August 8, 2017 12:44 pm
Updated: August 9, 2017 6:38 pm

Half a million people took in Heritage Festival in Edmonton this weekend

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*EDITOR’S NOTE: The festival initially estimated about 500,000 attended the three-day event but on Wednesday updated its numbers to approximately 480,000.

It was a record year in many ways for Edmonton’s Servus Heritage Festival.

Tents and equipment were being taken down in Hawrelak Park Tuesday after the three-day festival over the long weekend.

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READ MORE: Celebration of culture and global fare at Edmonton Heritage Festival

Event organizers said about 480,000 visitors attended this year, smashing Heritage Festival’s last record of about 380,000 in 2014.

Sunday was by far the busiest day in terms of attendance, with an estimated 350,000 people checking out the festival.

READ MORE: Heritage Festival smashes attendance record on Sunday 

That number is the largest single-day attendance the event has ever seen. In fact, it was higher than last year’s attendance for the whole three-day festival, which was about 300,000.

Organizers did not expect such huge crowds this year, but Heritage Festival Marketing Director Deborah Forst said they’ll look at making adjustments for future events.

“A lot depends on weather, obviously, but it does seem that over the past several years, attendance has increased every year, so we’re going to have to plan for that next year.”

On Saturday, about 75,000 guests came down to Hawrelak Park. On Monday, the festival welcomed about the same number. Both Saturday and Monday were not ideal days in terms of weather, with storms and clouds bringing attendance numbers down.

“I think everyone came down on the Sunday when they knew it would be a very nice day,” executive director Jim Gibbon said. “It was a record for a single day by a longshot,” he said.

“It was pretty close to twice any of our single days previously. It was a pretty big jump.”

The huge numbers meant there was extra pressure on Edmonton Transit’s park-and-ride system. Several passengers reported hours-long waits on city buses trying to make their way along Groat Road to the festival grounds.

READ MORE: Passengers stuck waiting hours on Heritage Festival buses

The city said Monday it would review its practices and transit plan for next year’s festival.

“We’ve had 42 years of this festival and have never seen those numbers,” city civic events spokesperson Nicole Poirier said Monday.

“Even in our wildest estimates, we never would have thought we’d do the numbers we did yesterday.”

READ MORE: City vows to review practices after long bus lines at Edmonton Heritage Festival 

“Everybody got to the park safely, everybody got home safely… Will we continue to look at how to do this better in the future? Absolutely. There’s always ways we can improve.

“But those numbers? Let’s be fair. They were huge, they were fabulous. Do we need to plan for those kinds of numbers in the future? Yes. Will our traffic plans change? Will our transit plans change? Absolutely.”

However, Poirier also explained the traffic delays were caused by private vehicles trying to get as close to Hawrelak Park as possible.

“We need people to take ETS. This drop-off or try-to-drop-off is just slowing down the buses getting in, it’s slowing down the taxis getting in and it’s slowing down the festival workers.”

Since there’s only one way in and out of Hawrelak Park, there were some transit backups, but Forst hopes to keep the venue.

“We will be looking at all kinds of situations in the future, but Hawrelak Park is obviously such a beautiful location situated right in the middle of the city.”

Any planning will have to wait until the dust settles, however.

“At this stage, we’re just doing the tear-down and we’re not really in the head space of major planning. But, over the next few weeks and months, we’re definitely going to plan and look to the future.”

In addition to ETS, people accessed the Servus Heritage Festival by walking, bicycling, Co-op Taxi, DATS, and being dropped off by car. The two on-site bicycle compounds were expanded to more than twice as large as in the past and both were filled to over capacity, officials said. The five car drop-off points also had record visits.

— With a file from Kevin Robertson, 630 CHED

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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