The Hills Garlic Festival will not be taking place this summer.
“This decision was made with the best interests of our small community in mind,” says a notice on the festival website. “We look forward to welcoming vendors, patrons, and volunteers in 2022.”
The Hills Recreation Society’s board of directors chose to cancel the popular annual event in New Denver despite the easing of COVID-related restrictions on gatherings and events, says Ellen Kinsel, treasurer.
“The directors anguished over the decision,” she says. “But we had a course of action we decided in the winter… the directors decided that May would be our ‘drop-dead’ decision point, because already waiting till May meant compressing the work that needs to be done. To carry it off would be difficult.”
When Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry indicated earlier in May that the Pacific National Exhibition would not be allowed to take place this year, Kinsel said she knew the course of action they had to take.
“That was kind of our indicator it was not going to be possible to hold the Garlic Festival,” she says.
She said the decision came after surveying its regular vendors. When consulting with them about their decision to cancel, they received positive feedback.
“Nobody was ranting and raving,” she chuckles. “They all said they looked forward to being back in 2022. So we’re very much hoping we’ll be able to do this.”
Even if they had decided to go ahead, it would have been a very limited event, she says, with strict limits to the number of vendors and tickets sold to visitors.
“In addition to ticketing, we were not going to have food or music, because those are two things that keep people on site,” says Kinsel. “We wanted to have a system where people would come, move in a flow past the vendors and do their shopping, and not have things that encourage them to stay.”
Which sort of defeats the purpose of a community festival, she acknowledges.
“We feel very committed to our vendors and we know many of them are struggling, and we were hoping we could provide them with a marketplace, but it’s not going to happen.”
The festival was cancelled in 2020 as well, when the first wave of the pandemic was well underway.
The festival is an important revenue generator for the tiny Hills Recreation Society, raising up to $15,000 annually to fund youth recreation and other community activities throughout the year. They managed to hang in last year with reserves they had in store, says Kinsel, and help from the Slocan Valley Legacy Society and RDCK Area H Director Walter Popoff.
While Popoff’s grant will keep the lights on in the Hills Community Hall, the other groups the Recreation Society supports are out of luck for a second year.
“We feel really badly that we are not going to be able to contribute to other organizations again this year,” she says. “That’s a great loss, we feel, but there’s not much we can do about it.”
Using other funding sources, the society has managed to continue to support what activities it can, she says, like local ski trail maintenance and helping some youth participate in activities.
Festival fans can continue to support the community and its vendors by visiting the festival website vendors page (www.hillsgarlicfest.ca) and making purchases from its member vendors directly.
Kinsel says the festival board will meet next December to start planning the next festival – depending, of course, on where the virus is taking the world by then.