In 2015, We Celebrated 50 Years of Tradition
The idea for a maple syrup festival was first conceived at the home of school teacher, Doug Rose, in 1965, where a number of people representing local groups and organizations, gathered to make the necessary plans. The contributing groups were: Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School, the Catholic Woman’s League, St.Andrew’s Church Willing Workers, Wyecliffe Women’s Auxiliary, St.John’s United Church U.C.W., Elmvale Chamber of Commerce and the Elmvale and District Lions Club.
Doug Rose was the first chairman, and the first festival was held on April 9, 1966. The proceeds from that festival amounted to $1,626.48, of which there was a net profit of $482.12, which was divided amongst the contributing parties, each receiving the grand sum of $80.69. The following two festivals were more successful, and again, the profits were divided amongst the organizing groups. After the 1968 festival, several of the groups met to decide whether the annual festival should continue, and voted against it. However, those groups who wanted to see it thrive held their own meeting and formed the Elmvale and District Maple Syrup Committee.
In 1969, Don Thompson, a local pharmacist, took over the chair from Howard Ritchie and continued as president for eight years, with Kennedy Barnett acting as secretary/treasurer for twenty years, along with many other members filling the board. In the beginning, some of the main features of the festival were: the all day pancake breakfast at the Community Hall, a small number of vendors on Queen Street, a craft display at the Elmvale Library, various musical artists, tours of our two local sugarbushes, Lalonde’s and Greenlaw’s, and a midway.
Before the introduction of the Ambassadors contest, many local young ladies represented the festival as Festival Queen. In addition to the former Queen contest was a talent show, held the Friday evening prior to the festival. Due to its tremendous success the high school concert continues to kick off the festival to this day.
The festival has also had a mascot for many years. At one time it was a black-faced Ev McMann, who dressed as Aunt Jemima and wandered through the crowds on festival day, handing out goodies. Later on, there was an anonymous mascot, dressed as a drop of maple syrup. Today’s mascot is “Miss Amber Maple”, whose identity remains a mystery. Look for her on festival day!
The annual festival ball, which used to take place a week prior to the festival, was another huge success. It is reported that over 200 people danced until the “wee hours”. The dance is now organized by our local volunteer fire-fighters and takes place on Saturday evening, after the festival wraps up, and is a guaranteed sell-out.
By the late 1970s, the festival had grown by leaps and bounds, both in attendance and profit. In 1977, almost 3000 people were fed at the pancake house, 1800 people took the sugarbush tours and over 4000 rides were enjoyed by youngsters and adults at the midway.
In 1978, the proceeds of the festival, after expenses, were just over $9600, the highest ever. It was decided by the committee, to give funding to a number of local ventures which could use some support. Those chosen were: the Flos-Elmvale Library, for a card-indexing cabinet, the Park Improvement Committee for washroom facilities and a concession stand at the Elmvale Ball Park, and the Penetanguishene General Hospital for equipment.
In 1981, the Maple Syrup Festival officially received its charter from the Lt. Governor of Canada, and was re-named the Elmvale and District Maple Syrup Festival Association. The committee consisted of two signing directors and nine directors. Don Thompson and Kennedy Barnett continued to direct the festival into the 1990s. The following few years saw Betty Barnett, wife of Kennedy Barnett, and Jim King at the helm. Others who have directed the festival are: Wayne Thompson, Tony Hope, Bonnie Clarke and Jerry Rebidoux, along with a committee of over thirty people and dozens of volunteers on festival day.
Under the current leadership of President John Savage and Vice-president Dan Clement, the festival of today is a widely publicized, fun-filled experience which draws 30,000-40,000 visitors annually. The festivities begin with the Friday night Variety Show at Elmvale District High School which is open to the public.
The former festival queen contest transformed over the years, initially to the festival ambassador competition, to allow male entrants many years ago, and in 2014, gave way to the Youth Awards Program. This new concept gives students from grade 9 to grade 12 the opportunity to be recognized for their volunteer work and contributions to their community.
Our vendor numbers have increased to over 250 booths, located on Queen Street, Maria Street and in the Elmvale arena. The midway sets up in the arena grounds and begins operation on Friday evening. Our sugarbush tours continue to please and the pancake house feeds several thousand hungry people throughout the day. The main-stage and pancake house entertainment keeps your feet tapping, and our log-sawing and pancake-eating contests never fail to amuse.
The festival committee allocates over $20,000 annually to around twenty local groups and organizations. These monies are awarded at an annual banquet held in June, at one of our local churches which is open to the public. The considerable amount of work which goes into each festival is provided with much dedication and affection by our volunteers, and we are always looking for help.
We hope to continue this valuable local tradition for many years to come!