Polar Bear Festival



by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

The Land of the Tooney…

It was all set! We were going to meet in Campbellford at about 11:30 AM. This was where the Polar Bear Festival was taking place! It had all started when I sent out the January issue of my free monthly newsletter, Festival Notes. I know, an unabashed plug for the Ontario Festivals Visited newsletter! Later I was talking to my brother Chuck, and he asked me if Judi and I were still playing to go. I told him we were and he indicated that he and his wife, Flo, might also go. We had left it at that, until I called him the night before the festival. I asked him if he was still interested in going. He said yes if the weather was okay. He said that they were planning on going with another couple and that he would call me into morning at 9:30 AM to let me know their status. The next morning we woke to a sunny blue sky and I knew that at least Judi and I were going. Chuck called, as promised, and “it was all set”, they were going and we were going to meet them there. We drove the hour trip to Campbellford in bright sunshine and arrived at about 11:30 AM. Campbellford is about 30km straight north of Brighton and is located on the Trent Canal. As a matter of fact, the Canal runs right through the downtown area under a unique arched bridge. Campbellford is a beautiful little town that is famous for being the home of “Tooney” artist, Brent Townsend. To commemorate this achievement, the town erected a giant “Tooney” replica in the canal park. Chuck and I had arranged to call one another when we arrived in town, but I wanted to find out where the activities were taking place first. I spotted the town’s tourism office and drove into their parking lot. It seems that Chuck had had the same idea, because we pulled into the lot at almost the same time! Here we greeted Chuck and Flo and were introduced to their friends, Win and Wilf. With that we became one big happy festival group! It was time to find the food!

On To The Food…

Our first stop was the St. John’s United Church. The church was holding its annual Chocolate and Cheese Festival. This festival coincides each year with the Polar Bear Festival. We parked our cars and trudged through the snow covered sidewalks. Inside the church we were able to rid ourselves of our heavy winter coats. There was a small line up to purchase food tickets. We made our selections and moved into the church hall. The hall was a large square room and had been set up with long tables in the middle and exhibits and display around the perimeter. Along the wall as we came in tables were set up for chocolate and cheese! The first table had a wonderful “chocolate fountain” and lots of fruit to “plunge” into the fountain! A little further along was the cheese table. A variety of cheeses were there to be purchased. At the front of the hall was a large stage area. Tables had been set up on the stage. Curiosity got the better of me and I climbed the stairs to it! What a treat! Pies, cakes, tarts and muffins filled the tables. I later discovered that they hadn’t been set up just for me, but were the “goodies” that could be purchased in the upcoming auction. On the far side on the hall was the kitchen and serving counter. Along the back wall of the hall two sets of tables had been set up. The first was for the bucket raffle that was being held and the second was for “unmentionables”! Unmentionable being homemade cakes, cookies, pies and more pies! Enough to make ones mouth water! I left this area in gallop! It was all too tempting! With my explorations over, I went to the serving area and ordered Judi’s and my food. It came quickly and I joined the others who already had theirs. The food was great and the company better! Once the food had been devoured, Chuck and Wilf disappeared. It seemed that they wanted to wander. On Wilf’s return, he informed us that he had been commandeered to be auctioneer for the afternoon auction. This didn’t come as a great surprise as Wilf is very outgoing and has a “megaphone” type voice! However, before the auction, there was a “polar bears” to see!

The Auction…

We left the church hall in anticipation of witnessing on of the “wonders” of the world! 15 or so people stripping down to their “shorts”, in sub-zero weather, and the walking (without a gun to their head) onto freezing cold water! It defies imagination! Unfortunately we had left it too late! When we arrived at the “Polar Bear Festival” area, the buses and cars were all loaded and everyone (including the Polar Bear Mascot) was leaving! We were disappointed, of course, but, as they say, every disappointment has its silver lining! Ours was that we got to go back to the “warmth” of the church hall and watch Wilf perform his “magic”! When we returned to the hall it was almost full. I guess everyone had the same idea as we did, “get warm”! On stage a lady was announcing the winners of the baking contest. Winners, when their names were announced came up on stage to receive their award certificate. A few dignitaries from the crowd were introduced, including one the hearty soles who had braved the icy temperatures of the canal. Jessica Mechetuk stood up and accepted the appreciative applause from the audience. Northumberland-Quinte West MP Rick Norlock was then introduced and he said a few words of welcome. He quipped that if Cathy Thornton raised the $10,000 needed for the hospital that he would take the plunge next year to help raise even more money. Everyone agreed that this was a great idea! It was now time for the “great” auction to commence and Wilf was introduced! The first item up for auction was one of the award winning cakes! My brother, Chuck, became Wilf’s “lovely” assistant and carried the cake around the room, showing the “prize” to all potential bidders. Wilf started the bidding at 50 cents. The bidding was rapid and the final total paid was a “staggering” $15.00! Auction item after auction item came to the floor and were snapped up by eager bidders! It was great fun and everyone in the hall had a wonderful time, especially Wilf and Chuck! The event had raised a lot of money for the church and everyone left knowing they had helped a worthwhile cause. While I was walking around the room taking photographs, I ran into an old friend, Kevin Stuart. Kevin is the afternoon announcer for Cobourg’s radio station, 107.9fmThe Breeze. Kevin is also the person who helps me produce the Ontario Festivals Visited “Nomad” radio vignettes. Another blatant plug!
If was finally time to leave the Polar Bear Festival and after a long good-bye, Chuck and his group and Judi and I went our separate ways. The sunny day with clear blue skies were starting to turned nasty. As we drove south, the snow began to fall quite heavily. By the time we reached Hwy 401 the visibility was very poor. However, after careful driving we made it home safe and sound!