Noisy festivals a cause of complaints for Ottawa’s core

Festivals like Bluesfest are held annually in Somerset Ward and contribute to the overall noise complaints in the area, according to residents. (Source:

Residents of Ottawa’s core continue to be the source of most complaints for noisy festivals in the city, according to data compiled by Ottawa 3-1-1.

Somerset Ward, which encompasses the neighbourhoods of Downtown Ottawa, Centretown, and Lebreton Flats, was the source of 38 per cent of festival-related noise complaints made to Ottawa 3-1-1 — the highest of any other ward in the city.

Most of the calls, the 2016 data shows, were made in the height of the summer, during prominent music festivals like RBC Bluesfest and the electronic music festival Escapade, both of which are held at Lebreton Flats.

But noise disruptions due to these big ticket festivals, especially Bluesfest, have been decreasing over the last few years, according to Somerset Ward resident Jacob Billingsley.

“Admittedly, it used to be a lot worse,” Billingsley, who lives on Walnut Court, in front of Albert Street, said. “[A few years ago] my windows were shaking, you can hear the music loud and clear from my living room and it was quite disruptive.”

Billingsley said Bluesfest has since changed their stage set-up, having them face away from dense residential neighbourhoods around the area. This change was made after a lot residents complained to the city, he added.

The festival has also enforced a stricter 11:00 p.m. curfew on artists as a result of residents’ complaints, he said.

However, a decent amount of noise continues to be a reality of living in Somerset Ward, and music festivals can get especially loud at night when concert-goers are heading home, Billingsley said.

“It’s never bothered me personally,” he said. “But I can sympathize with the parents [in the area] who have to put little kids to bed when the music is really loud . . .  I can see that being really frustrating.”

According to the City of Ottawa, there is a spike in noise-related complaints following big sporting events and concerts due to spectators moving to entertainment districts or private parties.

However, the city said in a report released earlier this year that “most festivals are recurring annual events that are expected and accepted within the community,” and therefore the number of calls has dwindled over the years.

According to the city’s website, festival planners are required to submit an noise-bylaw exemption application to the city prior to their event. However, there are restrictions, including an 11-day limit on festivals and a curfew of 11 p.m., no exceptions, from Sunday to Thursday.

While Somerset Ward is the source of the highest number of complaints for festivals, data from 2014 to 2016 shows it is  second to Rideau-Vanier for overall noise complaints in the city, where calls are more frequently made for general music and shouting. Capital ward, located just south of Downtown Ottawa, comes in third.

Despite living in one of the loudest areas in Ottawa, Billingsley has made Somerset Ward his home for almost 10 years, and the area has its perks due to close proximity to the O-Train and Ottawa’s downtown core.

“The benefits of this location far out weigh the noise levels . . .  the concerts add background noise, but you only really notice it if you pay attention.” Billingsley said.

In their noise bylaw report released this year, the city acknowledges “cultural and economic” benefits to the growing number of festivals in the city. The city has also considered extending the curfew for Landsdowne Park in Capital Ward, as more events and festivals are moving to the area.

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