Planning already underway for post-COVID-19 Toronto celebration

Nathan Phillips Square during the Pan Am Games, 2015

It is a moment that is likely months away, but the mayor of Toronto says planning is underway for "a celebration" once the city emerges from the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking to reporters by video from his home while in self-isolation after a business trip to London, John Tory said he didn't want to leave the impression that the threat of the coronavirus will subside in a few days.

"But we are doing the planning so that we can have ready a plan that says Toronto is open for business, shop local, dine local, let's go back to supporting the people that have been through a very, very difficult time. Let's get together as a city and celebrate the fact this is over and we came through this in a united fashion."

The revelation came on the same day Doug Ford's government declared a state of emergency in Ontario--a move that forced the closure of scores of entertainment venues, restaurants, bars, and cafes in an attempt to limit potential spread of COVID-19. Food and drink businesses are permitted to stay open, but only to offer take-out or delivery service.

The mayor has asked that planning for events after the pandemic to be part of discussions of his newly-launched Economic Support and Recovery Task Force.

"If we can get through this, as we will, and do it with as many people staying health as possible and as little damage to the economy and to people's lives--that's something to celebrate," Tory said.

Because social distancing measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus shut down St. Patrick's Day celebrations, the mayor has vowed that any celebration will include the raising of glasses of green beer.

On Tuesday, the number of COVID-19 cases in Canada surpassed the number of Canadians who were sickened in the SARS outbreak of 2003. There were 438 cases of SARS that spring, mostly clustered in Toronto. The illness killed 44 people.

July 30 2003, Toronto loudly declared itself safe to visit as 450,000 people flooded Downsview Park for Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto or SARSStock. The music festival included performances by the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, the Tragically Hip, Rush, the Guess Who and a water bottle-dodging Justin Timberlake.

Kevin Frayer/The Canadian Press

By the time the Stones hit the stage, Toronto's recovery effort had been chugging for months.

In May 2003, then-mayor Mel Lastman launched the "You Belong"  campaign with radio, television and print ads. 

"This simple slogan shows the world that Torontonians are the warmest, most welcoming people on earth. I like it so much I'm changing the name of the
'Mayor's SARS Recovery Task Force' to the 'Mayor's - Toronto: You Belong Here Task Force'," Mayor Lastman said in a news release at the time.

Toronto also tried to entice visitors to the city and encourage locals to spend their dollars with theatre ticket and hotel room bundles.