The biggest headliner Brigade Days has had in its 50 year history, April Wine, performed in 2018. Evan Empey photo

Hope’s Brigade Days cancelled for first time in history

Briggie Days has existed in some shape or form for 51 years, it took a pandemic to stop it this year

Nothing has been able to stop Brigade Days from being put on in one form or another for the event’s 51 years in existence.

That is, until this year’s ongoing pandemic and restrictions imposed on large gatherings in the province. With these restrictions in mind, and with other major events including the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) announcing cancellations, Brigade Days organizers have made the difficult decision to cancel the September 11 to 13 event.

“To be the team that says ‘we can’t do it this year’ is really heartbreaking to all of us because we all put so much into the event, all year. It’s a part of Hope’s history, really,” said president of Brigade Days Lori Isbister. “Those people that started Brigade Days, they’re still around. So it’s a big deal not to have it, for Hope.”

Started by ‘ideas man’ Ken James and co-conspirators as a way for locals to celebrate after a long summer serving the tourism industry, Briggie Days has remained a constant in a town that has changed so much since the 1960s. And while the event has had its heydays, it has also gone down to a very small size with some years consisting only of a derby organized by Hope Motorsports. Yet it has always gone ahead in one shape or another since 1968.

Hope in History special: A look back at Hope’s longest running community festival

A lot went into this decision Isbister said, and it took organizers a few weeks to decide. For one, organizers would have to wait until 90 days before the event to get insurance. What things would look like at that point is anyone’s guess. And with cancellation insurance an ‘astronomical’ cost, Isbister said holding an event like this without insurance is just not possible.

With an average of six to 7,000 wristbands sold for the event each year, at least a few thousand people are at the event at any one time. This number doesn’t count the volunteers, food truck operators and others running the show inside the gates.

With that many people packing themselves into rides and stands, lining up for food and milling about, social distancing would be extremely difficult Isbister said. Not to mention cleaning and sanitizing.

“I’m hoping that most people will understand, it’s for the best for the health and safety of everybody. We just want everybody, when they come, to not have to worry and just have a good time,” she said.

In photos: Biggest Hope Brigade Days ever

And with many businesses feeling the economic pain of the pandemic, Isbister said it doesn’t make sense to approach them to sponsor the event this year.

Betting it all by going ahead with the event this year could also involve major losses. If wristband sales don’t go well due to the pandemic, that could put the event into the red. Cancelling now, Isbister said, before a headliner has been booked allows organizers to save these needed funds.

The organizing team are moving their efforts to 2021, with plans to put on a polished, well-functioning and affordable event with bigger, better attendance and to give people the opportunity to get together and celebrate again.

“That is really what Brigade Days, to me, is about. It’s about celebrating where we live, and all these great things that we have around us and these great people,” Isbister said.

Organizers are not shutting the door completely on the Brigade Days weekend this year, Isbister said, adding they will certainly mark the 52nd year in some way. As with so many flagship community events across B.C., it may have to be a digital celebration.

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The Seattle Cossacks motorcycle stunt and drill team entertained the crowds before and after the Brigade Days parade Sept. 8, 2018. Emelie Peacock/Hope Standard

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