The annual Perth Festival of the Maples has been a welcome rite of spring since 1976. As the festival celebrates its 41st anniversary, maple syrup producers, business vendors, entertainers, visitors and local residents alike recognize the yearly Maple Festival as a giant ‘coming out’ party. Winter is over, and it’s time to head outdoors to meet long-shuttered neighbours and friends at last. What better way to celebrate, than with our region’s most famous agricultural commodity – sweet, savoury maple syrup. What better place to hold the festivities, but in Lanark County – the ‘Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario’.
Mr. Vic Lemieux of Perth spearheaded the original Festival of the Maples back in the early 70’s in an attempt to get people out of their homes after a long winter and to celebrate spring with the fresh harvest of locally-made maple syrup. Since then, the festival has grown in popularity, but it has stayed true to its roots. The stars of the show remain the local maple producers who are finishing off a successful season of syrup-making this year and preparing to offer the newly-designated 4 grades of syrup, as well as taffy-on-ice, maple sugar, candies and whole array of maple-flavoured condiments and concoctions.
This year’s Festival of the Maples is being organized and presented once again by the Perth & District Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, April 29th in downtown Perth. Chamber Manager Amber Hall says, “This free yearly event is really the grand finale of the syrup season. Our local producers are proud of their syrup. Their work in the bush is done for now, and they can’t wait to show off their final product. They pull out all the stops at the festival with some great looking displays and booths to showcase the new syrup crop.”
Hall adds that producers will also enter their products in a number of syrup-making categories in this month’s annual competition run by the Lanark & District Maple Syrup Producers Association. Awards will be handed out for top producers at the festival’s main stage on Herriott Street during the opening ceremonies at 10:30am on festival day.
In addition to maple syrup producers, the festival features a wide array of retail and food vendors, farm products, artisans and community and charity exhibitors from 10am til 4pm. Festival Co-ordinator Jennifer Perkin says vendor registration has been busy. Perkin states, “We have confirmed more than 150 exhibitor spots for this year’s event. The display booths will run down Gore Street from Foster Street to Craig Street with something for everyone. We’ve also received great support from our very generous sponsors. It’s their donations that allow us to present this event free for the public.”
Perkin adds, “The Classic and Antique Car Show will be on display on Herriott Street between Gore and Wilson Street. There’s also lots to see in the Tay Basin with our Safety Square exhibits, the big rigs in the Mighty Machines display and the Childrens’ Play Park that features bouncy rides, a rock-climbing wall, kids’ activities, pony rides and a petting zoo. We’ve also added new live shows to entertain the kids in the Crystal Palace, including the Paddling Puppeteer.” The day also kicks off with a pancake breakfast at the Perth Legion from 7am til 11am.
On the festival’s main stage on Herriott at Gore Street, live entertainment includes performances by the Smiths Falls Gordon Pipe Band at 10am, Opening Ceremonies at 10:30am, the ‘Pie Plates’ bluegrass band at 11am,’ Maple Hill’ bluegrass at noon, ‘Doubleback’ with Wade Foster and Shawn McCullough at 2pm, and the Jesse Greene blues band at 3pm. The Maplefest ‘Wood Cookie’ Challenge returns this year at the main stage at 1:15pm when 2-person teams will let the chips fly to clock the fastest log-sawing times. The ‘King of Swingers’ band will roam the site as well with a number of ‘pop-up’ concerts.
Debra Bellevue, President of the Perth & District Chamber of Commerce, says the festival brings close to 20,000 visitors to Perth each year, and she expects another record crowd. Bellevue states, “We are so lucky to invite everyone to Perth to celebrate the maple syrup season in one of the prettiest downtown cores in Ontario. Our local businesses are gearing up for a busy spring and summer, and it’s a great opportunity for them to shake some hands and showcase their products and services.”
Bellevue adds that the Chamber has organized a free parking and shuttle service for visitors with buses running from the Perth Campus of Algonquin College on Craig Street to Gore Street. The Algonquin College Police Foundations Program and OPP Auxiliary Unit will assist with traffic control and patrol. Bellevue says, “Our organizing committee is working hard to make the festival a success again. We hope everyone joins us for another ‘sweet’ experience this year!”