Since 2016, CAA Member Allyson Payne has been helping organize a party on her street in west Toronto. With the road closed to traffic, Payne and her neighbours have hosted such activities as scavenger hunts, competitive events like egg-and-spoon and relay races, band performances by local musicians and movies. Then the pandemic hit.
With life slowly returning to normal this summer, it’s a great time to revive—or begin—the tradition of a block party in your neighbourhood, keeping in mind current health and safety protocols, of course. If it’s your first time hosting a street party, it can feel daunting. But Payne says it’s not difficult to organize, and the experience can be easily recreated each year. “The next year, it kind of ran itself,” Payne recalls.
Submit your permits
The first step is deciding how large your block party will be. Find like-minded folks to help with organizing. Payne’s friend Emma Paisley joined her along with an enthusiastic group of volunteers, many of whom had young children.
Next, apply for a permit from the city to close the street to traffic for the day. Rules vary depending on your area, so check with your town or city about what permits and permissions are required.
In Toronto, the city recommends submitting an application to temporarily close a residential street at least eight weeks in advance of your event. Paisley says she would submit their request even earlier.
“It is really useful to make contact with the individual responsible for your permit to talk through all the paperwork,” Paisley says. “The first year, I had a lot of back and forth requesting additional information. Now it’s online forms, but it’s always useful to follow up with a phone call to make that contact and ensure they have all the information they need.”
In St. John’s, N.L., organizers also need to submit a form with more details about the event to city officials, including what road or streets will be closed and during what hours, a site map and a copy of the insurance coverage. An emergency response plan must be in place, and the organizers must follow current public health protocols for Covid-19.
Paisley recommends informing your local councillor about your street party. Local businesses and real estate agents may be able to help promote and participate in your block party, too, by hosting activities or donating funds or items for the festivities.
Insuring your event
Paisley and Payne also needed liability insurance for their street party. Reach out to local or national organizations or membership groups who may cover the cost of insurance in exchange for a bit of promotion. A third party may foot the bill if you include their logo on flyers or allow them to have a banner or even a booth at your event.
Blocking road access
Barricades are needed to close the street during the permitted hours. In Toronto, organizers are required to rent, buy or build their own barricades.
Payne says that she and her neighbours borrowed barricades for several years before eventually building their own.
Get everyone involved
Your neighbours will likely want to be part of the fun. Find out what interests them and how they could help out with the event. Paisley and Payne encouraged their neighbours to get creative and host their own activities.
“We had an artistic neighbour who made a piñata,” Payne says. “The local appliance store donated a ton of big boxes and we made a huge cardboard city.” Some kids displayed a gallery of their art, while others hosted face painting and carnival games.
“One year, we had a singer-songwriter from the neighbourhood who brought her own audio setup,” Payne says.
Bouncy castles are also a hit with the kids, according to Payne. While they usually rent theirs, Payne says some organizers will purchase one to use every year and share the cost and use with neighbouring streets.
Payne’s festivities usually end with an outdoor potluck and movie screening using a borrowed projector, screen and speakers.
Fundraising and donations
While most parties are volunteer-run, there are still some costs involved in hosting a block party. Payne recommends organizing a raffle to raise funds. “One of our volunteers canvassed the neighbourhood for raffle donations,” Payne says. It’s also a good idea to set up a donation box during the event. The money can then be used to reimburse helpers for their expensesor saved for the following year.
The months of volunteer work is stressful at times, but for Payne, it’s all worthwhile once she sees the party unfold. “Although it’s a really long day and so much planning and organizing beforehand, seeing it all come together is reward enough for me,” she says. “Watching families smiling and laughing with new and old friends makes it all worthwhile. I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Save more with CAA
If you’re planning a street party or an epic summer adventure, shop online and in-store with CAA Rewards® partners for the supplies you need while taking advantage of Member-exclusive discounts. Visit caaneo.ca/partners for a complete list of partners.