After two years of modified activities, plans are underway for a full-on revival of Bradford West Gwillimbury’s signature community and cultural event – Carrot Fest.
Due to the COVID pandemic, the 2020 edition of the decades-old festival was held virtually, while a limited program was offered last year. According to Bethany Kuboniwa, Leisure Events & Marketing Supervisor for the Town of BWG, planning is already underway to bring Carrot Fest back to its former glory.
It will be taking place once again in the heart of downtown, on Friday, Aug. 19 and Saturday, Aug. 20, with a good portion of Holland Street blocked off to traffic to allow for the expansive vendors market and the erection of a stage for live entertainment. Other events will also take place at the Community Centre.
“We have already started to promote vendor applications, with many already applying. Lots of people are also engaging with us on social media and seem to be excited to see Carrot Fest back. We’re happy to be able to have the vendors market back and expect to have more than 200 vendors on the street,” Kuboniwa explained.
“Many of the vendors are downtown businesses and apply to have a vendor booth in front of their business, while others are business from other parts of town. Some vendors also come in from neighbouring communities as well. And we also have a number of community organizations setting up booths to promote their programs and services.”
As well as the vendors market, a stage will be set up for live entertainment, and there will also be buskers, special ‘kids’ zone’ including inflatables, and a youth zone set up at the Community Centre. Official Carrot Fest mascot, Gwilly, will also be out and about, a visible reminder of the festival’s homage to the agricultural heritage of Bradford West Gwillimbury, and the importance of the carrot harvest to the ongoing prosperity of the region.
According to the BWG website, “the black organic soils of the Holland Marsh make Bradford West Gwillimbury one of Canada’s biggest carrot-producing regions and the ‘Heart of the Vegetable Industry.’
The origin of Carrot Fest goes back more than 50 years to the Salad Festival, which by 1977 had incorporated the first Harvest Festival and Harvest Queen event. When the Town of BWG was created through amalgamation in 1991, the newly created Heritage Environmental Agricultural Recreational Tourism (HEART) committee was struck to promote tourism, economic development and downtown revitalization, beginning with downtown beautification and the establishment of a farmers’ market in the town’s core. This eventually morphed into what was then called Super Saturday on the Labour Day weekend.
The HEART group then chose to celebrate the centrality of the carrot, since BWG produces more than 70 per cent of all carrots in Canada, renaming this one-day spectacle Carrot Fest in the late 1990s. The Town of BWG took over operation of Carrot Fest in 2005, and the event expanded to both Friday evening and Saturday in 2017 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the creation of Canada and has maintained the two-day version to this day.
Kuboniwa said that the average attendance for the event over 2017, 2018 and 2019 (the last pre-COVID year) was between 30,000 and 40,000.
“We do get a lot of people from Bradford and the surrounding municipalities, but we have also had people come from out of province and even out of country in years past, so it’s a wide range of people. And of course we have something for the whole family, and we do get a lot of families come out because there is a lot to see and do and everything is free,” she said, adding that in 2019, approximately $1 million was generated for the BWG economy due to Carrot Fest, with an additional $250,000 throughout the wider area.
“Carrot Fest serves as a showcase to help draw new residents and new businesses, with grants for business investment and expansion markedly higher after the festival’s completion.”