Cranberry Festival returns to Bala

After a one-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the Bala Cranberry Festival is back. As many as 10,000 people are expected to flock to the small community of 300 over the weekend.

"It's just a lot of local products and a great time, a nice festival, a small community. It's a good time," says Brendan Kaas, who purchased a four-pound bag of cranberries after spending Saturday at the festival with friends.

It's now 36 years and counting for the festival that usually draws significant business for local retailers and restaurants. In 2019, the festival generated about two million dollars towards the economy. It also helps many local businesses bring attention to their products.

"It's a great way to get the name of the business out there and get a lot of people coming by and seeing what we do," says Slater Johnston from Muskoka Lakes Farm and Winery. "We grow cranberry's year round, and this is a great time to get exposure and let people see that."

Aside from cranberry-related products, the festival has it all, from buskers to lumberjack competitions to food.

"There's a lot of different things this year, our layout for example. We're really encouraging a lot of more space between people so we have more social distancing that's available," says Tania Cowley, festival organizer.

For some, this is their first year here. For others, it's become a family tradition.

Marco Coccia says he's been here several times. "Bala is the cranberry capital of Ontario," Coccia says. "So if you come here, you'll actually go to the cranberry bog and see how cranberry's are made, how they are grown, and they have tours there; it's phenomenal," he says.

John Babic, who spends time at a cottage in Midland, is here for the first time. "It's nice to see people out mingling about; everybody seems to be taking appropriate precautions, and businesses are getting money, so that's good," Babic says.

The three-day festival runs until 3 p.m. Sunday.