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Who would have "thunk" it? A classy tribute to "The King , Elvis Presley in cottage country more than a thousand miles from Memphis, Tennessee. And it all happens in Collingwood, at the foot of the Blue Mountains on Georgian Bay, an easy drive from communities in southern Ontario. This pretty town, which the locals refer to as the crown jewel on the glittering shoreline of The Bay, becomes Memphis North for nearly one week at the end of July each year. Elvis is sighted everywhere, his music reigns supreme and southern hospitality oozes like the hundreds of fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches served during the festivities. Collingwood might seem an unlikely place to find an Elvis tribute but since 1994 this up-and-coming community has provided the perfect venue for Presley aficionados. Visitors come from around the world to participate in the fun and partake of the hospitality, music and special events that comprise the Elvis festival.
For those who were teenagers during the 1950's, Elvis was the epitome of the emerging new sound known as rock n roll. Considered as controversial as 90's rap, Elvis music shook, rattled and rolled its way into homes across North America. Who can forget Elvis of the 50's with his good looks, creative movements and sensuous young voice. Even Elvis during the late 60's exhibited a masculine charisma as he sang during his resurgence performances. More than one billion Elvis records were sold during his lifetime. His music still enjoys an audience. It continues to sell as older fans pay homage, and youth discover "The King" and the message of the soul spoken by his music.
The Collingwood Elvis Festival, one of the best in North America, is run by the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Improvement area. It has the honour of being sanctioned by Graceland, a division of Elvis Presley Enterprises of Memphis, Tennessee. In other words, it is a legitimate Elvis Presley function that has met all the standards and criteria set by Graceland. During the past five years, organizers wishing to appeal to a wide audience, have offered Elvis-themed activities for the entire family. Their 1999 celebration will be no exception. Weekend festivities really start to rock with The Awesome Street Dance beginning at 6:00 p.m. in front of the Town Hall on Hurontario Street. The dance concludes with The Midnight Elvis Candlelight Vigil. It is tradition Saturday morning to participate in the Hunka Hunka Pancake Breakfast in front of Town Hall, a meal that does justice to huge Elvis appetites. Another Saturday activity, the popular Classic Automobile, Viper and Corvette Elvis Parade is a must-see event. Clever folk bring lawn chairs and stake out a viewing area on Hurontario Street. By 11:00 a.m. people are twelve deep and hyped for a great time. One does not have to look far for Elvis. More than sixty impersonators sing and gyrate along the parade route - big ones, small ones, young ones, old ones - all in appropriate Elvis finery and voice. The crowd loves every minute of it, encouraging their favorites to outperform other competitors.
Savvy Presley fans have their own organization and invite everyone to join the Collingwood Rocks With Elvis Fan Club. Their motto is we do not want to be the world' largest . . . just the world' best. One of the fan club's goals is to have membership from every country around the world. The fan club supports many charitable organizations including the local hospital and Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Competitors are easy to lure to Collingwood, which is considered by those involved in Elvis events, a most successful summer festival. Competition is keen in four categories, Canadian professional, Canadian nonprofessional, International professional and International nonprofessional. The weekend is capped on Sunday evening with the North American Elvis Championship where "The King" is crowned.
Throughout a three day period events are held in a half dozen locations around the community. Most are free to the general public, including the Avenue of Honoured Guests, Elvis vendors and memorabilia sale at the Curling Club on Hamilton Street, which is also the location of the midway, Elvis auction and one of the largest competition stages. In particular the Avenue of Honoured Guests features a number of individuals who worked with Elvis. This year's guests include Joe Esposito, Road Manager and best man at his wedding, D.J. Fontanta, legendary drummer, who performed with Elvis on records, thirty of his movie sound tracks and concerts from 1954 through 1969 and Marian Cocke, his private nurse. One of the most popular stages is at Harbourview Park. Bring a lawn chair and spend an afternoon enjoying cool lake breezes and great competition. Food is available on-site but there are tables for those who prefer to bring a picnic lunch. Other competition stages are located at resorts and restaurants throughout the community.
Saturday is reserved for An Evening of Elvis Champions Past entertainers have included the Dream King of Rock n Roll, Trent Carlini, direct from Las Vegas. Visitors should call the Chamber of Commerce in May for the name of this year's entertainers. Reserve tickets well in advance for this show.
Don't be cruel. Find those blue suede shoes an poodle skirt. Attend the sixth annual Collingwood Elvis Festival, scheduled for July 23-26 this year. Enjoy one of the largest rock n roll parties in Canada. Collingwood is an easy one and one-half drive from Toronto via Highway 400 and #26. Visitors from mid-western Ontario will have a pleasant drive up Highway 10 and 24. Because visitors are expected from around the world, it is recommended that accommodations or camping reservations be made early in Collingwood or Wasaga Beach. If you wish a break from "things Elvis", the Blue Mountain Scenic Caves, just outside Collingwood, are worth a visit. For the adventurous, the Blue Mountain Slide Run is good for some chills and thrills. A little known fact about Collingwood is the excellent fossils that can be seen along the shore line which is accessed through Sunset Point Park. The shale rock at Craigleith Provincial Park is also worth checking. Remember that you can look but cannot remove fossils from any Provincial Park. Do not forget your bathing suit. Georgian Bay beaches are great for swimming and sunbathing. A trip to this beautiful area of Georgian Bay is not complete without a visit to the seven miles of sand beach at Wasaga on Nottawasaga Bay.
Viva Collingwood! Keep those fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches coming.
IF YOU GO:
P.O. Box 453
Collingwood, Ontario, L9Y 4B2
Collingwood, Ontario, L9V 3Z1
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