This Sunday is the third annual St. James Town Festival, which begins at 10 a.m. outside of the Wellesley Community Centre at the corner of Wellesley and Sherbourne. At least, it’s supposed to. But festival organizers claim that an unexpected and hefty bill from the city has left the event in jeopardy.
For those of you unfamiliar with St. James Town, it’s home to approximately 19,000 people living in a four-block radius, and is Canada’s most densely populated area. The population is 73% non-white, causing some to call St. James Town “the world within a block.” It’s also one of Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods.
The St. James Town Festival is an annual event put on by many hardworking volunteers where the community gathers for a day of celebration and entertainment. “Many of our residents are new to Canada, and are working with very limited incomes,” says festival Vice-Chair Everett Collrin. “The festival brings people together of all ages and builds a real sense of family and community.”
A press conference organized by festival organizers was held yesterday morning at the community centre. A media release sent out in advance included the following:
In previous years the city has allowed the festival to use the facilities in an around the community centre free of charge… This year the festival has been hit with a permit fee of $1,416 from the city. The city has also cut back on some of the space that will be allowed for use within the community centre itself.
“We work with a very limited budget”, said festival Chair Gene Lara. “The festival is supported by some very generous individual and corporate sponsors. This recent decision by the city will make it very difficult to meet all of our financial commitments.”
In a telephone interview with Torontoist, Collrin explained that if the festival had known this charge was coming they could have budgeted for it, but the fact that it’s being imposed unexpectedly at the last minute, despite the precedent set by the previous two years, makes it difficult to manage.
However, a staff person in Councillor Pam McConnell’s office says that the festival organizing committee has been told by the Parks and Recreation department in past years that they need to start going through the proper permitting procedures, and that that would involve fees. The staffer also told Torontoist that the St. James Town Festival has received a $2700 grant from the community festivals and special events investment program, essentially underwriting the $1416 permit and leaving a good chunk left over.
Either way, the festival committee has reportedly now paid the permit fee, and the festival is expected to go ahead. This hiccup behind us, it’s likely to be a fun event with good weather, and is worth checking out.
Photo by mechrisman in the Torontoist Flickr Pool.