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Planning an outdoor special event

Special events in Ottawa

Outdoor special events are governed by the Special Events on Public and Private Property By-law No. 2013-232 and the Special Events on City Streets By-law No. 2001-260.

Updates: COVID-19

Event Central will only be accepting applications for special events that comply with current Provincial regulations and local health guidelines.

The permissibility of, and operational requirements for, special events are contingent on Provincial Emergency Orders.

Event Central remains available to liaise with event organizers on modified or smaller special events that do not meet the requirements of the Special Events on Public and Private Property By-law No. 2013-232, but do comply with updated provincial regulations, for coordination with or awareness with the City of Ottawa’s Special Events Advisory Team. This integrated team is comprised of multiple City Departments, including Ottawa Public Health, and will be available to review event proposals, provide guidance, and issue permits or licences to support these activities if required.

NEW - Special event toolkit 

To support special event organizers, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) has worked in partnership with the City of Ottawa’s Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development Department and Event Central to develop a Special Event Toolkit. In this toolkit, you will find key resources including signage, tools, information and guidance documents that can support you in organizing and hosting Social Wise special events, subject to direction from the Province of Ontario.

As part of the Provincial Requirements, all event organizers and workplaces are required to have a Safety Plan. To support event organizers in developing a comprehensive Safety Plan, OPH developed the Safety Plan Checklist for Special Events resource to help you make sure that your COVID-19 Safety Plan contains key elements to help protect workers, volunteers, clients, and the public. 

Event organizers are strongly encouraged to consult the Operational Guide for Special Events and the Safety Plan Checklist for Special Events before organizing or hosting a Special Event.

Resources

For the most up-to-date information and guidance about COVID-19, please review the following resources managed by other stakeholders:

Event Central

For events big and small, the City of Ottawa is committed to providing organizers with the tools, structure, environment and processes to thrive.

The Event Central Office:

  • Is the first point of contact for event organizers wishing to host an event
  • Leads integrated planning in a supportive environment, reconciles the input of all impacted stakeholders, and ensures organizers and City services are coordinated in a manner that contributes to positive events and their safe execution
  • Facilitates event review by leveraging the expertise and experience of the Special Events Advisory Team (SEAT)

Contact us

No matter the size of your event, Event Central is available to assist you in determining what approvals are required for your event.

You can contact Event Central by email or by phone at 613-580-2424 ext. 14613.

Event Central
City of Ottawa
101 Centrepointe Dr
Ottawa, ON K2G 5K7

Special event permit

When to apply

The following criteria are used to determine if an event is required to complete the Application for Special Events:

  • Expected attendance of at least 500 persons at any one time
    • Examples include: fairs, festivals, competitions, or beach events
  • Any event that uses the City Right-of-Way (streets/sidewalks)
    • Examples include: parades, processions, runs, walks, or bikes
  • An event with a significant community impact

Application timelines

The application process begins with the event organizer submitting a complete application package to Event Central. At a minimum, the application package includes the Application for Special Events form, a draft site and/or route plan and a draft emergency plan. Depending on the event specifications, other supporting documentation may be required.

Notice: Event organizers require conditional approval of the event location from the property owner prior to applying for a special event permit.

The event organizer must submit the application package 90, 60 or 30 days in advance depending on the scope and details of the event.

90 days in advance of the event if the event includes:

  • Alcohol sale and/or service
  • Use and/or closure of a roadway/highway
  • Occurs on Victoria Day, Canada Day, Remembrance Day, New Year's Eve, or in alignment with an event of known significance

60 days in advance if the event does not include any of the above, but includes:

30 days in advance if the event does not include any of the above, but includes:

If the event does not include any of the factors listed, the application deadline is 30 days prior to the event.

Tip: Why wait? Event Central can initiate the review process before the application deadline! For new, large-scale events, we recommend contacting Event Central one year in advance. 

Residential block parties

Notice: The permissibility of and operational requirements for special events are contingent on Provincial Emergency Orders. Public events and large social gatherings remain a high-risk activity and many activities are currently prohibited in Ontario.

For residential block parties, complete the online Block Party application form. If you have any questions please e-mail or call Traffic Management at SpecialEventsTraffic@ottawa.ca or 613-580-2424 x28164.

Event Guide and templates

Event Central has developed several tools in collaboration with City Services to assist you in completing your application and support documents.

  • Comprehensive Event Guide
    • Includes event requirements, best practices, templates and tips

       Updated in 2021!

      • Accessibility
      • Crowd Management
      • Greening your event
      • Health, safety and wellness
      • Noise mitigation
      • Smoking, vaping, water pipes and cannabis
  • Emergency plan template

Serving alcohol at events

Notice: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the AGCO will continue to accept applications for Special Occasion Permits. However, permit applications related to prohibited public events and social gatherings will not be processed until after the emergency order has been lifted or modified.

Careful planning and preparation are required when there will be alcohol sales, service and consumption at an event. Alcohol licensing is provincially regulated through the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). The event organizer must obtain the appropriate permit through the AGCO and adhere to AGCO regulations. For information regarding types of permits and requirements, please visit www.agco.ca or call 1-800-522-2876.

Events occurring on City property must meet the conditions of the Municipal Alcohol Policy. Please consult the Guide to Serving Alcohol at your Event for more information.

Note: It is the responsibility of the event organizer to know the occupant load of the licensed area and have procedures in place to ensure that number is not exceeded.

Notification to local authorities

For outdoor events, the AGCO will require the applicant to provide notification to local authorities. To notify the municipality that you will be serving alcohol outdoors, please complete and submit the online notification form. Once you submit the form, it will be sent to the Ottawa Police Service, Ottawa Fire Prevention, Ottawa Paramedic Service, Centralized Allocations, Ottawa Public Health, Building Code Services, and Event Central. 

You will receive an e-mail confirmation from Event Central when notification is received, which you can attach to your application in the iAGCO portal.

If the event is open to the public and the applicant is neither a registered charity nor non-profit organisation, a Letter of Municipal Significance is required to obtain a Special Occasion Permit. For inquires, please contact Event Central.

OTTAWA Sign - York Street at Sussex Drive in the ByWard Market

The ‘new’ illuminated OTTAWA Sign - Installed in 2019

Thank you for your interest in illuminating the Ottawa sign!

Located at the York Street Plaza in the ByWard Market, with the Peace Tower in its horizon, the OTTAWA sign is a popular attraction for residents and visitors throughout the year.  It provides a colourful dynamic landmark for photos, a gathering spot for pedestrians and shoppers and a programming space for small events. 

The original OTTAWA sign was installed in May 2017 during Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Today, the sign is an Ottawa landmark, attracting hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors from around the world. In 2019, the City of Ottawa, with support from Ottawa Tourism, replaced the original sign with a more permanent and durable structure. The new sign features programmable LED lighting and is illuminated 24 hours a day and 365 days per year.

The City of Ottawa welcomes sign lighting requests through its Community Lighting Program, which celebrates and recognizes not-for-profit and charitable causes and awareness campaigns, festivals and events and sports achievements.

The OTTAWA sign also showcases a variety of default seasonal themes and formal celebrations throughout the year, including:

  • Winter - Spring – Summer - Fall
  • Valentine’s Day (February 14)
  • Canada Day (July 1)
  • Halloween (October 31)
  • National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (September 30)
  • Remembrance Day (November 11)
  • Holiday Season
  • New Year’s Eve (December 31)

Please note that as a result of COVID-19, public health-related measures may result in unexpected changes and cancellations to the illumination schedule.

The fee for standard illuminations is being waived at this time as a result of COVID-19. Fees for customized and last-minute requests remain in effect, as detailed below.

Illumination Requests for Winter/Spring 2022

Requests for illumination dates between January 1 and June 30, 2022, are currently being accepted. The deadline for submission is December 3, 2021 at 4 pm. Eligible requests submitted by the deadline will be processed and scheduled without fee.

ALL illumination requests must be submitted using the online application form fields must be completed unless otherwise indicated. Incomplete submissions, and those requests submitted without a formal application form will be ineligible for consideration.

Please consult the Eligibility Guidelines for details regarding the submission of applications for illumination dates between July 1 and December 31, 2022.

NOTE: Applications submitted outside of these two formal application periods will be considered last-minute requests and will be subject to minimum $250 late programming fee. The City will accommodate last-minute requests to the extent possible pending submission at least five business days in advance of the desired illumination date.

Illumination Colours

The Community Lighting Program for the OTTAWA Sign offers applicants a palette of twenty-five pre-set colours. Up to one pre-set colour may be selected per letter.

Customized colours, patterns and animations may be accommodated subject to programming fee.

Please consult the eligibility guidelines for further details.

Colours for the Ottawa Sign

Illumination examples:

Ottawa sign solid colour
One single colour

Ottawa sign multi-colour
One single colour per letter (total of six colours for overall sign):

York Street Plaza

The York Street Plaza is a small public space adjacent to the OTTAWA Sign. It is available by reservation (and permit) for performances, events and community-based programming. Inquiries about reserving the space should be submitted to illuminations@ottawa.ca.

Contact information:
OTTAWA Sign Information
York Street Plaza Permits and Reservations
Email: illuminations@ottawa.ca