Dr. Von Houligan

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.