In Bowmanville, Ont., the COVID-19 pandemic impacted more than just health, it struck at the very heart of the community’s culture.
The enforced quarantine, crucial in combating the virus’s spread, posed a significant threat to the town’s vibrant community spirit, particularly in its historic downtown area along Highway 2.
Not only did the large roster of small business in the downtown area struggle, the whole town felt the loss of one of Bowmanville’s greatest traits: its festivals.
For two consecutive years, Bowmanville went without any of its festivals and events. The cancellation of the annual Maple Fest in 2020 marked the beginning of a quiet period for the town. Clarington Mayor Adrian Foster, concerned about the future of local festivals post-quarantine, anticipated a surge in public demand for these events once restrictions were lifted.
Longtime member of the Bowmanville Business Improvement Area (BIA), Ron Hooper, recalled how slowly the festivals returned to Bowmanville after the quarantine restrictions were lifted.
Initially, attendance was sparse. “Our very first festival, not a lot of people came out,” he said. However, the situation improved dramatically with Maple Fest in 2022, which he described as “off the charts… We did really well there.”
Nearly a year after festivals in Bowmanville returned in full force, the Applefest and Craft Sale on Oct. 14 showcased the community’s strong appreciation for events in the historic downtown. “Biggest result so far was the one we just had [the Applefest],” said Hooper. “Probably the biggest one we’ve had in our downtown core.”
The 34th annual Applefest attracted both first-time attendees and long-time festival-goers, underscoring the event’s appeal across diverse demographics.
First-time attendee Derek Smith shared his initial impressions of Applefest. “I just saw signs, I wasn’t expecting much other than hoping it would be similar to the Newcastle festival,” he said. Smith also mentioned his companion’s enthusiasm, adding, “My girl is really excited for the apple fritters.”
Another attendee, Jackie Morris, has been attending Applefest with her family for the eighth consecutive year. She expressed her fondness for the festival: ““We mostly come for the community, Bowmanville is great for that.”
Allin’s Orchard was one of the many apple vendors set up during the festival. One of the stall runners, Brian Allin, said that Applefest was “like Black Friday for their business.”
During festival days, Bowmanville offers free parking in city spaces, which fill up rapidly. This was the first year that a shuttle system was put in place. Attendees could park at Clarington Fields and use a free 15-minute shuttle service to and from Applefest
The event’s success also sparked interest among businesses outside the historic area, with talks of expanding the festival boundaries to include more of downtown Bowmanville.
Hooper says there is desire for the Bowmanville festival boundaries to be pushed to Liberty Street, which is several blocks from the current boundary at George Street.
Although historically the festivals in Bowmanville moved from Temperance Street to Highway 2 between Scugog Street and George Street, Hooper says that making the boundary extension “would take a lot of discussion with city officials.”
While festivals in Bowmanville’s historic downtown thrive, Hooper highlights a challenge: the aging membership.
“All people my age [in the BIA] are getting older and are deciding to do different things like retire,” Hooper said.
He emphasized the need for new members who share their vision for the community. “If we can do that, the future is looking pretty good,” he said.