February 9, 2022
tony digiovanniNormally, this would have been a post-Congress article, where I would summarize the wonderful event and thank the staff, exhibitors and attendees. However, these are not normal times.

This is the second year we could not host our most popular event.

There was so much hope we would be one of the first major events in Ontario allowed to open. The exhibitors and attendees were looking forward to finally meeting face-to-face. The booths were all sold. The hotel was completely booked. The buzz on social media was getting louder. Exhibitors were prepared. In some cases, trucks were loaded, booths were redesigned and marketing materials purchased. Exhibitors started inviting their clients.

In mid-December, just a few weeks before the show, we held our usual “tie-down meeting.” The purpose of the meeting is to gather all associated partners to review every aspect of the event to ensure everyone is on the same page to guarantee the event’s success. These partners included representatives from the Toronto Congress Centre, decorating companies, carpet installers, audio/visual suppliers, material handling, customs brokers, the registration company and LO’s show team. All of the  individuals and organizations around the table have been hit very hard by the pandemic. Most have had zero activity in the last two years. A few had just been called back to work after being off since the beginning of the pandemic. The mood in the room was very positive.

I had the opportunity to address the gathering. I told them how Congress was much more than a trade show. What it really represents is a homecoming for the landscaping profession. It is a venue where relationships are renewed and enhanced. It is community-building accelerated. Congress reflects our interdependence and interconnectedness. Deals are made. New products are sourced. Relationships are enhanced. New friendships are made. Innovations are celebrated. New skills are learned. People support and encourage each other.

When the entire industry is gathered together under one roof for three days, feelings of pride and belonging are generated. A lot of positive energy results.
Unfortunately, less than a month before opening day, we had to cancel the show. The Omicron wave is like a tsunami. We could not compete with it. Everyone was worried about the health and economic consequences of proceeding with the show. The government finally declared a lockdown.

Our staff team was devastated. The show had represented hope for some normalcy after a pandemic that has gripped the world. They worked even harder than usual to make this show a huge success. After the cancellation, there was a visible grieving process.

There has been an understandable heaviness in our staff team. However, our guiding word for 2022 is “resilience.” Time is helping us all come to grips with what happened; however, what helps more is the attitude of our members and exhibitors.

Heather MacRae, our director of events, commented that our exhibitors are amazing. They are like no other. Even though some had already booked flights, purchased new booths, and made costly preparations, they showed understanding, patience and empathy. We received hundreds of comments expressing thoughts of encouragement and support. The same came from our membership.

Landscape Ontario is fortunate.

I would like to thank our staff for their hard work, but most importantly, for the passion they show for advancing the profession. Thank you to our awesome exhibitors and sponsors. Thank you to our members and potential members who make our Congress homecoming possible.

One of my favourite sayings is from Victor Frank: “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

Our team chooses resilience and hope. See you at the Congress homecoming in 2023. It will mark our 50th anniversary. It will surely be time to celebrate.
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director