In retrospect, Mahone Bay has had a tough time supporting annual events, even when they proved popular. Bear in mind that this has been a small village with an aging population. R&R lived in Old Town Lunenburg or Mahone Bay and kept a photographic record of lights and shadows in the social landscape.
This event was inspired by that Mussel Beach one-off at Hubbards. It started in 2007 instigated by the owners of the Indian Point Mussel Farm (lower right). Most events actually took place on the peninsula east of Mahone Bay. At the time it was billed as offering "tours of the Indian Point Mussel farm, wine tasting by local wineries, a myriad of mussel dishes served up in the local restaurants (in Mahone Bay), story telling and music." The demonstration of the Acadian method of cooking mussels at the Biscuit Eater Cafe was great fun and there were free samples. Unfortunately the concept was a bit too narrow to be sustainable.
In contrast, Mahone Bay's Wooden Boat Festival was organized on a non-profit basis in 1989 and drew as many as 50,000 visitors at its height. It morphed into a Classic Boat Festival and Regatta as wooden sailing ships became displaced by plastic craft. In 2009 it featured a massive parade with several bands, a parade of sail, the Fast and Furious race, where participants had four hours to build a plywood boat before racing it. On the public wharf there were displays of the wares of local boat builders and children's events. An oxen dragged that dory from the bandstand and provided the ox-power for its launch. This last event continued.
It was a stellar affair with inshore racing, a live entertainment tent and one for marine-related vendors. The Shelburne longboat reenactors offered rides about the harbour, and a couple of pirates appeared to frighten and amuse kids and their parents. That was 2009 and in the following year town councillor, and chairman David Devenne said a big part of the problem was an aging population with less time to devote to the huge task of mounting the festival each year. That festival had supposedly been dedicated to "preserving and promoting the rich wooden boat heritage of Nova Scotia's South Shore," but these were decreasing in number. It was clear that off shore Regatta sailors who were part of the show (but largely unseen) considered events at the Civic Marina unnecessary clutter. In that last year the Classic Boat Festival overspent. Lunenburg tried to pick up the flotsam and jetsam in 2011 but they lacked the will and the cash to profit by the sinking of this wildly popular civic entertainment.
In 2010, the failure of the Classic Boat Festival to materialize was announced as summer approached and Dave Devenne called a public meeting to discuss the possibility of an inexpensive replacement event. Since there is a pirate skull-and-crossbones topping the mahonne featured on the town's official crest, pirates somehow came to mind. Advertising for the first event makes it clear that the boys in blue saw themselves as leading a parade of sail but as the chief attraction with their "Yacht & Small Craft Races," the first event mentioned in advertising. But can one trust pirates to fall in line for an authoritarian game plan?
The Corsairs were Turkish pirates and became so obnoxious that a combined European fleet finally defeated them off Corsica. The list of events included "Cardboard boat races (for kids)." That "Fast and Furious" plywood boat building and racing had lost Castle Building Supply as a sponsor. There were to be street buskers and a few did appear. There was a dismal art show at Mahone Bay Centre, where R&R were almost the only attendees. There were Dory races in the Anney River estuary, a ho-hum for this coast. Boat displays were few. Following tradition a replica of the US privateer "Teazer" was burned, although it actually exploded in waters off Chester. The Kings Orange Rangers and the Shelburne long boat reenactors were invited back and for the first time "PIRATES - ARRRRRRR!"
The “Golden Age of Piracy” occurred from 1690 to 1730 but there is no hard evidence that any of their ships dropped by for tea and Mahone Bay was not inhabited by white men until 1754. However, R&R decided that this new concept was better than nothing and so supported it financially and with web pages based on the photographs taken that first year. Rod hastily threw together signs for them. Piracy is a non-democratic pseudo-business, in this case reenacted by members of South Shore Players with help from friends and adherents. At best there were three dozen of them more or less led by folk who sold related food, drink and souvenirs.
Photo of three bad actor as seen back then by Ruth. Scabby Dan is at left. Not all of the members of the Chamber of Commerce were enamoured by the informal acts of of these "scalliwags." One gift store owner told us that sales were unaffected by the presence of these "intruders." In 2013 Christine Little, the owner of Encompassing Designs admitted that,"The Pirate Festival & Regatta brings a fair amount of people to town and the chandlery tent on the government wharf usually yields a must have treasure for my shop and maybe a mermaid or some nautical paraphernalia for the house. That's about all I have time to participate in as the shop is usually busy."
The design was entitled "Shiver Me Timbers." Ms. Little noted," I personally don't get the need to fall over a dirty, rum soaked, middle aged man living some fantasy of raping and pillaging, but the tourists seem to like them with their manly swagger and rough talk. I've had a few laughs seeing women posing with the pirate actors for pictures and there's breathless swooning as if these facsimiles are god's gift. I prefer my men clean shaven and smelling soap fresh so I don't get it. I see the appeal of a man in uniform, something clean and smartly cut, but scruffy, dirty looking costumes and dirt smudged faces aren't my cuppa. Different strokes for different folks I guess. I prefer my pirates in a rug and came up with this cute little pirate weather vane a few years ago."
Rod's offer to create free-standing web advertising for this event was rejected, but he continued to post pages on his own website. Increasingly, however, it became evident that these folk were unappreciated by the clean-cut regatta group and some of the local governing powers.
While Rod had created that sign entitled "Wanted Pirates" it is obvious that the nuclear "pirates" wanted no help of any kind. The "Pirates Of Halifax" came to town and were under appreciated and not met with the bon homme they expected let alone a night's accommodation. This renactment group is good mannered, good humoured and continues as paid professional reenactors. Some of the occasional fringe edge of local pirates were equally appreciated, but it was apparent that Ruth's quickie "show-down" apparel was not wanted. That sign shows the regatta as secondary to "The Pirate Festival" by 2012.
To be circumspective is to be "watchful of danger," however to succeed one would require foresight, an ability to see into the future and even the pirate captain Ned Low (who did cruise Nova Scotian waters and make landfall at Shelburne and Canso) could manage that. He seems to have met an early inglorious, well-deserved, end! Others were left to be retrospective about his time and deeds. Strangely, well-meaning folk often fall victim to those who are overly circumspective and overtly wary. That is why Rod is less inclined these days to support good causes with free work, unless they really, really seem relevant.
These three lads are professional renactors, all members of the Kings Orange Rangers based in Liverpool, all committed to authenticity in gear and actions. When two of them went piratical they remained gentlemanly and decidedly not scruffy although bearded. They mixed more with tourists than with those Southshore Actors, whose aim seems to have been outdoor theatricals, often mimed since their words were often gone with the wind. In 2015, the local Chamber Of Commerce declared it was no longer interested in financially backing the Mahone Bay Pirates and Scruffy Dan declared they had been made to "walk the plank."
Ruth as a pirate queen. Dr. Who fans will know that what Ruth appears to be saying was a quote from the show. As far as Rod knows she is essentially non-violent. For five summers the Pirate Festival and Regatta had been weekend event in Mahone Bay. Dave Brumwell (aka. Scabby Dan) complained that the town decided discontinue the pirates in favour of the Classic Boat Festival, which was the case. The small Rotary Club in Lunenburg decided to
sponsor them in Lunenburg. Dan admitted that “In reality, very few of us would want to be associated with pirates in real life, but we love to indulge in the fantasy of it all.” Thus the event was renamed Pirate Bay and took place in Old Town July 25 and 26, 2015. The last heard of them was at piratebayns.blogspot.ca/. Unfortunately, that was a cold windy weekend and we saw nothing of them when we visited Lunenburg.
That left Mahone Bay with The Regatta at mid-summer, not a great crowd draw. The Father Christmas Festival in early December (above) continued. Today, the town counts "Music At The Three Churchs" as a festival but music their is a minority taste; something R&R enjoy but not as a sit still and listen happening. For a few years, The Bay attempted to bring in money for Settler's Museum by hosting a paint-on-site event. Lunenburg and everyone else had one as a fund-raiser; a labour intensive affair that usually breaks even for sponsors and artists. The museum folk abandoned this for an annual yard sale folded into The Scarecrow Festival, which has been wildly attractive by times.
A great team created the Scarecrow Festival back in the year 1996, when the idea went viral in spite of the fact tat the WWW was in its infancy. These festivals are now commonplace as fund-raisers for charity in Britain, and in North America as tourist attractions. Carole Whitcombe who really is a fine artist has skills as a caricaturist and has had an interest in political satire. Another influence came from JoAnn Ramsay, who established JoAnn's Deli, Market and Bake Shop on Edgewater Street in 1986. "With only a small paring knife, carrot peeler and a lot of determination, spectacular jack-o-lanterns delight the thousands of people who visit Mahone Bay for the annual Scarecrow festival." The rest is a delightful history partially told elsewhere on this site.
Except for the fact that the official map of the Scarecrow Festival for 2016 was geographically upside down it remains a commendable work of art, very crafty in the fact that it was designed to favour visitors from Halifax who approach from the east. A traditonalist, Rod had given his retrospective map a rotation 180º and a bit more humour than that allowed a hired-gun graphic artist who had to appeal to the tastes of eight major sponsors and the needs of other movers and shakers in this small community. Pared down to actual "needs" this map would have been simpler. Still it comes closer to obeying the dictum "Keep it simple Jack." And that is not meant to be derogatory.
The Scarecrow & Antique Society was created two years ago. These images of the 2016 executive volunteers is stolen from their official web pages. Meg Craig was Chair of the Festival with interests in marketing and design. John headed organization of the Antique Fair. Kara Turner was Chair of Children's Activities. Krystal Retieffe was in charge of decorating. Janine Smith had responsibility as Chair of the Pumpkin Patch and Workshops of managing that Pumpkin Patch up in the softball field. Not shown are Dea Sagnells, Treasurer and Jan Kay, Bookeeper.
Carole Whitcombe spent three decades as a graphic designer before coming to Mahone Bay where she established her own art gallery in 1996. That business shut down in 2012. Jan Kaye one of the organizers of the first festival recalls that there were only a dozen figures at the beginning and that volunteers worked for two and a half days "non-stop" to get them street ready. "We’d have a couple bottles of wine and just go for it. That’s how it began."
Over the years Vicky Bardon, another early supporter has been effective in gathering volunteers, and she persuaded Whitcombe to undertake painting portrait faces such as those seen above. In 2014 she painted Anne Fellows as Anne of Green Gables. Referring her work festival chairwoman Lara Carrigan noted, "These are works of art,” says festival chairwoman Lara Carrigan...They’re hand-painted, and a lot of the outfits are actually hand-designed and sewn with beautiful fabrics.” The late Jack Leighton, one of Whitcomb's designs, was seen again in 2016, but with a halo. As you can see her faces were painterly depending on shading for a three-dimensional effect.
Here is her Anne of Green Gables first viewed in 2014. Whitcombe painted Anne’s face onto a small pillowcase, shaped sewn and stuffed with cotton.Topped with a straw hat and a pair of Anne’s signature red braids, this figure is immediately identifiable as Lucy Maud Montgomery’s heroine. Over the years she has painted the Royal Family, including Prince Charles, William, Kate and her sister Pippa. Earlier on, she created portraits of famous figures like Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Marilyn Monroe and former federal Liberal leader Stephane Dion. In 1914, a reporter guessed that "Whitcombe’s vivid portraits are arguably the most impressive aspect of the event." However she is only one of more than a dozen artists who have painted scarecrow faces over the festival’s 20-year history.
In 2014, with Whitcombe's contributions slowing, Krystle Retieffe, another local artist, teamed up with her sister Kaye to create 30 new additions to the scarecrow lineup, including Little Bo Peep and four sheep, and Snow White and four dwarfs. At that time Kaye estimated that she had put in about 60 volunteer hours. She was involved in creating the school smock for Anne of Green Gables and the Cowardly Lion and Tin Man for a Wizard of Oz display. The above display shown first in 2016 represents a decided move away from flat-faced figurines.
The Alice In Wonderland set, of which this is a part, first appeared prominently in front of Amos Pewter in downtown Mahone Bay. The Mad Hatter was fitted with a projecting nose, and that proboscis was about to go bulbous in later figurines. In the early days these creations had straw stuffed limbs, bodies filled with old sheets, plastic bags, or what have you. They did not fair well in wind and water.
The Wizard Of Oz Group illustrates the trend into a third dimension. Krystle Retieffe explains that today, each figure has a skeleton, a pole made from sunk in a plywood base with a rectangular wooden breastplate. Wires are wound into holes drilled at the corners of that board, connected through pipe to form arms, legs and hands. "A pillow is attached to the breastplate, and, ready for painting, is the head, a fibre-fill stuffed shape, sometimes irregular, often with characterful protuberances like carbuncles or Pinocchio noses." Note the witch!
"Next is a trip to the second hand clothing and fabric outlets. Prom dresses are purchased but pulled apart. Fuzzy coats become beards. Tablecloths, veils: everything is re-purposed. In the workshop there are bags of T shirt strips sorted by colour, beads, braid and ribbon, acrylic paints, stacks of gloves, sparkly spiders, even fake teeth. Each figure costs about $100 to create. Like everything else, inflation has hit over the 20 years and what used to cost $200 for a van load of materials has sky-rocketed." - South Shore Breaker.
Krystale Retieffe's figurines appear to be sculptural expressions of "bright colour and bold imagery.
Above an entry from her Facebook page. While designers are a big part of this tale, Meg Craig had the leverage to get television print media on the grounds.
Meg's home, with business interests (skysail.com) located in an outbuilding in the backyard on West Main Street.
Ms. Craig did a great job mounting a web page descriptive of The Mahone Bay Scarecrow Festival in 2016. This Facebook effort shows that her support for the project continued well after the show debuted.
Early on the scarecrow team included Jo Ann Ramsey who established Jo-Ann's Deli, Market and Bake Shop on Edgewater next door to The Station complex. When we first lived in Mahone Bay ca. 2009-2011 she presented an iconic Marilyn Monroe amidst pumpkins at rooftop. interim CEO of the Festival in 2011, she reported that about 10,000 visitors were coming to see scarecrows at that time. A news repost said that "New scarecrows have been created to depict the April 29 nuptials of Will and Kate. Of course, the Queen will be there, as well as Camilla, and some surprises too." It was also noted that "The magical pumpkin path, with more than 150 candle-lit pumpkins carved by Jo-Ann and Linda is at the top of the list (as an attraction)." Certainly the Saturday night Pumpkin Patch walk which dead ended near the Bayview Cemetery was a crowded friendly affair which kids greatly appreciated.
Here we see some of those Royals being staked to the ground back then. Later in the week, high winds knocked some of them galley-west and today they are better supported.
Jo-Ann sold her interest in the business and the carving of pumpkins has since become a more open-ended competitive affair very ably directed in 2016 by Janine Smith. She explained that the children's work is managed in school a bit in advance of the display date. Kids get into the act in a big way these days and the affair is made less dangerous by being contained within the fenced softball diamond premises off Clairmont Street. L.E.D. candles replaced wax candles. Obviously, Janine's "flash mob" was active on many fronts as another part of this photo-essay makes clear. Above right, the commercial prize winner.
Here is Ruth a few years back posing at the side of the Northern Sun gift shop, never guessing that that hook nosed witch would grace her entryway deck in 2016.
More interested in the major attractions than the children's activity tent and live entertainment, R&R were forced to borrow this photo and blow it up losing visual acuity, but one gets the flavour? Atlantic Oak Island Resort & Conference Centre is 12 minutes to the east at Western Shore and is a pretty neat spot for a mini-holiday. R&R have been there twice in the off-season. They have always used the Scarecrow Festival as a promotional tool for quite a few Years and sponsored the music and kid;s events.
The Scarecrow Facebook page gave credit where it was particularly due, but all of these businesses likely profited from the crowd draw to town which must have numbered far more than 10,000 especially since the influx of visitors persisted long after the Festival officially closed.
The owners of this antique wrecker and The Eclectic Garage were early proponents of the Scarecrow Festival, and R&R did shop there. To everything there is a season, and their proprietorship ended in 2015 when they finally sold the property for redevelopment as a micro-brewery.
They did some fast and furious work to get that business brewing in time for the tidal wave of visitors. It rained on Sunday, October 2, but when we passed by on Clearwater Street it was obvious that they were doing very well indeed.
Here are before and after images I patched together. Of course there was no greenery this year.
And this because of the persistence of good memories.
Here is another coincidental event which must have profited form a good idea, mostly good weather and the fact that people were still coming in droves to see the scarecrows when the month ended. No admission was demanded but a donation was suggested in aid of musicians who provided entertainment for eleven hours on three evenings.
I was not up and about when the rains came sometime late Saturday and overnight Sunday morning. Things certainly looked soggy at noon that day.
I think this was a new event for 2016 and guess there must have been a draw for prizes for visitors who correctly spotted the scarecrows mentioned on the list. A good way to keep people walking?
R&R are old hands when it comes to some forms of computer technology but no little about geocaching aside from the fact that most of the clues seem to have been scattered along the walking trails which almost encircle the town. This puppy seen at the Granny's Attic Sale on West Main, another addenda to the main events.
Where will it all end? It may not for some time! I know from the experience of self-promoting myself as an artist, that there is self-fulfilling prophecy. Positive and negative gossip brings attention and bucks and after a bit direct advertisement becomes redundant, although ignoring it entirely leads to public forgetfulness and a loss of support. There are signs that this is happening.
My screen shot is not linked to this You Tube effort which is worth a look. Unfortunately the videos were taken on an overcast day, and advantage R&R avoid by living on Main Street. It does no harm to wish upon a rising star, although in my case advancing age makes that less worth the effort than was once the case.
I'm doing it because its fun to remember the past and try to guess what the future holds. Ruth has been researching a IT project for about a decade and it is about ready to launch, but purchasers will not be casual visitors to town. Thus ends this retrospective of the 2016 Scarecrow Festival! Next, a few photographs from R&R's massive collection of digital images of Lunenburg County, in this case centering upon the aforementioned example of craft, art and entertainment.