By Diva Shari Parsons
BLYTH – It was with some nervous excitement that I set out Saturday afternoon for my first assignment as an Ontario Travel Diva, which was to report on the Blyth Streetfest. After reading a number of the other Diva’s posts, I felt that I had some pretty big shoes to fill.
Blyth is a picturesque village about 27 kms east of Goderich. From Goderich, it is an easy and relaxing drive along Blyth Rd. 25 through rolling countryside dotted with farm fields reminiscent of Gramma’s crazy quilts.
Once in Blyth, I found a shady parking spot beside the Blyth Public School and then walked two short blocks to Queen Street where all the action was to take place. As I approached, I could hear the skirl of bagpipes and the rat-a-tat-tat and boom-boom of the Brussels Legion Pipe Band. I arrived shortly after the noon start time and a number of the vendors were still in the process of setting up their booths. This gave me some time to wander the length of the Fest, before it got crowded, to scope out what was available. A cheerful gentleman in a bright tropical shirt was strumming little ditties on his ukulele as he wandered up and down while a budding young artist was busy creating a welcoming message on the road with pastel-coloured sidewalk chalk – ‘Blyth Streetfest “hear”’ (artistic licence perhaps?).
I stopped in to the Blyth Streetfest Headquarters and spoke with Connie Goodall, Economic Development Officer for the Township of North Huron. She told me that the event was started three years ago as a Busker Festival by the Blyth Business Improvement Association in partnership with the Township. It was created as an event that would bring people into the downtown core as an adjunct to a large camping festival that was taking place in Blyth at that time. Two years later, the event has changed dynamics somewhat and now features a performance stage and vendors. Connie said the focus of the Streetfest is to have an affordable, family friendly event with something to interest all ages.
For vintage car buffs, there was a variety of models of vintage cars all buffed and polished with chrome trim sparkling in the
bright summer sun. You definitely needed your sunglasses on to look at those babies! My favourite was the 1958 Pontiac Chieftan with its shiny jet black body, brilliant chrome trim and crisp white sidewall tires, owned by Ed Becker of Clinton, ON. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anyone who would take me for a ride in it!
Summer festivals always mean food vendors and there was no shortage of choices to be made. You could try a basket of deep-fried pickles at Gator’s Grub (my tummy wasn’t brave enough). If you wanted something more traditional, the Lions Club had hamburgers and hotdogs. For those with a sweet tooth, there were a number of vendors offering a wide variety of delicious, home-baked goodies. Although those baked goods called to me with their siren (as in mermaid) voices, my burgeoning waistline convinced me to just look but not taste. The most interesting and entertaining food choice was the Tatostix and the Appostix. The Tatostix was made from a potato that was placed into a cylindrical machine that turned the potato while slicing it into one, long corkscrew. This was then threaded onto a long wooden skewer and placed in a deep-fryer. When cooked, the buyer then had a choice of a variety of flavours and spices that could be sprinkled onto the Tatostix. The Appostix was made from a Granny Smith apple that was sliced in the same manner and then threaded onto the skewer. The Appostix is not cooked but you could choose to have it sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or drizzled with chocolate sauce. In keeping with my desire to eat something “healthier” I chose an Appostix, but seeing as I am a bit of a chocoholic, I broke down and had mine drizzled with the chocolate sauce. The tart, crisp apple with the bittersweet dark chocolate was quite the taste sensation. It left me with sticky fingers and a paranoia that my face was covered in chocolate.
If you enjoy shopping, street vendors offered cosmetics, handicrafts, home decor, baked goods, fresh produce, spices, scented candles and even 3D Fibre Eyelashes! Many of the vendors are local folk but there were also some from Brussels, Mitchell and Chesley. One lady from Stitches with a Twist in Blyth offered the most darling selection of tiny, hand-knit sheep, chickens, hedgehogs, rabbits and gnomes. Another lady sold soft-sided toy boxes, the colourful fabrics reminding me of a Turkish bazaar. Whitefield Farms had an artistic display of wonderful fruits, veggies and flower arrangements. Roslyn Cook of Goderich made lovely, brightly coloured mosaics. Vendors, David Hafner and Nick Buri, from Maple and Moose in Blyth sold quality wooden bird houses, feeders, game boards and cutting boards. The Wonky Frog Studio created pottery and other art. Their business mascot is the endangered Lemur Leaf Frog from Costa Rica.
My favourite entrepreneur was 10-year-old Brodie Nesbitt who was selling rusty rail road spikes for the bargain price of $1 each. Brodie and some friends have been busy collecting the spikes from the nearby Greenway Trail. He told me that he is hoping to earn enough money to buy a four-wheeler.
For the children, there was face-painting, a bike rodeo and a Corn Box filled with corn kernels and toy farm equipment, which was very popular with the younger crowd, all farmers-in-training. The North Huron Fire Dept. had its Safety House to teach the children home fire safety. The volunteer firemen took me through a tour, which included smoke filled rooms, hot doors and fire alarms. There were booths where children could enter their guess as to how many coins there were in one jar or jellybeans in another. The CIBC had a bean bag toss and gave out little bottles of bubble solution.
Entertainment for children was provided by Dickie Bird – the fellow in the bright Hawaiian shirt. He played guitar and mixed humour with upbeat songs while a bubble machine filled the air with rainbow coloured bubbles. Dickie Bird was not one to hog the limelight so he quickly had the stage filled with young participants who clapped, honked horns, and jingled and jangled while others tried to hulahoop in time to the music. Dickie followed his music with magic tricks to the delight of the children.
The children’s entertainment was followed by a display of ballroom dancing performed by the East Side Studio Dancers from Blyth. I wanted to get up there and rhumba with them! 1-2-cha-cha-cha. Waiting in the wings ready to “swing your partner” were the Wheel’N’Dealers Modern Square Dancers from Clinton with the ladies wearing their brightly coloured skirts over puffy crinolines and the men in their western shirts and coloured neckerchiefs.
I have been considering getting a tattoo but I am not crazy about needles. Luckily for me, Dr. T was there with his airbrushes. He used to have a venue on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls and also travelled with carnivals. I chose the design with 2 hearts (for me and my hubby) bordered by delicate leaves – and of course I had to have a healthy sprinkling of sparkling pixie dust to finish it off.
Another booth that I found interesting was a display of handcrafted items made by students at the Canadian Centre for Rural Creativity located in Blyth. You could sign up for a wide variety of courses. I chose photography, photojournalism, wire jewelry, and fabric marbling.
If you were hot and needed a quick cool down, you could try bobbing for apples at the North Huron Community Foodshare booth where you could also learn just how little the amount of food that a family of four can pick up for one month.
I would like to acknowledge all the young volunteers who were present throughout the event, many of them high school students earning their community service hours. One student, Kaila Nesbitt, (older sister of the intrepid railroad spike entrepreneur) modelled the vivid, lime green Blyth Streetfest backpacks that were available for purchase. Kaila lives in Blyth and likes to support her community through volunteerism.
I enjoyed my time at the Blyth Streetfest. Everyone was very friendly and parents felt safe letting their little ones roam. I think that it is a pleasant, inexpensive, family friendly activity that can easily be enjoyed for a couple of hours.