Festivalgoers who turned out Sunday for opening day of the 37th Canal Fest were treated to a blue-sky, cloud- free day under brilliant sunshine — but something was different at this year's Twin Cities festival: There was not a canine in sight.
That’s because the Tonawanda City Council voted in June to ban dogs, with the exception of service dogs, from public gatherings, including Canal Fest. Across the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda, a sign prohibiting dogs, skateboards and other pedestrian hazards was posted near the entrance.
According to an informal survey, the public was on board.
“Abbey does not belong in a festival,” said Christy Egri, who was walking her long-haired Chihuahua outside the festival grounds. “Would you like to walk barefoot on a hot blacktop?"
Egri, who did not plan to attend the festival on Sunday, said she may go later in the week — without her pet.
Rick Mongol of North Tonawanda, who was at the festival with his wife and brother, left his Pomeranian at home.
“I don’t think my dog would like to be here,” Mongol said. “A Pomeranian would not do well in this crowd.”
Michele and Clovis Phillips agreed.
“First of all, it’s too hot, and too many people are eating,” said Michele Phillips. “Why would you bring a dog? It’s not enjoyable for the dog, or for other people. What happens if the dog has an accident?”
Or worse: A City of Tonawanda dog control officer reported in 2018 that a dog swiped a snow cone from a baby in a stroller.
The festival opened at noon Sunday with ceremonies on the Renaissance Bridge that spans the Erie Canal and connects the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. The eight-day festival, which features carnival rides, bands, food and community events, marks the bond shared by the two cities that straddle the historic canal.
One opening day festival favorite that returned Sunday was the Chalk-It-Up Street Art Contest. Fourteen chalkers were creating original sidewalk designs based on a theme, which this year was Safari Adventure. Artists were given three-and-a-half hours and all the chalk they needed to mount their masterpieces.
Jessica Litt of Williamsville, a 17-year-old chalker and lemur fan, called her ground-top drawing "Artistic Lemur."
“I like to draw, but chalk is very difficult for me. The lemur is something that just came up this morning,” she said, pointing to a sketch she made of a lemur looking through binoculars at a sunset over a savannah.
Emily Ertel, 27, has served as the advisor for the chalk event since she was a teenager. She said it has never rained on the event.
“Since I was 16, it has not rained on Chalk It Up,” said Ertel. “If it did rain, it was a sprinkle, and it didn’t affect anything.”
As advisor, Ertel coordinates sponsors, secures prizes and buys chalk — 20 boxes of thick sidewalk chalk sticks that come in a rainbow of colors.
The 14 sidewalk artists were divided into three groups: grades six through nine, 10 through 12 (including graduates) and adults. The sidewalk creations will be judged by volunteers from community art organizations including Partners in Art and Locust Street Art.
The sidewalk chalk event takes place on the Tonawanda side of the canal near the Antique Fire Truck Muster, where fire departments from throughout the area dust off their old vehicles and bring them to the festival for display.
The festival continues through July 21 and concludes with a fireworks display beginning at dusk from the Renaissance Bridge.
“This is very historical. Everything was lumber here," said Janet Gioia, from her perch on the Webster Street bridge overlooking the canal. “You don’t have to go to Switzerland, you don’t have to get on an airplane. There’s much beauty here.”