What to do with the Iron Horse Festival?

It seems that every year the same discussion occurs. The Iron Horse Festival committee applies for the various permits to allow them to organize the four day festival. Each year there is a discussion on the impact of the local store owners who are directed affected by the festival. The issue at hand being that the store owners feel that the four days affect their business.

Are there any alternatives that would resolve this issue but also allow the festival to be as successful as always. To look at it, first it helps to realise exactly what the Iron Horse Festival is, and what it consists of. In essence, Iron Horse is a street festival, a linear event that flows along Talbot Street. While it does have off spurs on Mondamin Street for the Community Stage, White Street for the eight to ten fairground rides, Southwick Street for access to the main stage and Hincks Street for the beer tent and smaller stage, all the other attractions run East to West along Talbot Street.

So what could be done, and where could it be done? While St. Thomas does not boast a venue similar to the Western Fair in London, it does have several areas that could be utilized for a week or so.

The seemingly obvious choice would be to move to the Canadian Southern Railway Station (CASO) that not only reflects upon the rich history of the railway industry in St. Thomas, but is also one of the more notable buildings in the city. Apparently quite a few years ago, due to the inability to get the roads closed, the festival did actually move to the station but it wasn’t as successful as other years and the conditions were dusty. The reasons may have been the rushed move and setup at a new location, but much has changed since then. The station itself has been and continues to be renovated although the area behind it, which would seem to be most suited for the various vendors and rides still remains undeveloped.

The Annual St. Annes Community Festival is held every year in the parking lot of the St. Annes Community Center. A rough calculation based upon Google Maps gives a rough area of 60,000 square feet. The two differ in content though. Where the Iron Horse boasts eight to ten fairground rides, St. Annes is primarily a fairground. St. Annes also takes advantage of the Community Center for various events.

The usual location for any event being held in St. Thomas is Pinefore Park, where everything from Fire Muster to Car Shows call the park home. It boasts the band shell as well as more than enough room for all the vendors and fairground rides that the Iron Horse committee could dream of.

A couple of out of the box locations could include the parking lot of Elgin Mall, with the right side of the car park being 156,000 feet in size and the left, in front of Zellers, being 79,000 feet. It would not only place everything in a compact area but it could also bring some badly needed new visitors to the Mall. Outside of the Timken Center is another large parking area that could easily be turned into a fairground area. It would also allow for the arena to be used for the vendors or even for the night time concerts!

If the Iron Horse Festival began to grow in size, perhaps the St. Thomas airport would be a great solution. Although it would be an inconvenience for planes during that period of time, it would provide a flat, concrete area that would be able to handle any number of stalls and rides.

If the Festival needed to stay within the center of the city, it would be have an amazing location if it was held on the large area in front of the Timken Factory. Not only would it be a very visible location but depending on the needs of the Festival, the road that runs around the factory could be closed off for additional space.

If there was no requirement to have the night time concerts located in or near the festival, Emslie Field is a truly perfect location. It would require suitable protection of the field but the stands are already there, there is easy access and imagine playing on a stage in center field.

There are many options depending on what requirements or restrictions need to be met. Hopefully the Iron Horse Festival will continue to get the permits and licenses to allow it to remain where it is but if not, it never hurts to look at possible alternatives.

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  1. Well in my opinion, as a business owner (not on Talbot) I wish I was on Talbot St. durring the Iron Horse festival! All those extra people (potential customers) it is the perfect opportunity for business owners on Talbot to take advantage of the fact they are in the middle of hugely successful event that not only draws St. Thomas natives but people from other communities that might not know that some of these businesses exist. There is a reason vendors pay to be in these events, some of the businesses up town may not cater to a festival crowd. My advice find a way to cater to them and tie your business onto the Iron Horse somehow! Bottom line I can not conceive how a large group slow moving foot traffic can have a negative impact on any business downtown.

  2. I agree with Shawn Holroys. I am a St.Thomas business owner as well, not on Talbot street but I can’t imagine why a business would not want the benefit of added foot traffic. I live in St.Thomas and I see how (not) busy Talbot street is on a daily basis but when the Festival is on it is crowded and not only with residents but with tourists. Excellent advice from Shawn : Spend your energy finding a way to tie into this event.

  3. Donnia Cartwright

    I wholeheartedly agree with both Shawn and Sharon. I am a tourist who has come to St Thomas the last two years for the IHF. After finding out about the festival by fluke, my husband and I made a point of putting the festival on our calendar last year. The sheer amount of people that walk by, enjoying the sights and sounds on Talbot is staggering. I do go to St. Thomas other times in the year (I’m from London), but I honestly believe that this summer gem should stay where it is! The Artisan’s Village is in a PERFECT spot(Hepburn Parkette), and I know that we have made a point of stopping in to not only businesses on Talbot, but others in the city. Continue to take advantage of the downtown….it’s the best place.

  4. I agree with what others above have said .However I do have some suggestions and some complaints .One complaint i Have is that I do not think its fair that businesses in the festival area should have to pay extra to participate in the festival .I know one downtown business owner who pay extra taxes for being in the downtown area yet when he tried to put a table in front of his store last before he was told to remove it because he didnt pay the extra fee and the road space in front of his store was occupied by another vendor even though all he had was a table on the sidewalk .My suggestion is to allow downtown merchants a certain amount of space free of charge and any additional space at a discounted rate considering they pay extra taxes for being in the downtown area and then maybe this will quell a lot of the objection. Iron Horse is a street festival and belongs downtown.move it to the airport and you may as well just cancel it period since many dont drive and thats not within walking distnce unless your going to run a free shuttle service which will grealty reduce any profits made by the city on the festival