After the festival was cancelled last year, crowds were excited to return to the Bala Cranberry Festival from Oct. 15 to 17 for a sold-out weekend of cranberries, live entertainment and local vendors.
Event and Operations Director Tania Cowley said their team scanned 9,400 tickets over the four time slots during the festival with Sunday having the highest attendance. Though there were some challenges planning the event, many of the new procedures put in place for COVID also allowed organizers to support faster response times for potential emergencies in addition to allowing for shorter lines and an improved visitor experience, Cowley said. Nearly all of the vendors reported a successful weekend.
“We had some vendors who sold out of product and plan to bring more stock in 2022,” Cowley said. “Many of the planning and execution factors that we adapted for 2021 we plan on keeping for future years. Quality over quantity is something the festival plans to stay focused on and the smaller footprint of the event allowed guests more time to interact with vendors.”
Nick Jensen, vice chair for the festival’s Board of Directors, said it was disappointing to cancel the 2020 festival, but the fundraiser they ran selling a special edition 2020 button helped remind their team that the event is important to so many people.
“We wanted to be back for 2021 and give people something special that they could enjoy and look forward to,” Jensen said. “I heard numerous times from visitors that it was a relief to do something that almost felt normal.”
As one of the largest events in Muskoka since early 2020, the team had to work closely with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, the Township of Muskoka Lakes, emergency services and other stakeholders to address health and safety concerns. Safety measures included advance ticket sales, extra security, separate entrances and exits, handwashing and sanitization stations, and more.
“It was exciting to be part of Team Cranberry. It came together well and everyone contributed to its success,” Jensen said, adding that Cowley was instrumental in pulling the festival together. “The visitors are what make the festival, and seeing people smiling and laughing, enjoying the entertainment and supporting the vendors really sets the tone.”
Lisa MacLeod, minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, attended the final day of the event and announced $130,000 in funding for the festival, which has been a staple of the community since 1984. The funding will help support the festival over the next two years, according to the Township of Muskoka Lakes.
Chef Mark Pollard, founder and president of Sprucewood Handmade Cookie Co., said crowds were pent-up and ready to support a safe gathering, and the Cranberry Festival delivered.
“This was a fabulous renewal of a fine longstanding event; simply one of the best in Ontario!” Pollard said in a written statement to Muskoka411. “As an arena Exhibitor, we were blessed to be part of a well executed event – with sales above the 2019 Show!! I really think the Show Management organized and executed with ease; especially during these unusual times for public gathering.”
For more information on the Bala Cranberry Festival, visit the event website.