Ontario, Canada – August 1999

Kings of Blue Mountain

After a restless night of eager anticipation, getting up at the

crack of dawn wasn’t hard since I had scarcely slept. Today my fiancée, my mother, my aunt and I were making the first of what will undoubtedly be an annual pilgrimage.

Our destination was a Mecca of our own design. For my mother and

aunt it was a spiritual odyssey, a chance to reawaken a profound

experience. For my fiancée and I, it was the closest we’d come to

the holy city in our own country.

By 10:30am we had arrived just in time for the ceremonial procession.

We parked the car, found a public bathroom (no easy feat) and eagerly

waited. One by one they filed past us, each one basking in the adoration of the crowd. Some in sequined jumpsuits some in purple silk zoot suits: a plethora of polyester – a cornucopia of kitsch. I could

scarcely contain myself as the Elvi aplenty paraded past us in classic

corvettes.

Collingwood Ontario.

You probably haven’t heard of it unless you read my last article or are familiar with Blue Mountain Pottery (which factors in the day’s grandiose events later). With Georgian Bay on one side of the town and Blue Mountain (the highest peak in southern Ontario) it is a scenic location.

Elvis Festival

For the last five years this tourist town of 16,000 has been hosting

an international Elvis impersonator competition and festival. The

connection between Collingwood and Elvis is completely unstated

and unimaginable. The town is a popular ski destination by winter,

expensive cottage country by summer. Perhaps some city planner is

a baby boomer who never got over his/her teenage adulation (Thirty

years from now who’ll host the New Kids on the Block festival? They’d

better get their dibs in early since that’ll be taken soon!).

This festival is becoming insanely popular and, well, just insane.

This is what drew me to it. The glorious tackiness of it all. Unlike

Americans, Canadians rarely reach for the stars when it comes to

kitsch. The closest we come is Niagara Falls, but I wonder if it

is the proximity to the States across the river that has encouraged

such frivolity.

My mother and aunt one-up another each over Elvisness. My mother

guards her original Elvis cards and scrapbook with her life. My

aunt’s rec room is an unadulterated shrine to the King, complete

with the Elvis shaped clock with gyrating hips for the pendulum.

(She also has the famous dogs playing poker picture framed prominently, but that’s another story.)

Mom

My mother as she wants to be buried – with Elvis junk.

I have to admit I am something of an Elvis fan. I’ve been to Graceland

before – four times in fact. The first time I was there Elvis was

“in residence”. I was too young to understand why a handful of people

were staring in through the guitar gates awaiting a vision of the

Holy One.

The second time I was there was after a camping trip in Galveston,

Texas with my brothers and mother. My brothers and I heard that

Elvis had died and ran back to the tent to tell our mother. When

we told her the news she didn’t believe us so we drove into town,

only to see on a hotel marquee “We’ll miss you Elvis”. After a night

bawling in the tent, she emerged the next day to say we’re going

to Memphis.

So we were there for Elvis’ funeral. This was an experience out

of a Greek myth. Thousands of weeping women and some men were in

mass hysterics. When they handed out flowers from his funeral, it

was worse than a mad dash at a toy store for a Tickle Me Elmo.

The third time I went to Memphis, I toured Graceland. It was such

a formative experience that it started my love of out-of-this-world

kitsch. I think the gold-dipped piano and Taking Care of Business

Room that did it for me.

The fourth time I was in Memphis was only three years ago. The

city had evolved into a Disneyland dedicated to the King. It was

in poor taste even for me.

When I found out that a town near me had an Elvis festival (while

researching my last article), I had to go. Now the glory of Elvis

was in my own backyard!!

The entire town of Collingwood is clearly into this thing. Stores

on the main drag of Hurontario Street are all decorated with Elvis

inspired regalia. It was all handmade displays, authentic in a way

that Graceland is not. Graceland is Elvis seen through a team of

marketing executives. Collingwood seems to have a sincere appreciation

and enthusiasm that Memphis lacks.

While wading through the countless Elvis merchandise I encountered

a Beanie

Baby display. The turkey who is called Gobbles had a sign over

him identifying him as Goebbels (one of Hitler’s fowl henchmen).

Those sinister Beanie Babies – I knew they had a masterplan. The

point of this anecdote is that Collingwood is obviously warped,

so they are the obvious location to host this festival.

There are five official venues where the impersonators compete,

but everyone seems to get into the fun. The local theatre group

was doing scenes from their production of Grease and a bar was offering “Elvis karoake”. I so wanted to do my rendition of Viva Las Vegas.

“Bright light city gonna set my soul on fireÂ…”

The Ann

Margaret tight angora sweater contest I was yearning for failed

to materialize. I will suggest it to the organizers.

We watched some of the acts at an outdoor venue. The Elvi gesticulated

wildly. At times I thought it was some sort of bizarre ballet, with

each of the ballerinas trying to be just like the prima ballerina.

The heat and sun were too oppressive so we had to take shelter

at McDonald’s. For those

people who are unable to fathom, let me reiterate that it gets just

as hot in Ontario as it does in Florida. So if you go to any of

the outdoor festivals, be prepared.

The McFlurry completely failed to rehydrate me and I was in a serious

state of dehydration. Fortunately, we then headed to an indoor venue

conveniently located at a bar, and I replenished myself with a couple

beers (Molson Exports) and some nachos (this is a theme for me,

stay tuned for upcoming article “Nachos O’ Toronto”).

Elvis wasted again

It was here that I had another one of the weirdest experiences of my life – standing at a urinal next to Elvis!

While my mom and aunt basked in the glory of a “particularly good”

Elvis. Jenn and I left to go to the official Blue Mountain Pottery store. This was the icing on my kitschorama cake.

Blue Mountain pottery, as you may recall from my last article, is the obligatory object dah’art (a term I coined for those questionable

curios we all have) for all Ontario households. When we walked in

and saw shelf after shelf of gleaming sculpted treasures my heart

stopped. From a distance I could see the jugs, vases, swans and

turtles that made the “school” so popular.

Upon closer inspection, I could see they’d modernized their lines

with animals never seen in their old collection. No longer do they

feel obliged to depict Ontario fauna with their skilled artisan

hands. Now they have branched out to include hippos, lions, and

elephants.

Then a busload of Japanese tourists descended on the store. Without

a spiel explaining the rich cultural heritage of these objects dah

art, they stormed the store, buying anything and everything. I felt

somehow violated. They were co-opting my culture for some cheap

souvenir for a relative they hardly like. I wanted to scream at

them and tell them what all this pottery has meant to me, and how

I have spent years yearning to possess a swan of my own.

Swans

Well, I decided then and there that I was going to buy one of those

swans. In order to blaze my own path, I chose the blue-glazed swan.

The blue and green glaze (left) belongs to the past generation – the

swan my parents had. My swan (right) augurs to the future, a future

tacky in its own right, yet honouring its predecessors.

Then it was time to go home, but I couldn’t help thinking that

this Elvis festival was like that blue swan. Not the real thing,

but an imitation with its own style and its own things to say. Now

as I type this article that swan is perched behind me, guiding me

to be the best chronicler of kitsch I can be.

Next year I’ll be back and opening a booth selling fried

peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Disappointingly not a single

place was offering them.

I didn’t get my pictures developed in time to include here, so check

this out.

Ontario

is huge! I’ve been travelling in the province all my life and there are still places I’ve never seen. Northern Ontario, for instance, is really the wilds with access only by plane.

Whether it is the Great Lakes or some of the smaller streams and

rivers, one sixth of Ontario is covered by water (though most of

it is perpetually cold).

This adds up to some excellent outdoor experiences. Provincial

parks are great for camping because 1) you’re not camping in someone’s

backyard field 2) they often have great access to trails, canoeing,

etc. Avoid parks deemed “Recreational” or any park close to urban

areas. Otherwise, you will encounter music blaring at 7am, the bathroom clogged with girls curling their eyelashes (my girlfriend witnessed this) and lakes filled with more tourists than fish.

Southern Ontario is the most populous area of Canada. Most

of the cultural life of the province (even the country) is in this

region.

Toronto, the provincial

capital, is the forth largest city in North America considered the

world’s most multicultural city with over 100 different ethnic groups.

Toronto Harbour

Toronto Harbour

TORONTO EVENTS:

Taste

of the Danforth – largest food festival in Canada, most of it

Greek. More than 100 tasting tables, three live stages, beer gardens.

Probably Toronto’s best street party. (Aug. 6-8)

Festival of Beer at Old Fort York Sounds good but is expensive at $25. For $25 I can buy a "2-4" and honour beer the way it was meant to be – in the privacy of my own home! (Aug 6-8)

DuMaurier

Open – Canada’s premier tennis competition cohosted with Montreal.

This year we get the women’s competition. I lost interest since

superhot Sabatini hasn’t been playing – Seles may really moan,

but I’ll pass.(Aug. 14-22)

Altamira

Free Opera Concert – the Canadian Opera Company offers a sample

of their best talent and coming season’s lineup. Presented in a

fun and accessible manner, it really is a good show. (Aug. 17-19)

Canadian National Exhibition (aka CNE, the Ex) – 120th anniversary of a once great cultural and trade show, now just a glorified midway (Aug. 26 – Sept. 6)

The summer is really the time to come to Ontario. Almost every

city, town, or village has some sort of festival going on. There

is so much happening I had to be very selective in deciding what

to recommend.

FergusHighland Games One of Canada’s largest Scottish celebration. Features log tossing, highland fling, an evening tattoo, piping, Celtic concerts and more. While in Fergus check out Groves Memorial Hospital – my birthplace. The Scottish is on my mother’s side. (Aug. 13-15)

LeamingtonTomato

Festival My fiancée’s father is from Leamington ("Tomato

capital of Canada") and he hates tomatoes. This makes me wonder

if this is really a grassroots festival or just a shameless tourist

ploy. (Aug. 20-22)

Stewie

Stewie – Leamington’s Tomato Fest mascot.

Hamilton -

Festival of Friends. Normally, I’d never recommend anyone go

to hellhole Hamilton, but this is billed as the largest free showcase

of all Canadian music and crafts (Aug 6-8).

St. CatharinesWorld Rowing Championships I’m not into rowing at all, but this is a big deal to those of you who are. (Aug. 22-29)

Obligatory Nature Shot


Ontarians

obsess over the

href="http://weather.ec.gc.ca/ontario.html">weather, come share our obsession and find out the climate of places like Wawa and Moosonee.


About

Me: I suffer from a fatal case of wanderlust. After trying the

real world for a few years, I decided to return to school to study

the Internet. I currently live in Toronto, but I am from Guelph,

ON. I have also lived in Ottawa, Key West, Florida, and Stuttgart,

Germany.

I will

soon be finishing the Internet program and will be having to face

the real world soon.


Thanks to my fiancée, Jennifer, for helping me out with this and

putting up with me.


Check out my past articles for some further tips,

such as dining, attractions, and continuing festivals:

Traveler Article


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