Festival of Maples - Perth

Gary

by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

Not This Time…

Last year we had planned to visit the Festival of Maples in Perth. The night before we packed up our festival supplies ready for the next day’s trip. When we woke up the next morning, the heavens had opened up and a torrent of rain was falling! The weather forecast for the remainder of the day was not very promising. With a great deal of reluctance we aborted our trip. This year was going to be different. As we did the year before, we packed our festival bags the night before. The next morning we awoke to sunshine and warm temperatures! Great, the festival gods were on our side!
We left early and started out on our 3 hour trek. We headed east on Highway 401 until we came to Kingston. There we took Exit 617 north. This route would take us along scenic winding road, through picturesque Westport and on to historic Perth. I must say Judi and I really enjoyed the trip and were quite relaxed when we reached Perth. The Festival encompasses Perth’s downtown area and the main street is closed to traffic. Fortunately we were able to find a parking spot fairly close to the festival’s southern entrance. The festival celebrates the end of the maple syrup making season and is enjoyed by all of Lanark County residents, or at least that is what it seems! As we neared the entrance and I looked up the street, I couldn’t believe the number of festival visitors already there! The whole street was a moving sea of people. Judi and I crossed through the barricades and joined the festival throng!

Entering The Sea…

After passing by the barriers, we spotted our first booth. Appropriately for the Festival of Maples, it was selling maple syrup products. We then walked onto the bridge that runs across the Tay River and joined the “sea of people” heading towards the downtown core. As we crossed the bridge I noticed the tall town water tower to my left and on my right where river water fountains spray high into the air! Perth is a very picturesque historic town. Fittingly the “Smart Exam” booth was located on the bridge over the water! This is where would be boaters can “Discover Boating” and even take the exam for obtaining their “Pleasure Craft Operators Card”! After crossing the bridge we started walking by the various booths that lined both sides of the street. Here you could find every kind of product imaginable, sunglasses, clothing, fine art, all terrain vehicles, jewelry, hot dogs and hamburgers, cars, plants, pop, smoothies, boats and much more. We were also passing by amazing architecture! Many of these historic building were made from century’s old stone, quarried locally. One of the best examples was the Town Hall located midway up the main street. As we continued our walk there was a break in the line of booths. The opening ran easterly towards a building whose sign read “Food & Wine Showcase”. This was something I could relate to! As we came up to the building we stopped to listen to the" Arnprior and McNab Pipes and Drums" perform before a very appreciative audience. After listening for a while, we entered the building to find several tables filled with wine and food samples. The smells were heavenly. Outside another band had taken over from the pipes and drums! The new group, the “Nepean Panharmonic Steel Band”, was entertaining the crowd to the rhythmic beat of the steel drums. The music was mesmerizing! Finally we tore ourselves away so that we could explore the displays that had been set up in the adjoining parking area…

Moving On…

If there had been an emergency happening, we were in the right spot! A number booths and displays had been set up by local and regional emergency services, organizations such as the Ontario Provincial Police, the Town of Perth Fire Department, Town of Perth Police Departments, Lanark County Rescue and the Railway Police. We toured the parking area looking at the displays and emergency equipment. Just west of these displays was the children’s area. Featured here were a number of inflatables, pony rides, a petting zoo and an assortment of games. It was great watching the kids have so much fun! Seeing the pony rides reminded me of a photo my mother had had taken of me on a pony when I was only 5 or so! I can’t say that I remember the pony ride! Off to the south a sky bucket lift was taking visitors high into air for a bird’s eye view of the town and Festival of Maples. Further west was the Studio Theatre. They were showing free movies of the “Marks Brothers, Canadian Kings of Repertoire”. We moved on passed the theatre, back onto the main street and onto the moving flow of people! We continue northward talking in as many sights as possible. On one side of the street we saw a street magician amazing onlookers as he practiced the art of prestidigitation! We came to a book sale where Judi was able to purchase a book by one of her favourite authors. Just north of that was another bridge to cross. I looked down to see an outdoor restaurant patio with open umbrellas billowing in the wind. As we moved further up the street there were more and more vendors selling Maple Syrup products. Suddenly there was another opening in the line of booths. We turned and went to investigate…

Stepping Out…

As we turned, we were greeted by a large open space with a large stage set at the back of the square. We were just in time for the Square Dancing Demonstration. The “Dynamite Tay Dancers” were about to perform. An area at the front of the stage had been left open for the dancers. The “Caller” stepped to the microphone and explained to the crowd what was about to happen. The first set of 8 dancers entered the floor and took their places. The “Caller” cleared his throat, turned and the music and started calling. The dancer came alive and started to move to the music and the instructions from the “Caller”. The crowd was in awe of the precision of the dancers! I tried to picture myself as one of the dancer on the floor, but froze at the thought of how I would mangle the other dancers. I quickly removed the thought from my head and concentrated on the experts. When the song was over, the first 8 left the floor and a second set entered. The new group formed their square, the music started and the dancers were off, again following the intricate instructions of the “Caller”. After several sets, all the dancers came to the floor and formed two squares. This was to be their last and best performance. After the “Dynamite Tay Dancers”, came the musical group, “Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo”, Canada’s Mardi Gras Party Dance Band. After they had finished their set up and sound checks, the band started to perform. Not long after they started, a couple came up to the front of the stage and started dancing to the rhythm of the music. The audience loved the music and the dancers. We stayed for a number of songs and then took our leave. It was time to go back and join the moving sea of people! We once again took up our journey and continue up the main street. As we went on we passed several more Maple Syrup vendors. Some were selling maple toffee, made hard by cold crushed ice! Along the way there was the Perth Garlic Festival booth. We picked up some literature for it. Close to it was a jewelry booth and, of course, Judi made a quick dash for it. Fortunately nothing caught her eye! I was interested to see that many of the merchants had joined the spirit of the festival. The Home Hardware Furniture store had set up a furniture display right in front of its store. Finally we came to the end of the street to another barrier. A festival volunteer was there, bucket in hand, asking for contributions to help offset some of the festival costs. After we had made our contribution we turned back down the street. However, before we made our way back to our car, I wanted to investigate a beautiful historic building that I had seen along the way…

The Matheson House…

From the end of the street we made our way back to the Matheson House. The Matheson House is the home of the Perth Museum. The house is a wonderful example of the type of architecture that flourished in the Town of Perth. The Museum has been lovingly restored to pristine condition. The four feature rooms contain many of the Matheson family’s original pieces, each carefully refurbished to reflect the furniture’s former elegance. As we explored the house we encountered many interesting museum interpreters who told us about this fascinating house and its history. The rooms we investigated included the drawing room, the dining room, the parlour/library and the kitchen. In the kitchen we talked with museum curator, Susan McNichol who graciously told us about the family who had inhabited this magnificent home. After our talk, I climbed upstairs to find more surprises. First of all I discovered an enclosed display case that housed a pair of duelling pistols. The case also contained a description of the “Last Fatal Duel” to take place in Canada. The year was 1833 and the duel was between Robert Lyon and John Wilson. The story of this fatal duel can be found by clicking HERE. My next discovery was a large banner that read “The World’s Largest Cheese, Made In Perth, 1893”. I wanted to find out more, so went onto the internet and found an article about “The Mammoth Cheese” by clicking HERE!. I finished my tour of the upstairs and went in search of Judi. I found her in a room that was just off the kitchen. The room had been set up as a gallery to show the works of local artists. After viewing the art we went outside into a little courtyard. The Brockville Lions Club had set up a small display of tools and a rope making demonstration table. When we came out one of the volunteer members was showing a young man and his grandfather the art of rope making. Back out onto the street, we joined the throng and headed back towards our car. Along the way we passed and admired many quaint and unique shops. Perth is definitely a great place to visit!

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