As gatherings go, the Edmonton Heritage Festival is one of the largest to happen each summer, with typically more than 350,000 patrons busily commingling in Hawrelak Park over the August long weekend.
This year, the feast of cultural diversity and performance buffet returns to the park from July 31 to Aug. 2, with an additional preview series of concerts for World Music Week at the Heritage Amphitheatre starting on July 29.
"It's astonishing how well it's coming together, to be honest," executive director Jim Gibbon told Taproot. "Everything is so last minute, so just to have tents up on time and all these cultural groups working twice as hard to make it all happen, it's just been incredible."
After an entirely virtual delivery in 2020, attendance to this year's festival — free as usual — will be capped at 150,000 (around 40% of the usual total), with timed-entry bookings required in advance.
Instead of food tickets being sold for the sampling of international cuisines, each cultural pavilion will accept payment by debit or credit card; no cash will be handled onsite. Dance stages — among the liveliest sights on the grounds — will have distancing areas fenced for viewers and artist safety, and visual guidelines will be posted around the festival site to ensure communications are understood by all.
Edmonton Heritage Festival returns to Hawrelak Park, July 31-Aug. 2. (Explore Edmonton)
Distancing has been made easier by reducing the pavilions by a third, and masks are required on the grounds unless you're shoveling shawarma or other tasty delights into your mouth. Ultraviolet lights will sanitize the interiors of the portable toilets, too. All that aside, organizers encourage visitors to bring along everything they usually would to enjoy an afternoon in the park.
"I think it will feel open and safe," said Gibbon, noting that bookings for admissions have been growing steadily in recent days. "I think the concern will be how to turn people away when the tickets are sold out."