Hello Mechanicsville! Westfest is moving to Laroche Park (updated)

Updated at 3:30 p.m. Oct. 8 by Craig Lord – 

The 2016 instalment of Westfest is moving from the streets of Westboro to the grassy fields of Laroche Park, the festival announced in a press release on Oct.8.

Westfest producer Elaina Martin says the Kitchissippi Park has been “overlooked” in the past, and notes that the original intent of Westfest was to reinvigorate an unappreciated city space. Her discussions with the Mechanicsville Community Association that manages the park sealed the deal.

“We get this feel from them that they really wanted to bring people in and celebrate in their park,” Martin says. “We realized this is a really great fit. Because that’s what we do: we bring stimulus to areas that are overlooked.”

The positive response from members of the community she’s spoken with has reaffirmed Martin’s decision.

“That’s music to my ears. I want to go somewhere where they want us.”

Martin says she is excited by the potential of the location. Laroche Park is one block off of Scott Street, with the Ottawa River and Trans Canada Trail just to the north. The site also features transit access from Bayview Station and parking available on neighbouring streets and at the nearby Tunney’s Pasture lots.

“We can now invite people to come down with their families, their blankets, and their lawnchairs – their coolers, even. This will be a community celebration like nothing we’ve ever been able to house,” says Martin.

Westfest was put in a bind in July when the Westboro Village BIA decided to opt out if its title sponsorship in order to pursue other initiatives, including a more cost-efficient Westboro festival. Since then, Martin has been searching for a location and new title sponsors.

Sheba Schmidt, owner of West End Kids in Westboro, was at odds with the Westboro BIA’s decision, organizing petitions to change the board’s minds. Though she’s disappointed that Westfest will no longer be at her doorstep, she’s happy Martin is keeping the festival’s momentum going.

“It’s been a really emotional ride for all of us. … I’m very happy for her that she was able to salvage,” Schmidt says.

The Westboro BIA recently issued a request for proposals for its new summer festival, pricing the 2016 budget for the event at $100,000, $25,000 less than what Martin had to run Westfest in 2015.

“That’s not a lot of money. … It’s something I’m going to be very vocal about at the [Annual General Meeting],” says Schmidt.

For Martin, who has been constantly “jumping through hoops” to resolve Westfest’s woes, it’s a relief to have the location finally nailed down.

“It has been a hard summer. I was very sad and depressed when I first got that news. It was a shock. But I’m a survivor,” she says.

“I was able to, with the strength of the community behind me, pull up my big girl pants and make this happen… The future looks bright for this festival.”

The 13th edition of Westfest will run June 10-12, 2016.

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