The 2016 Illuminaria Lantern Festival has been cancelled.
After 16 years, the Mission Association for Community Living (MACL) has announced that it will no longer be holding the popular event.
“We don’t have capacity to take the lead on the festival. It’s just grown beyond what we can manage,” explained Dawn Hein, executive director of MACL.
“Our little festival has grown way beyond what we can manage.”
The festival began in 2000. October had been declared Community Living Month in B.C. in the late 1990s and the decision was made to create a local event to coincide with the month.
“It was meant to highlight community living inspired by the success of people with disabilities being welcomed back home into their communities. Our organization chose the symbol of light,” Hein said.
The first festival attracted about 100 people. Last year, more than 5,000 people attended the event in Fraser River Heritage Park.
The festival offers a variety of daylight activities, including lantern making and sales, live entertainment and a lantern labyrinth. When the sun sets, lanterns are lit, a troupe of pyrotechnic artists juggle and breathe fire, and the evening ends with fireworks.
Hein, who spoke before Mission council on Monday night, said it was a very difficult decision to make.
“It’s hard to say good-bye to the festival.”
She said one of the key reasons for the cancellation was that the event lost money every year and there was no guarantee for funding.
As well, there was a large increase in the work load for staff and volunteers as the festival grew and became more complex.
Hein said the original purpose of the event has shifted away from celebrating Community Living month. (The event is now held in September instead of October.)
“We want to move back to the grass roots of the marking of Community Living Month,” she said.
One of the biggest issues is the increase in risk and liability.
Hein said as the event grew, so did the presence of drugs and alcohol. Also, the presence of lit lanterns in the park was a big fire risk, and organizers have been unable to consistently secure policing or fire department presence.
Hein asked council if the $5,000 in grant money received from the district could now be used to combine some elements from the lantern festival with the annual Diwali celebrations.
However, council members did not address that issue, instead suggesting that MACL could continue to run the festival with more assistance from district staff.
Several councillors urged Hein to work with staff to find a solution.
But the decision to cancel has been made.
On Tuesday, Hein did speak to staff and told them that MACL would offer its support if the district wants to “take the lead on the festival,” but the organization will not host the event.
Acting mayor Carol Hamilton said council will wait for a report from staff before making any decisions about Illuminaria.
“We would like to see it continue in some fashion,” said Hamilton.
“It probably wouldn’t be the same as it was in the past because it was quite grand.”
She said many events have evolved over time and council would like to see Illuminaria remain, if feasibly possible.
“We’d have to look at all of what’s involved with having it run without MACL taking the lead.”