EDMONTON -- The traditions of the Edmonton Heritage Festival will carry on, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The popular August event is going virtual.

"We're trying to find ways to bring people together while crazy things happen in the rest of the world," executive director Jim Gibbon said.

The festival normally takes over Hawrelak Park on August long weekend, with dozens of cultural pavilions sharing their food, art and performances. Approximately 360,000 people attended in 2019.

Organizers were forced to cancel the in-person celebrations in April when the province put limits on mass gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The new online format includes pavilion pages showcasing performances and recipes, plus videos from UNESCO partners around the world.

"It's turning into this astonishing event," Gibbon said. "The fact that we’re right here in Edmonton means you have to be Edmonton to attend. What this has done is, this is allowing people around the world to see come and see our festival in this separate and individual way."

The new Multicultural Month will also launch on Aug. 1. People can buy items from multicultural artisans and order food from 40 local restaurants, supporting small businesses.

The event has also been a major fundraiser for Edmonton's Food Bank since 1985. On average, the food drive collects $100,000 and 50,000 kilograms of food over the three days. 

If the organization can't collect those donations, it will have a difficult time meeting the need in Edmonton.

“We also know we’re in it for the long haul and that when things change again with CERB and when jobs don’t open up for people in the next few months, we’re going to see an increase in the number of people needing our services,” food bank executive director Marjorie Bencz said.  

The food bank is asking for donations at its Drive Thru Heritage Food Drive on Aug. 1.

Donations can also be made online through the festival.

The new Edmonton Heritage Festival website will launch on Saturday, Aug. 1 at 10 a.m.