The gathering on the Hill caught the attention of the National Capital Commission, which used to sponsor a popular New Year’s Eve party and fireworks display on the Hill. It cancelled the event in 1992 when its budget was cut by $1.2 million.
Marie Lemay, the NCC’s chief executive officer, says it is “quite intriguing” that so many people chose to migrate to Parliament Hill.
“It does raise questions, and I think it’s worth a discussion,” says Lemay, who plans to raise the matter when she meets with the mayors of Ottawa and Gatineau later this winter.
She’ll find a receptive audience in Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who says he’s willing to “beat the bushes” to attract some corporate sponsors to help pay for a New Year’s Eve event on the Hill.
Just don’t expect the city to foot the bill. “I couldn’t justify putting a substantial amount of money into fireworks,” the mayor says.
After the NCC abandoned the Hill in 1992, a privately sponsored event on Sparks Street, called First Night, briefly filled the void. But it too was cancelled for cost reasons after a couple of years.
Since then, the Hill precinct has been mostly dark on New Year’s Eve. The only exceptions were the turn of the millennium, when the NCC mounted a gaffe-plagued $833,000 celebration, and 2007, when Ottawa marked its 150th anniversary as Canada’s capital.
Paul Dewar, the MP for Ottawa Centre, which includes Parliament Hill, says it’s “kind of sad” there isn’t something there for families on New Year’s Eve. Many, he says, can’t afford to spend a lot of money, but would like a place to go to welcome the new year.
“I don’t think it needs to be a major expenditure,” he says. “But frankly it should be something we do as the capital of the country. We should be coming up with something that is our own, that’s unique, that represents our country. It’s time.”
The Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association would welcome that. Hotel guests regularly ask where the New Year’s Eve celebration is, says Dick Brown, the OGHA’s executive director.
“The industry recognizes that there’s a need,” Brown says. “The question is how to meet it.”
There are signs of action at Ottawa Tourism. In July, the agency got a new mandate from the provincial government that allows it to do “destination development,” which is tourism talk for creating new events and attractions.
The thorny question of New Year’s Eve is already on the agenda of Ottawa Tourism’s newly formed tourism development council, Brown says. “It will be up for discussion at our next meeting.”
Related: Ottawa Fireworks Guide