Two of Coquitlam’s biggest events of the season won’t happen in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monday, committee-in-council unanimously voted to cancel the Remembrance Day service at the Blue Mountain Park cenotaph, which typically draws more than 1,000 people on Nov. 11. And it agreed to halt Lights at Lafarge, the largest free outdoor light display in Metro Vancouver that attracts up to 10,000 visitors to Town Centre Park on peak days.
The moves are a result of Dr. Bonnie Henry’s order, imposed on Oct. 9, that limits gatherings to 50 people to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Calling the decisions to cancel the events “regretful,” Don Luymes, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, told committee the city had to be in compliance with the provincial health officer’s order.
He also said it wouldn’t be possible to hold Lights at Lafarge as ticketed event due to the strict restrictions on crowd controls and the way the festival is set up.
Rather, city crews plan to light the perimeter of the lake “in a passive way” that won’t bring in large groups over the two-month period.
“This is the reality with what we’re dealing with,” Coun. Craig Hodge said, stressing health and safety precautions while noting many civic parties like Canada Day were also put on hold this year.
Hodge suggested Coquitlam residents be “resilient and creative” with their holiday decorations at home to make up for the loss of Lights at Lafarge.
Coun. Teri Towner echoed his sentiments, and asked city staff to look at the Block Party Program to offer grants to neighbourhoods that want to celebrate the Christmas season together but still be socially distanced; the program is open in the summer only.
As well, Coun. Brent Asmundson, who moved the motion to cancel both events, said he’d like to see Pinetree Way — from Lougheed Highway to David Avenue — decorated with festive lights for future seasons.
As for Remembrance Day, Luymes said the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 263 asked if it could host an invite-only, private ceremony in the park, at the cenotaph, to honour veterans; however, its request was turned down due to Dr. Henry’s order.
(City spokesperson Kathleen Vincent later clarified the city has "no control on what they may do on their premises or in their facility.")
Instead, the city plans to coordinate a number of activities in the lead up to Nov. 11 such as lowering the flags and painting poppies on the grass around the cenotaph.
The public is also invited to lay wreaths in advance, he said.
Coun. Bonita Zarrillo said she’d like city council to pay respects with a letter to the Legion branch and to veterans in general, while Mayor Richard Stewart said city staff will work with Legion officials.
Committee chair Coun. Dennis Marsden said the decision was “very difficult to come to” but also easy as safeguards are mandated.
He said Como Lake middle school is always packed on Nov. 11 before the cenotaph event, with people paying homage.
“The fact that we’re not able to gather in that traditional sense bothers me greatly,” Marsden said, adding, “These are people who gave their lives so we can do what we do.”
A request for comment from Branch 263 was not immediately returned.