Plan an Event

Special Event - Definition, Criteria and Examples

There are literally thousands of events, festivals, celebrations, games and gatherings that occur in Toronto which could easily be classified as Special Events.

The City of Toronto defines a special event as:

A special event is a sporting, cultural, business or other type of unique activity, occurring for a limited or fixed duration (one-time, annual) and presented to a live audience, that impacts the City of Toronto by involving the use of, or having impact on, the public realm (owned, leased or controlled by the City of Toronto). It usually occurs on the public realm but sometimes can 'spill over' from private property.

Activities that are part of a regular series or subscription are not deemed special events, unless they are an atypical activity outside the ordinary (e.g. A regular scheduled baseball game is not a special event, but the Championship Series is a special event).  Also excluded are construction-related permitting and film permits.

Key Dimensions and Criteria

There are a number of key dimensions and criteria that can influence the character and impact of a special event. The first set of bullets focus mostly on the scale of the event. Then there are two additional dimensions that can impact policy (characteristics of the proponent/organizer) and whether the event is gated (entry is controlled usually for liquor license or ticketing) or totally open to the public.


  • Length and frequency of activity: How many days and how often the event occurs.  
  • Number of venues, roads or sites: Single site/venue or multiple
  • Attendance: Number of participants and spectators expected
  • Out-of-town Attendance: Number of participants and/or spectators drawn from outside an 80km radius of Toronto
  • Quantity of City permits and/or approvals required
  • City coordination required: Number of services, divisions required and complexity of the event
  • Value of City services required:  Includes paid and in-kind services, does not include grant programs
  • Measured Benefits: Economic, Tourism, Hotel Rooms, Media, Exposure

Two additional criteria would further divide each category:

  • Organizational status: Private, for profit, corporate or charitable, not-for-profit, government
  • Admission:  Open/free or Gated/charge

The City of Toronto uses five categories - Category A, B, C, D and Local Street and Community Event.


Mega Event

Length: A minimum of two weeks, to up to six months

Frequency: Held every four years in rotating global locations

Number of venues, roads or sites: Unlimited (usually many across City and/or region)

Attendance: Unlimited (usually over 500,000)

Out-of-town Attendance: Over 100,000 out-of-town draw

Quantity of City permits and/or approvals required: Unlimited (usually many)

Value of City services required: Over $1,000,000

Bidding Process: Bid takes place on global scale, with significant international support and promotion required to be successful.

City Coordination Required: Production of event led by external organization or other order of government. City leads local event coordination, including venues and logistics.

Infrastructure Requirements: Purpose-built event facilities and significant levels of ancillary infrastructure (e.g. transit, housing, etc.)

Measured Benefits: Significant economic and business benefit, utilizes hotels City-wide, provides the City of Toronto with international media/branding opportunities via live broadcasting, and television, radio, or print advertising

Examples: Olympic Games (Winter or Summer), World Expo, FIFA World Cup

National Soccer Stadium and crowd with Toronto Skyline during FIFA U20 2007

Category A

Definition and Example of a Category A special event.

Photo of Food Vendors at Street Festival

Category B

Definition and Example of a Category B special event.

Photo of Crowds at CIBC Run for the Cure

Category C

Definition and Example of a "Category C" special event.

Photo of dancers Bloor West Village Toronto Ukrainian Festival

Category D

Definition and Example of a "Category D" special event

Stadium Crowd during FIFA U20 World Cup

Event Planning Guide

Tools and resources for planning a special event in Toronto including guidelines, applications, event examples, quick reference charts and contacts in the Event Support Unit.