Planning an outdoor special event

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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.

COVID-19

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

Even though many restrictions have lifted, for tips on reducing your risks and protecting yourselves and others, please visit Ottawa Public Health’s Reducing the risks from COVID-19

About Event Central

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

The Event Central Office:

  • Is the first point of contact for event organizers and film productions
  • 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 positively to events and film and their safe execution
  • Facilitates event review by leveraging the expertise and experience of the Special Events Advisory Team (SEAT). SEAT brings together City departments and other public agencies to work with organizers to ensure that appropriate plans and permits are in place.

Event Central and SEAT are guided by the following values:

Transparency through applying a consistent level of service, and ensuring the integrity of a standardized review, approval, and execution process.

Accountability of Event Central, SEAT members, and organizers, whereby all stakeholders are fulfilling their individual responsibilities.

Trust between Event Central, SEAT members, and organizers, resulting in a heightened level of confidence that all impacted stakeholders should feel when a special event or film activity is being executed.

Contact us

No matter the size of your event, Event Central is available to assist you in determining what approvals may be 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
101Centrepointe Drive
Ottawa, ON K2G 5K7

Special event permits

When to apply

The following criteria are used to determine if an event is required to complete an 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

Online application portal 

The application process has moved online. Event Organizers must now complete the application form and upload support documents using the online application portal. The portal can be accessed on a PC, laptop, or mobile device.

On the portal you can:

  • Complete and submit a new Application for Special Event
  • Create an Emergency Plan using the new emergency plan online tool
  • Manage permit applications
    • Upload additional support documents throughout the review process
    • Track and complete event requirements
  • Access all City-issued documents related to the event including contracts, letters, and permits
  • Access archive of past events (those that were submitted through the portal)
  • Clone past applications for annual events
  • Manage organization information that you are acting on behalf of
  • Access the Event Guide and Emergency Planning Guide
  • Contact Event Central

How to apply

  1. My ServiceOttawa account:
    • The application portal is available through My ServiceOttawa. If you do not have a My ServiceOttawa account, you will need to create one to access the portal. If you have an e-mail address specific to your role as an event organizer, it is recommended you create a My ServiceOttawa account with that address instead of your personal e-mail.
  2. Launch the portal:
    • There is a tile under the Business Services section at the bottom of the dashboard called “Apply for a special event permit” that will open the portal.
  3. Register the organization:
    • Click Manage Organizations, then Register a New Organization
    • Provide organization details, confirm age of majority, and click Submit
    • Note: Registration requests are approved Monday to Friday during business hours. Allow up to two business days for approval.
  4. Complete the application:
    • Once the organization registration is approved, start a new permit application by clicking New Event Application
    • Complete all required sections
    • Upload support documents. At a minimum, all applications require a draft site plan and/or route plan and a draft emergency plan.
    • Complete the consent waiver
    • Click Submit

Portal Assistance

Event Central is available to assist with adapting to the new online process. Contact Event Central by e-mail at EventCentral@ottawa.ca or by phone at 613-580-2424 ext. 14613.

Application timelines

The permit application process begins with the event organizer submitting a complete application package to Event Central. At a minimum, the preliminary application package includes the Application for Special Event, a draft site and/or route plan and a draft emergency plan. Depending on the event size and activities, 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. Please review the below timeline details to determine the appropriate timeline for your 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. 

Event planning resources

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

Event Guide

Event Central’s Event Guide includes special event permit requirements, best practices, and templates.

New in 2022!

  • Online application portal guide
  • Diversity and Inclusion best practices
  • Municipal Alcohol Policy guidelines
  • Alcohol Management Plan template
  • Checklist for patio extensions
  • Updated drone usage guidelines
  • Updated health, safety, and wellness resources
  • COVID-19 Event Toolkit

Emergency planning guide

Emergency Planning: A Guide for Event Organizers is a comprehensive guide created to assist event organizers in understanding their responsibilities, assessing risks and hazards at events, best practices, and completing the online emergency plan tool.

Emergency plan online tool

To assist event organizers in meeting SEAT requirements, Event Central, in consultation with City of Ottawa Emergency Services, has developed an online Emergency Plan tool that can be used by organizers to create an emergency plan.

The tool is available to organizers applying for a special event permit through the permit application web portal. The tool asks a series of questions and inputs responses into a template that can be downloaded and printed by organizers for use during actual event operations.

Serving alcohol

Licensing

Notice: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the AGCO continues 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, visit www.agco.ca or call 1-800-522-2876.

Notification to local authorities

For outdoor events, the AGCO will require the applicant to provide notification to local authorities such as police, fire, building code and public health departments. To notify the municipality that you will be serving alcohol outdoors, 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 organization, a Letter of Municipal Significance is required to obtain a Special Occasion Permit. For enquiries, email EventCentral@ottawa.ca.

Site requirements for Municipal Property

Events occurring outdoors on City property (on-street and off-street) must meet the conditions outlined in section 4.3 of the Municipal Alcohol Policy. Refer to Appendix A of the policy for sample site plans for special events selling alcohol on municipal property.

Guide to serving alcohol at your event

Please consult the Guide to Serving Alcohol at your Event for more information and tips to help you execute your event safely. A safe event is one where event hosts ensure that there is no intoxication, disorderly conduct or promotion of immoderate consumption and that patrons less than 19 years of age are not consuming alcohol. Harms from alcohol can include injuries, violence, property damage, drunk driving, verbal abuse, and fights.

Special events on street – under 500 people

For organized special events (including sidewalk sales) taking place on the City Right-of-Way where the total number of people at peak attendance is less than 500, complete the online Special event on street (under 500 people) application form. The City-owned Right-of-Way includes roadways, sidewalks, recreational pathways and multi-use pathways (MUPs). If you have any questions, please email or call Traffic Management at SpecialEventsTraffic@ottawa.ca or 613-580-2424 extension 28164.

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.

Demonstrations or marches

For demonstrations or marches on the City Right-of-Way, complete the online Demonstration / March application form. If you have any questions please e-mail or call Traffic Management at SpecialEventsTraffic@ottawa.ca or 613-580-2424 x28164.

For information on holding an event, demonstration or rally on Parliament Hill, please visit the Use of Parliament Hill webpage.

For demonstrations or marches on the City Right-of-Way, complete the online Demonstration / March application form. If you have any questions please e-mail or

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

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 

When to Apply

Our program welcomes applications for no fee illuminations TWICE per calendar year:

  • Applications for no fee illuminations for the January 1 to June 30 period are accepted in OCTOBER.
  • Applications for no fee illuminations for the July 1 to December 31 period are accepted in MAY.

Online applications for NO FEE illuminations (July 1 to December 31) will be accepted between May 2 and May 27 at 4 pm. We encourage you to apply as early as possible - illuminations are assigned on a first come, first served basis!

Late applicants: We will strive to accommodate late requests whenever possible based on scheduling availability. Please note that a minimum processing fee of $250 applies to late illuminations from ALL organizations to cover basic programming costs.  Please allow at least five business days for evaluation and processing.

How to Apply

ALL illumination requests must be submitted using the online application form. All 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.

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

Ottawa sign multi-colour

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