Tourism Burnaby wants Halloween festival to be largest in Canada

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The weather might have just started warming up, but Burnaby is already planning ahead for spooky season.

This year, Tourism Burnaby has its eyes set on making Burnaby’s 2023 Halloween Festival the biggest in Canada—and “an opportunity for the hundreds of diverse cultural groups of Burnaby to come together in a single city-wide celebration.”

By 2026, it envisions hosting 50 events to celebrate the spooky holiday.

A report to city council shows that the idea has been in the works since 2019, when a delegation of representatives from council, city staff, and Tourism Burnaby visited a popular Halloween festival in Derry, Northern Ireland.

That 35-year-old festival is the largest in Europe, and gathered more than 140,000 visitors to the citywide celebration in 2019.

The plan was to launch a similar experience here in Burnaby—but the COVID-19 pandemic came in the way.

Instead of its usual haunted village attraction, the city launched Eerie Illusions in 2021 at Burnaby Village Museum, which allowed it to more easily follow public health orders related to the pandemic and manage crowd size at each location within the museum.

In 2022, the event expanded to include live performances, a scavenger hunt, food trucks, and more—while Tourism Burnaby worked on partnerships with multiple other Halloween events in the city, including Pumpkins After Dark at Central Park and the Haunted Halloween Adventure at Warner Loat Park.

In order to expand Burnaby’s Halloween Festival to the degree that Tourism Burnaby executive director Chris Peters envisions, the organization says it needs help and resources from the city.

Peters is asking that city and parks and rec staff participate in the festival’s organizing committee; that Burnaby reduce or eliminate fees for partners at city-owned assets for the festival’s first year, with a sliding scale introduced later on; and that the number of city-owned and run events be increased.

Whether they receive those resources from the city is another question, however. The report to council says that culture event staff are currently at capacity based on this year’s existing plan, and additional Halloween events would require more staff and more funding.

“Staff did investigate the possibility of a multi-day Halloween Festival at Metrotown for 2023, however, it was determined such an event would be logistically challenging and costly to run,” reads the staff report.

“ … Recognizing the financial challenges faced by many communities due to the current inflationary environment, staff prioritized 2023’s events and festivals throughout the budget process. Through this process, the Canada Day Street Fest was prioritized and it was determined that Eerie Illusions would wind-down. Instead, a new City Halloween fireworks event is planned to occur October 27, 2023 in the northeast corner of Central Park.”

Meanwhile, there’s also the very popular Burnaby Village Museum programming to think about—Eerie Illusions saw more than 20,000 visitors from across the Lower Mainland in 2021 and 2022.

“… there is a community expectation that the BVM will be able to provide an event of this scale. The BVM currently has funding to run a very small 4 day event that could host approximately 5,000 people,” the report says.

The report notes Burnaby Village Museum would like to hold an 8-day event with an attendance capacity of about 20,000, and that staff are looking at re-allocating existing funding to accommodate that.

“While staff have reviewed the initial proposal presented by Tourism Burnaby, further information is required to understand and determine how the proposed festival could become an international Halloween Tourism attraction. … Participation on [Tourism Burnaby’s Halloween Festival organizing] committee will help staff to better determine the feasibility and advisability of more City participation in Tourism Burnaby’s Halloween Festival into the future,” the report reads.

“However, staff do not have the capacity to organize additional initiatives as noted above.”

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