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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

The permissibility of and operational requirements for special events are contingent on Provincial Emergency Orders. Public events and large social gatherings remain a highrisk activity and many activities are highly restricted or currently prohibited in Ontario.

On June 8, 2020, the Province of Ontario announced a regional approach to Stage 2 of reopening that included permitting drive-in or drive-thru formats for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to: cinemas, concerts, or artistic performances. Outdoor gathering limits increased to a maximum of 100 people on July 17 when Ottawa entered Stage 3 of reopening. These formats are permissible provided that they are conducted in compliance with the conditions imposed under the province's regulations. Learn more on the Framework for Reopening our Province: Stage 3. Businesses unable to open or are facing difficulties in operating under the Stage 3 restrictions may visit ontario.ca/reopen to submit a reopening proposal.

The City of Ottawa is reconvening our Special Events Advisory Team to support those wishing to execute drive-in and drive-thru events. 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. All enquiries related to drive-in or drive-thru events can be directed to EventCentral@ottawa.ca.

Resource: Hosting, postponing or cancelling mass gatherings (Ottawa Public Health)

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 at EventCentral@ottawa.ca 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 highrisk 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

       New sections added in 2019!

      • 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.

Please review Community Lighting Requests - Guidelines and Eligibility for details in advance of submitting your request.

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 in the document below.

Application deadline 2021

Ottawa-based causes, campaigns, festivals and events

The application deadline for upcoming illuminations (June 28 to December 31 2021) is May 17 at 5 pm. Applications for Winter/Spring 2022 illuminations will be made available in Fall 2021.

Ottawa-based professional and elite, semi-professional and amateur sports achievements

Applications may be submitted throughout the year and will be approved based on eligibility and scheduling availability. It is recommended that requests be submitted at least two weeks in advance for processing.

While requests with shorter turn-around times will be considered where possible, these will be subject to a last-minute administration fee (minimum $200). Approvals for last-minute sports requests will be subject to payment in advance of the illumination date. Late payments will result in a cancellation of the request.

ALL applicants need to complete the application form and submit it to Illuminations@ottawa.ca. All fields must be completed unless otherwise indicated. Incomplete or late submissions, and those requests submitted without a formal application form will be ineligible for consideration.

Questions regarding to the application process may be submitted to Illuminations@ottawa.ca.

Guidelines

Guidelines and eligibility criteria ensure the OTTAWA sign is illuminated through a fair and transparent process that recognizes the diverse needs of the City. Applications are accepted twice a year.

The OTTAWA sign is also programmed to showcase a variety of seasonal themes, throughout the year including:

  • Spring
  • Summer
  • Fall
  • Winter
  • Valentine’s Day
  • Canada Day
  • Halloween
  • Remembrance Day
  • Holiday Season
  • New Year’s Eve

Colour selection

Please select the desired illumination colour(s) in the chart below (one colour per letter) and enter on the application form:

Colours for the Ottawa Sign

The York Street Plaza, a small public space adjacent to the OTTAWA sign, is available by permit and reservation for performances, events and community-based programming.

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