Didja just love Kempenfest?

The year 2008. Literally thousands of people pour into Barrie. Some book hotels and B&Bs because they’ve taken booths in Kempenfest, Barrie’s One of a Kind Show of the north. Artisans of every kind come to display their wares, hoping that their price point is appealing and that they go home having made money.

Performers like Jack Johnson (at Burl’s Creek) draw even more people to our little piece of mecca.

While I think about the tremendous efforts (and risk-taking) of artisans who pay for booth space, make the trek to Barrie, put out money for meals and accommodation and hope that those coming to Kempenfest want to buy their work, it just seems like the ultimate opportunity for buyers and sellers. As economic times tighten up a bit, these folks are often the first to feel the pinch, so I hope it was a good show for all the creative talent on display at this remarkable festival.

When Civic Holiday Weekend comes, I think of Ray Marshall and the Kiwanis Club of Kempenfelt Bay and the hardy group that had the foresight to start Huronia Festival of the Arts and Crafts. In those easy days, Lakeshore Dr and the waterfront was just being developed and the first festivals were held at the Formosa Spring Brewery property with its trees and pond.

One of my strongest memories is of the first or second year that the festival was centred at Centennial Park. Heritage Park had not yet been built, and CNR owned all the land on the south side of the Bay, so Centennial Park was THE location. Because the park was new, City Parks crews had planted saplines in the area between the playground and the south parking lot… tiny trees that would hopefully take root and give shade in years to come.

As sometimes happens, rain visited the festival on the first day. Those early booth owners with homespun setups were standing or sitting at home-made tables, their wares out for the world to see. There was no protection from the elements and the heavens opened, pummelling the entire park area with wind and rain, hard and fast. As a reporter/photographer in those days, I ached for all those artisans, their arms around the saplings as they tried to ‘hold on’ during gale force winds.

The next day dawned bright and beautiful and buyers came out in droves.

Today, those saplings are three dacades old, tall and graceful and provide coveted locations for some of the longest participating artisans at the festival.

It was a few years before the term “Kempenfest’ was coined but from the beginning, the Barrie Art Club has been involved, helping to jury the painting portion of the show.

The Rotary Club used to hold its chicken barbecue down on Kempenfelt Drive, a strategic drive-through operation that required advance ticket sales. Now, Heritage Park forms a strategic location. Service clubs over the years have added their own twist to grow this event… food booths, entertainment areas, a midway, and lots of free shuttle transport from one location to another.

It’s a festival that has clearly become a summer anchor for Ontario, like Mariposa Festival has for folk music.

But it started with the dream of one man who ventured to suggest that a festival of arts and crafts just might take hold.

Now, it’s a community venture which involves just about every service club in Barrie. So, when we do our Christmas shopping at Kempenfest, we give in many more ways than just one. It’s truly one of those win-win-win situations!