Anne Rota

Newest Amherstburg festival proves to be “uncommon”


By Ron Giofu


Mother Nature put the “steam” into “steampunk” over the Civic Holiday weekend but enthusiasts of that and Harry Potter still came to Amherstburg anyway.

The first Amherstburg Uncommon Festival was held last Friday through Sunday, organizers are still pleased with how things transpired. High heat and humidity kept people off the streets at points, but the reported attendance figure by the town was 35,000 for the three days.

“One of the things we heard consistently is that Amherstburg knows how to put on quality events for families,” said manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota. “All of the big top shows were sold out each day. We felt bad we had to turn some people away.”

Matt Foubert, Kim Chapieski and Sienna Oke attended the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival Aug. 5.

Rota credited town departments and staff who worked together to pull the festival off. She said it was a “huge footprint” between Gore St. and North St., including Toddy Jones Park and Navy Yard Park, and that proved to be something they had to contend with to keep people entertained.

“That was a bit of a challenge as well as the intense heat,” she said. “However, people did come out. We can’t thank the volunteers enough for their generous hospitality. They tried to keep people cool and safe.”

Crowds were “a little quieter than usual” in the middle of the day but Rota said they noticed they started picking up after 3 p.m.

“I think we met our goal to bring something unique to Amherstburg,” she said.

Rota said she was pleased with how engaged local businesses were, stating some had special menu items, dressed up storefronts and sponsored the event.

“I think the taxpayers just can’t rely on the tourism department to do the heavy lifting. It’s important to have businesses get involved as well,” she said. “There is no way the Town of Amherstburg would be able to sustain this as a significant festival without the support of the businesses.”

The amount of people in Harry Potter and steampunk costumes was surprising, she added.

Demonstrations involving owls proved to be a “hoot.”

“We never realized how many people love to get into ‘kit’ (costumes),” said Rota. “People spent months making costumes for the event. They were a show in and of themselves.”

Participants and vendors are very willing to come back next year, she added.

“Being the first year on such a large footprint, we learned quite a bit,” Rota stated. “We’ve got some ideas to make it better (for next year). Overall, we were very proud of the presence of Amherstburg as a progressive, thoughtful community.”

People also enjoyed simply strolling down Dalhousie St. and looking at the older homes and buildings, Rota added.

Rota thanked all the sponsors, including WFCU and Walker Aggregates, as well as the “many other community supporters.” Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, who was dressed in steampunk attire, also thanked the sponsors during Friday night opening ceremonies. DiCarlo also thanked Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island (TWEPI) for its support.

Dr. Von Houligan’s Carnival of Calamities got the crowd going with some fire-breathing action.

“We are grateful for the support and exemplary work TWEPI does for Amherstburg and Essex County,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo also thanked the province, specifically the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, for grant funding that allowed the town to present the festival.

“They waved their magic wand and gave their support for the festival,” he said.

The mayor also thanked the University of Windsor for the help with the STEM tent and the tourism department.

“We couldn’t have had this without the commitment and dedication to make Amherstburg the best it can be,” he said.

Shelley McIndoo of LaSalle, along with children Avery, Maddison and Jonah, attended in full costume. She said they were “absolutely” looking forward to it.

Ryan, Megan, Gwenyth and Olivia Beaudoin.

“Everyone likes to dress up,” she said. “I was happy for the town. It’s nice they can capitalize on the waterfront. I’d like to see more festivals on the waterfront.”

Paul Stephany, a vendor from Guelph, said he was happy with what he saw from the first-year event.

“It’s a really well organized festival from what I can see,” he said, adding “I like steampunk because you can take the best of the Victorian era and rewrite the worst making a whole new story.”

Lloyd and Yvonne Penney stayed at the Bondy House Bed and Breakfast, as did Lori D’Ascenzo, with the local B&B re-dubbed “The Three Broomsticks” for the Amherstburg Uncommon weekend.

“I was looking for a festival that was fun, different and outside the box,” explained D’Ascenzo. “I called (the Bondy House) and got more information.”

D’Ascenzo said she enjoyed the people who dressed up but was hoping to see more inventions as she has a science background. She added she really liked the looks on children’s faces.

“It’s unbelievable how they get into the magic of it,” said D’Ascenzo.

Jenna, Jack and Erin Mendel stand in front of a steam engine provided by the Essex County Steam and Gas Engine Museum Aug. 4. The museum is holding its own show at Co-An Park in McGregor Aug. 10-12.

The Penney’s explained that they are big Harry Potter fans with Lloyd also enjoying steampunk. Lloyd said he heard about the festival through social media and when they looked into it, they came down three weeks ahead of time and brought promotional material to a steampunk convention in Novi, Michigan.

“We’re having a good time,” Yvonne said Saturday morning.

Jon Kominek from Dresden was all smiles as well, as he sat in the cockpit of a plane brought by the Canadian Historical Aircraft Association.

“It’s been fun so far,” he said Saturday. “I’ve never been in the cockpit of a plane before.”

Jeff and Angela Deane from Essex enjoyed themselves and thought it was a good event.

Lydia Palmer and Paige Howson were two of the people that came dressed up to the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival, which was presented the Civic Holiday weekend.

“It’s cool,” said Angela, with Jeff adding “it’s good for a first year.”

The Beaudoin family from Amherstburg – Ryan, Megan, Gwenyth and Olivia – liked having the festival in their own backyard. The family were all in costume Saturday morning.

“It’s wonderful,” said Megan. “We’ve looked forward to it since we first heard about it. We made the costumes and everything.”

Jenna, Jack and Erin Mendel from Amherstburg also enjoyed themselves.

“It’s awesome,” said Jenna. “I like dressing up and we’re huge Harry Potter fans. Hopefully, it gets bigger with more vendors. If it keeps growing, it will be awesome.”

For more photos from the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival, view our Facebook album.


Town seeking public input on branding strategy


The Town of Amherstburg is looking for public input on its new branding strategy.

The town has partnered with marketing agency Cinnamon Toast New Media Inc. to develop the branding strategy, as well as “an innovative new tourism website” to attract visitors, guests and investors.

To launch the project, Cinnamon Toast has created a survey, accessible online, to engage residents of the community as well as interested parties from neighboring areas. It aims to gather information about what makes Amherstburg unique to other municipalities and what elements stakeholders would like to see reflected in the town’s future brand and logo.

The survey also seeks information on how often the website is accessed, and what visitors to the site find most valuable, including ease of use, information about events, attractions including restaurant and accommodation recommendations.

“Amherstburg continues to be progressive in meeting the growing interests of new markets. We encourage everyone to participate in filling out the short survey to help us in the creation of an exciting new logo and tourism website,” manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota stated.

There will be two public consultations sessions Aug. 29 and those sessions will be led by Cinnamon Toast New Media Inc. and attended by town representatives. The first session will be at 3 p.m. with an evening session planned for 6 p.m. Both will be held at the Libro Centre.

The town agreed in May to spend up to $75,000 plus HST on a branding strategy, which will also include a communications strategy and a “brand identity manual.”

The Town of Amherstburg is encouraging the public to find the survey on its “Talk the Burg” online feedback website and at its main website of


Planning for Amherstburg Uncommon Festival ongoing


By Ron Giofu


Plans for the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival are underway and town tourism officials believe things are coming together nicely.

The festival, planned to be in the downtown core including Navy Yard Park and Toddy Jones Park, is set for Aug. 3-5 and manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota is enthusiastic about what the Civic Holiday weekend will do for the town.

“Something uncommon is about to hit the streets of Amherstburg,” said Rota. “Every day, a new exciting activity is added. By Aug. 3-5, people are going to be amazed at what is going to be in Amherstburg.”

Among the list of activities is a children’s innovation pavilion in Navy Yard Park which will include robotics, falconry and flight demonstrations, a straw maze, hat making, ghost walks, costume contests, tea pot races, a Canadian Historic Aircraft aerial display, quidditch games, psychic readings and Dr. Von Houligan’s Carnival of Calamities. The latter will see a big top set up in Toddy Jones Park with tickets to enter being available at WFCU.

“Tickets are only $5 each because of a generous donation from WFCU, who sponsored the tent,” said Rota.

Rota said even the tourism department is surprised by the level of interest the festival has been receiving.

“We are amazed with the popularity of Harry Potter and steampunk,” said Rota. “We never thought there would be so much interest out there.”

The bulk of the event will be free, said Rota, and noted they have received a number of sponsors that have helped with costs.

“The streets will be filled with activities for the entire three days,” she said. “There are some very, very uncommon and unusual acts. We have fireworks every single night that ends the show.”

The costume contest will be judged by representatives from Windsor Comic-Con and have male, female and children categories.

“We will have giant steam engines on display and a chuckwagon at Toddy Jones Park,” added Rota.

What will be involved with the “Insecta Alley” will be left as a surprise for now, she stated.

There is no plan to have food trucks or vendors involved, Rota said, with people encouraged to visit local restaurants as many will have Harry Potter and steampunk-themed menus.

“We are really encouraging people to visit downtown businesses and restaurants,” she said.

For more information on the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival, call the tourism office at 519-730-1309, visit or visit the tourism department’s Facebook page by searching “Amherstburg Connection.” The public can also follow the tourism department on Twitter by searching @AmherstburgNow.

Downton Abbey comes to Amherstburg



By Ron Giofu


People dressed in their Sunday finest and came down to King’s Navy Yard Park Sunday for the first-ever Rhododendron Garden Tea Party.

The event was presented in partnership between the town’s tourism department and the Belle Vue Conservancy. There were two sittings with manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota stating there were about 250 tickets sold combined.

“It’s a good number especially for a first year considering what a wet and dreary spring we had,” said Rota. “People were watching the weather forecasts. Mother Nature shined on us today.”

The weather for the tea was warm and sunny and Rota said the location proved to be a draw as well.

“I think, given the location of King’s Navy Yard Park and the magnificent blooms of the rhododendrons and azalea gardens, it’s a perfect fit for a garden tea party.”

A fundraising total for the Belle Vue restoration was not known as of press time, but Rota said the Downton Abbey-themed event was about raising awareness of the 200-year-old mansion as well. Belle Vue sits at 525 Dalhousie St. and the Belle Vue Conservancy is in its second year of raising money trying to try and restore it.

Joanna Starczewski, Maya Dobosz and David Wagner were winners of the costume awards at the morning session of the Rhododendron Garden Tea Party May 27. At right is Linda Jackson of the Belle Vue Conservancy.

The day also raised awareness of Amherstburg and the Navy Yard Park, Rota added.

“I think the Royal Wedding inspired people to come out in their hats and fascinators,” she added. “It’s all about costumes, role playing and coming out and having a great time in Amherstburg. That’s why we are Amherstburg Uncommon.”

The Amherstburg Uncommon Festival, which Rota alluded to, is Aug. 3-5.

Michael Prue and Shirley Curson-Prue were dressed to the nines for the Rhododendron Garden Tea Party.

Linda Jackson, chair of corporate outreach for the Belle Vue Conservancy, pointed out the role Bob and Norma Sutherland had in creating the rhododendron and azalea beds in Navy Yard Park. She also recognized the volunteers who have maintained and grown the beds since.

Jackson added it was nice to see Navy Yard Park used that way. She also noted the proceeds from the Rhododendron Garden Tea Party will benefit the restoration of Belle Vue, which is getting a new roof. The windows are the next phase of the restoration project with fundraising currently underway for that.

“She will truly be a gem in the Windsor-Essex County area,” said Jackson, of Belle Vue.

Martha Minogue-Fiorino plays the harp during the morning session of the May 27 Rhododendron Garden Tea Party.

David and Helen Wagner of Windsor came to Amherstburg for the event and dressed in costume.

“We are into steampunk,” explained Helen. “We’ve been doing it for about seven years.”

David added they have a costume room at their home with various different steampunk attire.

For more photos, visit our Facebook album.

Amherstburg to spend upwards of $75,000 to devise new “branding strategy”



By Ron Giofu


Town council is moving ahead with a new branding strategy that could cost upwards of $75,000.

Council authorized administration to proceed with an agreement with Cinnamon Toast New Media Inc. at cost not to exceed $75,000 plus HST to develop a “branding strategy” for the town. Council approved up to $80,000 for such an initiative in the 2018 capital budget.

According to a report from manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota, the proposed branding strategy “will guide Amherstburg into a successfully integrated marketing and promotions plan that will be competitive with current and developing market trends. This will include a strong online and social media communications program with campaigns to raise the profile of Amherstburg.”

Key project deliverables for the Amherstburg branding strategy include development of a “comprehensive research paper” that will deal with perceptions of internal and external audiences, the source of the perceptions and suggestions for changing them through branding and marketing. Another goal that will be delivered through the strategy includes development of a new town logo and communications “for print and digital for the purpose of incenting visitation and targeting high yield consumer segments.”

Might we be seeing less of this logo in the future? A new branding strategy has been approved with a new logo part of that strategy.

The branding strategy will also lead to a new tourism website, a communications strategy and a “brand identity manual” and communications plan.

“Currently, Amherstburg has fallen behind in marketing and promotion in comparison to other municipalities in the region,” Rota said in her report. “Through the enhanced branding strategy, Amherstburg will build a competitive and sustainable tourism and economic vehicle attracting high yield consumers, maximizing the potential for growth as a destination of choice to visit and invest in.”

The strategic plan that council approved identified marketing, promotion and economic development as needs and goals for the community.

Not all council members were sold on the idea, however. Councillor Diane Pouget said she was opposed to the idea at budget time and remains opposed. She called it a “total waste of taxpayers’ money” and said the town’s logo and colours are not “tired,” but reflected the town’s military history.

The town’s ability to attract festivals and the possibility of a hotel announcement soon shows the town is gaining attention, she believed. The town must “live within its means” and the money could be used for other things, including infrastructure as it is “crumbling in rural areas.”