Saturday, February 15, 2014


Artists create ice sculptures while people skate in the background, at Winterloo 2014 today:

I like community events that are community celebrations. What could be better than an Urban Iditirod (a pub crawl by people pushing each other in shopping carts) or a Zombie Walk or Parade of the Species? The Ice Dogs Festival was one of those charming events: it was organized by people who love ice and love dogs, and it wasn't afraid to be goofy. Here's my glowing review of the 2010 event: Ice Dogs.

A couple of years ago someone apparently decided that Ice Dogs needed a more professional approach, and they rebranded it as the Winterloo Festival, which is on this weekend. Gone are the contests for people who look like their dogs. Gone is the free food and carnival atmosphere. Gone are most of the dogs. And there didn't seem to be nearly as many people, either. (What there appears to be more of is play events for small children, which is nice but shouldn't be so much the focus.)

One decision I applaud was to combine Winterloo with the Uptown Family Day celebration (which used to be on separate weekends), and so create a three-day event. That's cool. But the rest: meh. As far as I can see, they took a charming and popular local festival and they turned it into something bland and boring.

My first career was in market research and I can't help myself from doing surveys all the time - I walked into most of the establishments in Waterloo Square today and asked how uptown festivals affect their business. The consensus was: for restaurants, festivals boost business a bit; for retail, they're a detriment. The shops in Waterloo Square are hanging on by a thread these days (another one, the shoe store, is closing) and I wish we were doing more to boost them.

Winterloo desperately needs to more fully engage the community. Let's add a kazooba band parade or some winter flash mobs. This festival is falling splat in the middle of Canada's biggest winter sporting event - the winter Olympics - so why aren't there some fun Olympic-themed events? Prizes could be gift certificates to shops in Waterloo Square (after all, they're losing business because there's no parking this weekend). And where's the interesting food? This year there are two food stands: hot dogs and popcorn (neither free). Aren't there local businesses that would like to sell us some street food?

I realize that volunteers have put a lot of hard work into Winterloo, and I apologise for being critical, but I perceive a change in the uptown that I don't like. It's a change from amateur to professional, from quirky to bland, from bottom-up to top-down. I have all kinds of respect for the people who manage the Public Square and I'm not sure quite what the problem is, but nothing is as fun as it should be.

A final crabby note: someone should have cleared the snow around the public seating. Sure it's -9, but it's sunny and it would have been nice to be able to hang out.

Here's the Winterloo schedule of events for this weekend: Schedule


Marie Snyder said...

I agree that Uptown Waterloo has a corporate feel to it. It's too tidy, too carefully organized. I filled in all the cultural surveys sent out and said as much, but I'm not sure it will have much effect. Some people, largely people closer to the top, prefer organized to vibrant. Watch how Guelph does it. For my money, that's the city to copy.

Yappa said...

Hi Marie,

You said it better than I did... and I agree about Guelph. London Ontario also has some wonderful community festivals.