Diwali joins Nuit Blanche on the list of cultural events Brampton won’t host in 2019, but hopes to host next year
Photos by Joel Wittnebel and Mansoor Tanweer

Diwali joins Nuit Blanche on the list of cultural events Brampton won’t host in 2019, but hopes to host next year

Brampton councillors have delayed plans to hold a Diwali celebration in the city’s downtown, deferring the $90,000 culture initiative until next year. Plans to hold the event in Garden Square were drafted by staff with Oct. 27 as the proposed date, before councillors decided that it was “too short notice” to get the event off the ground for next month. 

The idea of a city-sponsored Diwali celebration was first suggested nine months ago by a public delegation. On Jan. 16, Brampton resident Sylvia Roberts spoke to council asking members to consider hosting an official celebration of Diwali as part of the city’s cultural calendar. Though Councillor Martin Medeiros expressed fear the event could intrude on community celebrations organized across the city for the annual festival, staff were instructed to consider the possibility. 

Councilllor Martin Medeiros

The staff report, commissioned in January, was originally scheduled to be ready by April, which would have given council ample time to plan an event for 2019. Yet, a five month delay to its release meant it was eventually completed for Sept. 18. After that, council deferred discussion of the item by one week, eventually looking at the plan on Sept. 25, just under a month before the event was proposed to take place. 

Speaking to the item on Wednesday, Councillor Harkirat Singh said he and his colleagues might “be on the same wavelength” in supporting the idea for 2020, with October considered too soon for effective organization. “I suggest that we put it on the shelf for this year,” Singh said to council. “I have some additional ideas as well, I think we can make it really special and I am happy to see staff take an interest in this. I just think it is quite a tight deadline, I know a lot of places of worship and cultural centres have already planned their Diwali celebrations, fireworks and everything.”

A spokesperson for the city said that holding off on the project for a year would allow the event to be perfected. They said, “Postponing it to 2020 will allow more time to adequately plan and execute this important cultural event in consultation with our community.” 

Singh confirmed to The Pointer that “council direction” was to host the event in 2020, meaning the celebration joins Nuit Blanche as a possibility for next year. With both events under further consultation, though receiving strong support from councillors, many will be hoping that next September and October could act as something of a turning point for Brampton and its beleaguered arts and culture scene. 

While Nuit Blanche was always scheduled for next year, the Diwali report had been written with the recommendation of a fireworks display between 9pm and 11pm on October 27, 2019. Referring to data from the 2011 census, the report backs a city-supported Diwali event, saying that it could be celebrated by more than 30 percent of Brampton, also drawing tourists from further afield. 

Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, is known as the Festival of Light and celebrates the triumph of light - or good - over darkness. In previous years across the city, it has been celebrated with small fireworks displays and community events. In fact, speaking in January to the original motion, Mayor Patrick Brown said that in 2018 he attended nine separate celebrations. The purpose of a city-run event would be to consolidate many smaller fireworks displays into one large event designed to attract crowds from across the GTA, while complementing celebrations in Brampton. 

The report drawn up by city staff suggests capitalizing on the large South Asian population in the city to create a third official fireworks display, adding to Canada Day and New Year’s Eve. 

Staff have proposed a two hour event to be held in downtown's Garden Square modelled on current plans to celebrate New Year. The event staff have imagined would cost $90,000 to put together, with outlay required for fireworks, stage programming, security and marketing the festivities. Had the event been held this year, those costs would have been covered by the city’s Cultural Services’ budget. Corporate sponsors for the proposed 2019 event would have brought in around $15,000 to cover costs, with city staff using attendance figures from 2019 to increase sponsorship significantly in 2020.

Sylvia Roberts, the idea’s creator, told The Pointer it was a shame the event would not go ahead this year, but that it did not come as a surprise. 

In January Sylvia Roberts pitched council the idea of hosting one main Diwali celebration 

“I am somewhat disappointed that eight months on it has been referred to the next year; you’re talking about a year and a half [since the idea was pitched],” Roberts said. “But I am not surprised given how long it takes staff to come back in general, which is a persistent pattern in the city.”

Roberts said the plan was a “reasonable” first effort, but that it would soon outgrow Garden Square. Though the location may be in the heart of downtown, limited transit options and inaccessibility for large numbers by road could stifle it. “If the city wants to have large crowds, it needs to be moved somewhere else like Chinguacousy Park,” Roberts added. 

Brampton’s climate emergency, declared in June, is also yet to figure in the dialogue. Though a culturally positive move, the creation of a third fireworks night in the city may be at odds with attempts to reduce carbon emissions. Although, fireworks themselves have a limited impact on global warming, despite the dirty sulfur, charcoal and nitrates they release, they do have a major effect on short term air quality and on the distribution of junk in the air and surrounding land.  

With better organization, Roberts and others hope 2020 could be the year in which Brampton adds both Diwali and Nuit Blanche to the city’s official calendar.


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