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Bala Cranberry Festival

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

Bala in the Fall…

Bala is a lot bigger than you might think, especially if you are walking from one end to the other with a four year old in tow! Fall brings the harvesting from Cranberries and the Bala Cranberry Festival. We had driven to Muskoka the night before and had stayed at our friend’s cottage. Cathy and Ross and their daughter had agreed to accompany us to the festival. We got up bright and early (while, not so early and not so bright) and were treated to one of Ross’s huge and yummy cottage breakfasts, cereal, lots of fruit, waffles, sausages, eggs (if we wanted), toast, juice and the kitchen sink! We all showered, dressed, packed up and got into our respective vehicles. It was Sunday, so we were going to go straight home from the festival. It was an hour plus drive from the cottage to Bala. Fortunately the traffic was light and the scenery was beautiful. The fall colours hadn’t completely disappeared. We entered Bala from the south and drove towards the centre of the town. The closer to the centre we got, the busier the traffic. Cars were parker on either side of the road, some legally and some, not so legally! We drove down a side street and Ross and Cathy found a parking spot. Judi and I weren’t so lucky. We arranged a meeting place and then Judi and I drove off in search of a place to park. We drove right through the heart of the town, nothing and then back again, nothing. I had remembered seeing an off sight parking area as we came in, so I let Judi off at our pre-arranged meeting spot and drove to the off-site parking. I waited a few minutes for the shuttle bus and then decided to walk in to town. The distance wasn’t too far and it was all downhill. The spot that we had chosen to meet was the KenJen Petting Zoo. This is a wonderful traveling zoo with fantastic owners. Their animals are well feed and given the best of care. We have seen them at other events and know the quality of their attraction. (KenJen Website: http://www.kenjenzoo.com/home.html) Ross, Cathy and Judi were all waiting for me to arrive. They had just spoken to the driver of the Santa’s Village Shuttle Bus and he was going to be back soon. Someone, however, had insisted that we take the Santa’s Village shuttle rather than the regular one. No problem, the bus would be back soon…

The Start of the Long Walk…

We stood, we sat and we waited. The bus never came back! After what seemed like an eternity, we decided to walk towards the other activities. I knew from my drive through town that there was a lot to see. Our first stop was at the Market Place. We purchased our “Bala Cranberry Festival 2007” buttons and were allowed in. The Market Place was a converted parking lot with vendor booths spread out throughout the area. In the middle was the Shield Lot Entertainment Stage. “The Fellows” were performing when we arrived. There was a variety of interesting products for sale. Many of the booths featured cranberry products. Towards the north end of the lot I noticed some very colourful Muskoka type Chairs. I talked with the Barb and Joe, owners of Furlan’s Furniture of Bancroft. They produce a wide range of unique and interesting custom furniture and woodcrafts. Unfortunately they don’t have a website at this time. While I was talking with Joe, the “gang” was looking for places to eat. They had settle on one when I rejoined them. I ordered Back Bacon on a Bun. It was the best that I have ever tasted! The others seemed to enjoy their selection as much as I did. As we started back towards the exit, I noticed another interesting booth. I stopped to ask vendor, Lori Rosenthal, what her booth was all about. She is a “one person show” trying to teach others about “tolerance and pausing to think rather than acting on impulse”. Her journey started two years ago after reading so many stories of bulling (in schools) and cruelty to animals. Her charitable campaign is called, aptly, “Paws for Peace” and her website is http://www.pawsforpeace.ca/. After speaking with Lori I caught up to my group and we exited the Market Place…

The End of the Line…

We continued our walked down the main road to the town centre. The street was crowded with other festival wanderers, each going one way or the other ready to discover new attractions. The street curved right and then left. Each curve held a hidden treasure. Around the first curve was a bridge that passed over fast moving dam water. The rushing water cascaded through the dam, under a railway and under the bridge we were standing on. It eventually flowed down from Long Lake into Gaunt Bay. Right on the edge of the water was a beautiful stone building. The base of the building was well below the height of the bridge. As we crossed the bridge we were able to look down at the tops of tents that had been set up by some enterprising vendors. Given the time of year, I was surprised to see small motorboats still in the water. Around the next curve, on the west side of the street, there was a number of retail stores, with tents set up in front, displaying their merchandise. On the east side a pan flute musician had set up a tent and was entertaining the people passing by. The whole scene was made even more charming when we reached Maple Street. This is where the bulk of the festival was housed. We crossed the street to investigate…

Maple Street Attractions…

We passed the barricades and started our walk down, and I mean walked down, Maple Street. This street was the home of both the community centre and the arena. For the Bala Cranberry Festival, it was where most of the attractions were located. Part way down I spied a mime, Michael Carl O’Neil, who was covered completely in bronze paint and depicting a soldier. He was fantastic! When I was researching this article I visited his website and I was extremely sad to see that he had passed away only 3 days after we met him, on October 17th. Michael, who was born on April 17th, 1959, was only 48 years old. His talents will be missed by anyone who had the privilege of seeing him work. I know all of us send our sincere condolences to his family. From Michael we traveled further down Maple Street. The crowds were much greater here than other parts of the festival. About halfway we came to the Community Centre on our right and the arena on the left. A large stage had been set up in front of the Community Centre. The Old Tyme Gospel Singers were on stage performing for an appreciative audience out front. Inside the Community Centre was the County Bazaar and a “Judged Exhibits Display” Unfortunately, time was not on our side and we missed visiting this building. Further down the road, on either side of the street, vendor tents were set up. We walked down the row of tents admiring the products that were on sale. Just to the north of these tents, a midway had been set up. While the others were exploring the various vendor booths, I decided to go back up to the arena were the Juried Craft Show was taking place. I quickly tour the show and then came back out to meet the others. We were short on time and we had yet to visit the cranberry marsh...

Johnson’s Cranberry Marsh…

Back on the main street we boarded the shuttle bus that would take us to the Cranberry Marsh bound bus. When we arrived at the stop, our driver informed us that the bus that was just about to leave for the marsh was the last one for the day and that if we took it, we would have to find our own way back to town. We discussed our alternatives and decided to go to our vehicles and drive to the marsh ourselves. So, we stayed on the bus and were drive back through town to where our cars were parked. Talk about going from no bus to an extended ride on a bus! We got into our cars and then followed the signs to the marsh. The parking lot was almost full, but volunteer Lions directed us to a vacant spot. The Johnson’s Cranberry Marsh is quite the attraction. Not only does it grow and harvest cranberries, it is an oasis for day trippers looking for something interesting to do on a sunny afternoon. It has hiking and biking trails, group tours, a winery and a retail cranberry store and last but not least, a “Get Wild” program for kids. All this was available to Bala Cranberry Festival goers just for the price of the $5.00 festival button. After leaving our car, we lined up for the Farm Wagon Tour. It took a little while, but we were finally able to board one of the wagons. The tractor pulling the wagons started off and the tour conductor started telling us all about Johnson’s Marsh and the harvesting of cranberries. He told us lots of very interesting fact, both about cranberries and the Johnson’s and if you would like to learn more, go to the Johnson's Cranberry Marsh website, http://www.cranberry.ca/home.html, for more information. During the ride I tried to take pictures of what we were passing, but the road was very bumpy and most of the photos I took were blurry…

A Walk in the Marsh…

After the ride we decided to take a walk to the marsh. I wanted to get better pictures of the cranberry harvesting. The others just wanted to go down close to the marsh to see what it was like up close. Ross and Cathy went to the information booth and got a “Get Wild” net for their daughter. The idea is for kids to go to the marsh and see what they can catch with the net. While Ross and his daughter stayed at the edge of the marsh, Judi and I walked further down one of the trails to where workers were up to their waists in marsh water harvesting the last of the floating cranberries. It was quite the production, one worker pushed the cranberry collector while the other pulled with a water-ski rope at a right angle, all this just to keep the collect from tipping over! We watched them with fascination for some time and then left to rejoin our friends. We decided to go into the retail store and see what cranberry goodies were available. There were wines (all kinds), candles, preserves, candies, juices, teas, coffees and, of course, chocolates. They even had regular cranberries for sales! It was going to be Ross’s sister’s birthday in a few days, so wine was purchased to help her celebrate. As part of today’s celebrations, Johnson’s had erected tents with other types of goodies for sale. To top the day off everyone (but me) had fruit pastry to munch on. Tired, but happy after a long day, we left the Johnson Cranberry Marsh and the Bala Cranberry Festival for our long drive home.

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