Happy Birthday, BIA: Diversity and inclusion at the heart of the organization for 50

The Downtown Stratford Business Improvement Area (BIA), in conjunction with The Stratford Festival, hosted a Family Fair in The Square on Saturday, August 12th, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Market Square for the Stratford BIA’s 50th Birthday celebration.

With a focus on inclusion and diversity, the BIA has made major impacts on city Streets over the last 50 years. BIA General Manager Jamie Prichard noted, “People come to Stratford for entertainment, tourism, and retail. So, we're here to ensure it’s a beautiful place downtown so that people come and feel welcomed.” He continued, “Our job is to make everyone feel welcome, regardless of race, colour, or sexual orientation. We want Stratford to be known as a place that welcomes all people.”

Family Fair in the Square was a double celebration, with activities and entertainment based on the Stratford Festival family production of A Wrinkle in Time. The fun consisted of a number of great activities for children, such as the inflatable planetarium, magicians and exciting stilt walkers, ‘Hala on Stilts’ and ‘Frolick Theater,’ who entertained children and adults alike throughout the afternoon. Another notable performance was a demonstration from the Stratford Symphony Orchestra, who took the stage and entertained onlookers.

Families from across Stratford enjoyed the free events, noting the importance of simple fun; Krysta Nesbit of Nesbit Financial and mom of two said the event consisted of simple, fun activities that were great for all ages, “There was something for attendees of all ages to enjoy. The kids were super excited about playing on the real-life firetruck and the dragon boat”

Children were seen walking around with face paint, everything from puppies to dragons colourfully displayed across their cheeks at the afternoon event.

Volunteers ran a number of free games throughout the afternoon before lining up to sing happy birthday to the BIA and get cupcakes from Mayor Martin Ritsma himself later that afternoon.

Nesbit noted the fun-filled afternoon was the perfect mix of community and fun, “The BIA is amazing at mixing support for the local businesses with music and arts to create an event with heart that really brings people out.”

The BIA history was a big part of the event that weekend; reminiscing about the backbone of the downtown core, the BIA General Manager Jamie Prichard noted that the BIAs were initially formed in Toronto to protect downtown business after the installation of large malls back in the 1970s,

The event also hosted a sidewalk sale, which has not been done in Stratford for a number of years, offering discounted items for people to shop and explore while they were downtown for the afternoon.

Prichard said about the initial initiation of the BIAs, “Back then, it was really more about beautification and getting people to come down.” However, things have substantially changed, and the BIA is much more than simply attracting people to shop in the downtown core of city streets.

Prichard said that BIA focuses on all aspects of downtown attraction, “Yes, our job is to beautify the downtown core, but I think that there's a lot more to beautification than putting up some flowers and planters.” Prichard continued, “I think that people are beautiful, and we have to make sure that we are welcoming to all people with inclusion and diversity being a focus.”

Amanda Modaragamage, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Stratford Times