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Bicentennial events lacked local participation from businesses and others, says coordinator

1812 bicentennial parade in Fort Erie, June 2012(Nov 2 12) War of 1812 bicentennial events “ranged from outrageously successful to moderately successful,” said John Johnston, the staff coordinator of the Town committee charged with commemorating the anniversary.

The committee organized six major and a number of minor events that Johnston said enhanced the image and profile of Fort Erie. While some were well-attended, others were not and there was a decided lack of local participation by businesses, corporations and service clubs, he said.

However, the committee met its objective “to celebrate the War of 1812 with the highest possible standards highlighting its importance to Canada and Fort Erie,” Johnston told Fort Erie town council.

Expenditures on the events amounted to approximately $300,000 from a $365,000 budget.

The Town contributed $200,000 to the 2012 budget. A federal grant of $150,000 was received in late spring and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation donated $15,000.

“The majority of events were highly successful,” Johnston said.

Deemed as only “moderately successful” were the Can-Am hockey game, which drew only 500 spectators, and the summer theatrical production of “Sparks from a Campfire” which was poorly attended.

A winter theatrical production, the Lion and the Eagle, played to full houses for 12 performances in January. Also well-attended were a series of four public lectures on topics related to the war.

The Great Debate between journalists David Frum and Roy MacGregor in September drew half the expected audience of 400 but accounted for nearly $12,000 in revenue from the sale of $75 tickets with a total cost of $48,000.

‘Happy’ with parade attendance

The signature event, the grand parade, drew between 17,000 and 20,000 people and the associated military tattoo at the Fort attracted about 5,000, he said.

“We were happy with that,” Johnston said of the attendance, although it was originally touted that the parade would attract 100,000.

Among parade attendees who were surveyed, 75 per cent resided in Fort Erie, seven per cent within 25 miles, and the rest beyond.

He said restaurants which were surveyed showed a 15 per cent spike in business on the day of the parade compared to last year. Hotel occupancies increased 20 per cent, and convenience stores experienced a five per cent hike.

The total cost of the parade and tattoo was $147,000 which was a dramatic reduction from a “million dollar parade” that was originally envisioned, he said.

The scale of the parade had been dependent on the size of the federal grant which was much smaller than what the committee had requested.

He noted, however, that the federal grant was one of the largest given to any event of all the bicentennial programs in the country.

$65,000 spent on advertising

The committee spent approximately $65,000 on advertising in “all manner of media” in Fort Erie, southern Ontario and the northeastern United States, he said.

Johnston said he was disappointed with “minimal to no funding support from local businesses, corporations and service clubs” despite repeated attempts.

“We had a series of lunches with, for example, restaurant and hotel owners, so that we could brief them on the bicentennial, enlist their support and assist in their planning,” he said.

“We did the same with banks and local industries and I would say the interest in attendance in those events was minimal. It was somewhat disappointing,” Johnston said.

‘Somewhat mystifying, somewhat disappointing’

“We were presenting local businesses with a tremendous opportunity, and in the end it was approximately 20,000 people worth of opportunity, but almost no businesses seemed to take advantage of that other than those who were directly involved in feeding parade participants in the marshalling area,” he said.

“There were no specials advertised, no package deals, and that was somewhat mystifying and somewhat disappointing,” he said.

“It was a great missed opportunity on the part of a municipality who obviously needs to take advantage of such activities and opportunities.”

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