He said he expects some apprehension from residents who are starting to see an influx of tourists coming to town as non-essential travel restrictions ease, but he hopes everyone remains kind.

“Remember that, even if they are tourists or people you don’t recognize, they’re just trying to find a little corner to enjoy,” he said. “Just be mindful of your surroundings. There’s no need right now to be putting the gloves up, the time right now is about embracing each other’s little bit of freedom that we’re being given and remember that, as much as we enjoy to get out of town to maybe do some shopping, these Vancouver Islanders or mainland people are coming over here with their families to get a little bit of mental reprieve and some open space and some fresh air, so just be kind.”

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