by Festival Nomad Correspondent, Kevin Stuart
Off To Barrie
One of my favourite cities to visit any time of the year is Barrie. Located an hour’s drive north of Toronto, it offers something for everyone all year round. This particular trip was to visit the 13th annual Celebrate Barrie. The festivities feature rides and inflatables, petting zoo and animal displays, local entertainment, and over 50 community groups providing hands-on activities for kids - all for free!
This was a special year since Celebrate Barrie was also commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812 with some very special heritage programming. This consisted of an expanded historic village with entertainment, demonstrations, and re-enactments at Heritage Park.
It’s important to note the weather for the day was a mixed bag of sun, cloud and a few bouts of showers and unseasonably cool temperatures. This affected the attendance numbers as some of the organizers told us it’s usually much more crowded. That was just fine with us since we had little trouble finding a parking place (parking is also free for this event). It also meant no lengthy line ups for any of the activities of which there were many.
Geared To Families
At many of the Celebrate Barrie booths, the activities were geared to families with a number of things for kids to try. I was particularly struck by the variety of activities that were different from what is usually seen at many festivals. Among them, BodyZorbs – roll, flip, race, crash, and bounce inside your own human-size ball. The firefighters put willing participants through their paces to learn how to respond to a fire emergency. Children could find even more to do inside the Kid Zone – enjoy inflatables, rides and games sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Barrie. Science North was also represented featuring tons of cool science experiments. There were also snakes which those who dared could “wear” as well as turtles, frogs and more. For the more adventurous there was the Rock Climbing Wall. We saw many scaling the 25 foot wall and ring the bell once they reached the top. This was no small summit to reach but the view at the top must have been great.
Town Crier Competition...
Another unique event at Celebrate Barrie was the Town Crier Competition featuring those who uphold this centuries-old tradition of announcing what’s happening for all within earshot. It’s quite interesting to discover just how many of Ontario’s smaller towns boast such a person. Truly something to be treasured as one must possess a strong set of lungs in order to carry out one’s duty.
Heritage Harbour - War of 1812 Re-enactment
Following the waterfront walkway farther north to Heritage Harbour, we came upon the War of 1812 re-enactment . Organizer David Brunelle has been instrumental in ensuring it’s an authentic depiction of the period. It’s fitting as the War of 1812 and the Nine mile Portage were pivotal in Barrie’s formation and development as a community. The two camps, one of the soldiers and the other of the native peoples who were an important part of the allied effort. In fact, some of these volunteers actually camped at the site for the weekend in order to truly gain an appreciation of what the original participants experienced. Since there had been a fierce storm the previous night, experience it they did.
Visitors can walk amongst the folk, seeing their living arrangements and, of course, can ask questions. There is a taste of first hand experience as well such as churning butter or making candles. My son and I found that a unique method compared to what we’re used to. We walked around the “track” several times, carrying a piece of string suspended from a wooden stick, alternately dipping it in wax, then water. Along with the exercise, there was also a slight air of competitiveness for some who looked to see who could make the largest candle.
In another tent, bead bracelets that told of another tradition of the time. The four colours represented many things. In this case, the four then-known world races, the four directions, and the four seasons. Our hosts were most friendly and informative and we had a lengthy and most enjoyable conversation with them.
War of 1812 Bicentennial
Since the original war lasted from 1812-1814, the bicentennial celebrations that have begun will continue until 2014. The Georgian Bay area will offer numerous displays and recreations of the event during this time. We expect to partake in more of them but Heritage Harbour is an excellent place to begin.
Although it may be called Celebrate Barrie, this annual event does have a lot to offer and make visitors from anywhere feel welcome.