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 fiancÃƒÂ©e, 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 fiancÃƒÂ©e 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
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.
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
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.)
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
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
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
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 fireÃ‚â€¦”
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”).
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
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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)
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
Fergus – Highland 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)
Leamington – Tomato
Festival My fiancÃƒÂ©e’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)
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. Catharines – World Rowing Championships I’m not into rowing at all, but this is a big deal to those of you who are. (Aug. 22-29)
obsess over the href="http://weather.ec.gc.ca/ontario.html">weather
href="http://weather.ec.gc.ca/ontario.html">weather, come share our obsession and find out the climate of places like Wawa and Moosonee.
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,
soon be finishing the Internet program and will be having to face
the real world soon.
Thanks to my fiancÃƒÂ©e, Jennifer, for helping me out with this and
putting up with me.
such as dining, attractions, and continuing festivals: