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‘This was not a decision taken lightly’: Spokane Lilac Festival canceled, miniparade plan nixed

UPDATED: Tue., May 12, 2020

The Lilac Festival Royal Court performs a special cheer before boarding their float during the start of the Lilac Festival’s 81st Armed Forces Torchlight Parade held Sunday, May 18, 2019, in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
The Lilac Festival Royal Court performs a special cheer before boarding their float during the start of the Lilac Festival’s 81st Armed Forces Torchlight Parade held Sunday, May 18, 2019, in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The Spokane Lilac Festival for 2020 is canceled, organizers announced Tuesday morning.

While organizers initially announced plans to replace the festival with a “miniparade,” that idea was nixed later in the day, after Dr. Bob Lutz, health officer with the Spokane Regional Health District, recommended the event not take place.

The only other time the festival has been canceled in its 82-year history was from 1943-45, during World War II.

“This was not a decision taken lightly,” wrote 2020 Lilac Festival President Dan VerHeul in a statement. “After many discussions and meetings with our local and state officials, it is clear that it is not feasible to hold the Festival in a safe manner, nor the type of Festival our wonderful community deserves and has come to expect.”

Large gatherings remain prohibited under Phase 1 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen Washington.

Sam Snow, vice president of the Lilac Festival Association, said the idea for a miniparade arose last week after the Lilac Princesses were informed the festival would not go forward.

The association still wanted the 2020 princesses to have a chance to be celebrated and recognized, Snow said.

Snow said he worked with the city of Spokane and the Spokane Police Department to get approval for the event and the route. City administrators were under the impression the miniparade would be a virtual event, livestreamed so people could watch from home, said city spokesman Brian Coddington.

The health district raised concerns after an announcement stated the event would include in-person gathering, leading to its cancellation.

In addition to being without a festival and a parade, the Lilac Festival Association is without a queen.

That’s because the annual coronation ceremony, during which the princesses give speeches and judges select one to serve as queen, was canceled as well.

A Lilac Queen was not selected for 2020 because the coronation in which princesses give speeches and judges select a queen was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Snow said the association hopes to include the 2020 princesses in next year’s parade and the girls will still receive college scholarships, as is customary for Lilac Festival princesses.

“They’ll always be Spokane Lilac Princesses,” Snow said. “No one can take that away from them.”

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