By Doug Hallett
From a new “blue Dorito” shade tent to a new “solar caravan” that uses the heat of the sun to warm water for dish washing, this year’s edition of the Hillside Festival is trying to be both greener and more accessible.
“A lot of people don’t know we are accessible,” says Hillside executive director Marie Zimmerman, who accepted an award from the city’s Barrier Free Committee on behalf of the festival at a city council meeting in late June.
Hillside has become a model for other organizations looking to improve accessibility of outdoor events, council was told. However, it isn’t resting on its laurels, either for accessibility or for its longstanding efforts to become as environmentally friendly as possible.
The main new accessibility-related initiative at the 31st annual Hillside Festival, which goes at Guelph Lake Island from July 25-27, is a big new shade tent. Dubbed the “blue Dorito” because of its shape – a triangle with three 17-foot-long sides – and its blue colour, it is in green space near the children’s area, Zimmerman said.
“It’s like the Dorito you eat, but writ large.”
Heavy mesh material, which the wind can pass through, will cover removable steel poles anchored into the ground.
Located in a relatively quiet part of the festival site, the new shade tent is meant for everybody, not just for people with special needs, she said.
But “it’s nice to have a dedicated spot” where people with special needs, including those in wheelchairs, can go for respite from the sun.
“The reason shade is important for people with special needs is that sometimes they have a reaction to the sun if they are on certain medications,” Zimmerman said in an interview.
One of the shade tents facing the main stage is for people with special needs, but Hillside is responding this year to a perceived need for shade elsewhere on its site.
A main reason that Hillside moved last November from 123 Woolwich St. to new premises at 341 Woolwich St. is that its longtime home in the Trafalgar Building wasn’t accessible, she said.
Extensive renovations done since then will be capped off by the building of an access ramp in August or September at 341 Woolwich. As a result, “we will be able, easily, to hire people with disabilities,” said Zimmerman, who heads a Hillside staff of 11 full-time, part-time and seasonal employees, none of them disabled.
Hillside has long been recognized for its environmental sensibilities, such as the prominent green roof on its main stage, and every year it adds new green touches.
This year it’s a “solar caravan” created using the skeleton of an “old, rusty trailer” that now has “a beautiful array of solar panels on it,” Zimmerman said.
Hillside serves food using reusable dishes and cutlery, and some of its 1,450 volunteers spend hours washing them. In past years they haven’t had heated water for dish washing, but now they will. It will make the washing quicker and will make the work more pleasant, she said.
“It’s nice for our volunteers to have their hands in warm water.”
Hillside’s new solar caravan, to be parked between the main stage and the dish-washing tent, is also meant as an educational resource, Zimmerman said.
Able to show people the benefits of using the sun’s energy to heat things like pools, it could be used by other groups when not deployed at the festival.
A less noticeable nod to environmental friendliness is this year’s choice of the red and white wines to be sold at the festival. Hillside has chosen a “signature wine” created in Niagara for The Neighbourhood Group, which owns The Woolwich Arrow (a.k.a. the Wooly) and Borealis Grille & Bar.
The environmental payoff is that one per cent of sale proceeds goes to the Grand River Conservation Foundation for its conservation efforts, she said.
Hillside wants to launch more green initiatives in future years.
So this year the festival will be measuring a lot of things, such as how many kilowatt-hours of electricity it consumes, how many cars and bicycles come to the site, and how far away people travel from to attend Hillside.
“We need to know what we are trying to offset” in terms of the festival’s carbon footprint, said Zimmerman.