Friction in BC – 2020 Tofino Food and Wine Festival cancelled
Last week, the 2020 Tofino Food and Wine Festival was cancelled. The reason, according to the press release, is “a terribly ruptured relationship with the provincial Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch.” This surprised many, as the Tofino festival is a cornerstone for tourism, networking and charity.
2019 marked the 17th year for the Tofino Food and Wine Festival. Every summer, people from all over the world gather at the Tofino Botanical Gardens to sample local wines, craft ciders, beers, and boutique distilleries as well as enjoying the local culinary talent. “It’s grown into this destination weekend that attracts visitors from all over the place, all over Canada and even down in the US,” explains Festival Producer, Kira Rogers. “It basically has become a destination weekend.”
Rogers has worked alongside the team of festival volunteers and the Tofino Botanical Gardens team to put on this large-scale weekend event. This includes their signature event, “Grazing in the Gardens”, where guests mingle with the Tofitians, meet local chefs, island purveyors, regional winemakers and more. “[The Festival] is also built as a tourism driver in the shoulder season of Tofino,” Rogers mentions. “In Tofino, 17 years ago, peak season was in July. Now Tofino has grown and the festival has grown and built to help bring business in a weekend that used to be not busy.”
Since its inception in 2003, the Tofino Food and Wine Festival has supported non-profit organizations and community initiatives. Charities supported include: Tofino Botanical Gardens Foundation, Community Children’s Centre, Tofino Community Food Initiative (Tofino’s Community Garden, Wickaninnish Community School Garden Project), Lighthouse Trail and Multi Use Path. In addition to the large charitable funds raised by the event, BC product sales see a boost. “Having tasting events is the only way for the wineries and stuff to really get people to understand [BC] product and taste it so they buy it,” states Rogers. “You don’t just buy wine without tasting it. It’s a hit or miss. You want to be able to taste things.”
The decision to cancel the 2020 festival did not come easy. We’ve pieced together the events as best we could to find out how they came to this decision.
2019 Tofino Food and Wine Festival Timeline
It started back in April 2019. In British Columbia, all events that serve alcohol must have a Special Events Permit. Rogers and the Tofino Food and Wine Festival team have always worked with the LCRB to obtain their permit. Prior to 2019’s festival, this process has been smooth; a partnership between the two parties. “For 16 years, we’ve always worked really well with the Liquor Board,” states Rogers. “We’d do all of our applications and reporting as the LCRB asked us to do. We checked all the boxes and made sure we did everything right.”
Unfortunately, 2019’s permit proved to be more challenging.
“We applied for a license three times,” Rogers explains. “We got it on the third time. The first time, we applied for it exactly the same way that we’ve applied for the last 16 years and it was rejected. And we didn’t understand why. We’d never had this issue before.”
This approval came only two and a half weeks before the 2019 Festival was set to start. This left very little time for local Tofino producers to go through the necessary steps to acquire the products they need from the proper channels for the festival. Two words sum up the whole experience: highly stressful.
Luckily, the event itself went smoothly. The biggest challenge came after the event. In August, months after the festival had wrapped up, the Tofino Food and Wine festival received a notice of up to $9,000 in fines levied against them. They’ve since spent the past few months speaking with the LCRB to sort out what happened. In fact, they are still working with the LCRB to find the answers even now.
Good news: the LCRB dropped the fines. Bad news? There is still a lack of clarity.
“We want to know what went wrong,” explains Rogers. “We want to see positive change come out of this. We want transparency. We want clarity. We want to understand the guidelines clearly. And we want to have a great relationship with the liquor board so that we can continue to do this event.”
The Tofino Food and Wine Festival brings a lot to the Tofino community, and to British Columbia at large. According to an official statement from the LCRB: “The Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB) has a long history of supporting festival events. Branch staff work with hundreds of festival organizers each year to provide safe liquor service at events that showcase the province’s arts, music, crafts, history, business and culture.”
“There is nothing preventing the Tofino Food and Wine Festival organizers from applying for a special event permit at any time,” reads the statement.
So, why cancel the 2020 festival?
“We’re not confident,” states Rogers. “We’re not confident planning next year without having to cancel because we can’t get a license. We made that decision to cancel while we figure this out.”
This decision is understandable, and the community at large has been supportive. “This is a huge loss to our community and food culture,” writes one commenter on the festival’s Facebook page. “As someone who has both attended the festival as well as spent the last number of years connecting chefs with BC producers to highlight for the festival, this cancellation will really negatively affect the farmers and fishermen it worked so hard prop up.”
Another comment reads: “This is horrible! I’ve been sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for next year’s tickets to go on sale ever since my hangover wore off from the last food and wine!”
While people are disappointed, they have hope that the 2021 will occur. “We’ve gotten loads and loads and loads of support from all kinds of people, from the media, from our guests, from our wineries, our chefs and even other event producers,” Rogers adds. Which is nice to see, in this age of internet trolls.
Things do look bright for 2021. The LCRB has released updated documentation detailing the processes and policies. Hopefully all parties will be able to work together to create a positive relationship in the future… and set the bar for every future BC charity/fundraiser event.