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Organize a special event

A special event can be a great way to get your neighbourhood together and build community spirit. Whether you want to plan a community picnic, family day, carnival, street fair, talent show, dance, concert or any other type of special event, this section can help you organize and run your event.

Getting organized

When you decide to organize any kind of special event it is always good to have people working with you. Forming a committee with specific jobs and responsibilities ensures the work gets shared around and that many community members can feel involved. Committees are also a great way to get to know your neighbours and learn about their different strengths and potential contributions to future events.

Read the City of Ottawa’s Special Events by-law to find out all you need to know about what’s required of you and the planning committee.

Recruiting volunteers

Once you have a committee in place, you need to assign tasks and find other volunteers who might help with the different parts of your event. Recruiting people who have different skill sets (e.g. a person who has experience with finance to do the budget, or a person who has design skills to help with marketing) is a good way to build a well-rounded team. Remember to do a wide search to create a diverse team that will bring many different talents to your event. Seniors and retired people often have more time to give, and young people have experience with new technology and energy that can be very valuable!

Committee members can be assigned to specific tasks and to manage volunteers to ensure the work gets done. Remember that volunteers need to be thanked, and a personal remark, a thank you at the event or even a small gift in recognition of their time and effort can go a long way to making people feel valued.

Setting a budget and a timeline

When organizing a special event, no one wants to be left with a bill at the end of it, so make sure you create a realistic budget right away. Creating a budget involves listing all the things (food, equipment, entertainment, marketing, prizes, decorations, space rental, permit fees, thank-you gifts, etc.) your event will need and how much everything will cost. Then, you need to consider how much you might be able to cover through donations or sponsorship, and how much you may need to charge people to participate in the event, in order to cover your costs.

Always try to leave a bit of room in your budget for last minute things that might come up. Finally, one person on your committee should be in charge of the budget to ensure the event stays on track and that the appropriate people are paid.

Once the committee has settled on an event idea and date, it is important to create a timeline or work-back schedule for your event. This document outlines what activities have to be done in the months/weeks leading up to the event all the way through to post-event activities, such as returning rental equipment or writing thank-you cards to guests. The work-back schedule assigns deadlines for each activity as well as who is responsible.

Many committees also include a run schedule for the day of the event, to ensure that each activity (e.g. set-up, speeches, awards, tear-down, etc.) happen on time and in the correct order. The more detailed this document is, the more smoothly you can expect your event to run!

Getting local sponsorship

Local business owners will often be willing to donate funds or products for a community event. Before you approach a local business, figure out what you need, how much, and what you may be able to offer the business owner in return (perhaps a free ad in a program, or a booth at an event at which they can promote their business.) Saying thank you to generous donors is the key to future support.

You can also contact your local Business Improvement Area (BIA) to ask if they would like to be involved in your event.

Food and drink

If you are planning to serve food and drink at your event, remember that you are responsible for all litter pick-up, so you need to make sure you have adequate garbage and recycling bins. You might also consider listing ingredients, especially any highly allergy-inducing ones, like nuts, so that your guests are aware of what they are eating.

If you are planning to serve alcohol at an event on City property (like in a park) you will need to obtain a Special Occasion Permit from the City. There are also rules and regulations for setting up a space to serve alcohol, and who can serve it. More information about the Municipal Alcohol Policy can be found on the City’s website.

You can also learn more about planning and hosting a special event on the City’s website.

Rural events

If you live in a rural area, the City of Ottawa has specific guidelines for hosting events in rural facilities. You can find out more about the guidelines, as well as how to book arenas, parks and ballfields, rural halls and buildings on the City’s website.


Depending on the type of event you want to hold, you may need to get permits from the City of Ottawa in order to close streets or serve alcohol on public property. You should apply for permits at least a month before your event.

Event Central at 613-580-2424, ext. 14613 or at EventCentral@ottawa.ca may also be able to help you and direct you to the appropriate contacts for your event.

To apply to the City to hold your special event, complete the application form available on the City’s website.

Inviting special guests

Representatives from Ottawa Police, Fire Services and Paramedic Service may sometimes be able attend community events. Having representatives from these services is a great way to foster community relationships with police, fire and paramedic services. People, especially children, enjoy visiting fire and police vehicles, as well as ambulances, at events. Similarly, you can invite your local councillor!

  • Contact the City of Ottawa Fire Services to discuss your event or request their participation at 613-580-2424 ext. 15376 or fireeducation@ottawa.ca
  • Contact your local Community Police Centre directly to invite an officer to your event.
  • Contact J.P. Trottier, Public Education Information Officer for Ottawa Paramedic Service, at 613-580-2424 extension 22483, to invite a paramedic to your event.
  • Contact your Ottawa city councillor to request his/her participation. Contact details for all councillors are listed on the City’s website.

You can also invite local politicians or celebrities to events as speakers or special guests. Inviting provincial or federal politicians can be done through their local constituency offices.

If you know of a local car club, invite them to display their cars at your event. Vintage automobiles can be a big draw for a community event.

Getting local media coverage

Local media, community radio stations and community newspapers will often promote a community event. You might also want to invite them to attend your event and write a story about your neighbourhood, or even broadcast live!


Depending on the size of your event and activities involved, you may need to get insurance before you can apply for a permit. If there are activities like street hockey or other sports involved, in which people or property could be hurt or damaged, insurance is recommended. If you are planning to serve alcohol at your event, you will definitely need insurance before a special occasion permit will be issued.

Contact your Insurance Broker to discuss your insurance options. If you plan to hold your event in a City of Ottawa facility, you can book liability insurance at the same time as you sign your contract for the space. The City administers a User Group Liability insurance program with a $1,000,000 limit that can be purchased directly from the City at an affordable premium charge.

You can check with your own home insurer to see what kind of rates they might offer you. Otherwise, you can contact an insurance company like PAL Insurance (1-800-265-8098) that specializes in one-time coverage for special events.

Other types of special events in Ottawa

Ottawa is host to many public events, parades, and protests. Many of these events involve street closures which can sometimes be an inconvenience for drivers in the city. If you want to find out about street closures, you can check the Ottawa Police Service website or listen to local media for regularly updated information.