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Pumpkins Everywhere
Port Elgin, Ontario

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By Pat Mestern

Monster pumpkins are everywhere. They arrive by pickup truck shrouded in bubble pack. They come on trailers, hidden under tarps. They recline in the back of vans, cushioned by pillows. Port Elgin is ready for them. Huge orange bows decorate telephone poles. Cornstalks decorate lamp posts. Signs welcome visitors to Pumpkinfest Village, in the town of 7,200 people on the shores of Lake Huron. Everyone sees orange. The pumpkin reigns supreme as Port Elgin becomes the pumpkin capital of the world on the first Saturday and Sunday in October.

Port Elgin Welcome Sign

For the last fourteen years people have come too, thousands of them. Last year 55,000 visitors enjoyed a weekend of activities billed as "Family Fun Second to None." Weather on the shore of Lake Huron can be tricky at this time of the year. Visitors come prepared for cold, rain and perhaps snow, as was experienced during Y2000's successful weekend. Just as often the sun shines as bright as the gigantic globes arriving from across North America.

Port Elgin knows how to handle crowds. Every thirty minutes free shuttle busses run between Port Elgin and its neighbour Southhampton. Busses shuttle visitors from peripheral parking to the main festival area every fifteen minutes. Savvy visitors stay in the area overnight, giving time to enjoy Cinderella's Ball, Harvest Bonspiel and beautiful Lake Huron sunsets.

Pumpkinfest, billed as a crazy, harvest festival, has more than forty events that take place over two days. The in-theme event is great for family involvement with lots of excitement for people of all ages. Try your luck at seed spitting, watermelon eating, scarecrow making, pie baking and underwater pumpkin carving. Yes, you read that right, underwater pumpkin carving which takes place at the beach on Festival Sunday. If you want some tips on carving, check out the giant pumpkin carving demonstration executed by master hand carvers on Goderich Street. You have never seen anything like it!

Man carving a giant pumkinEverything is big about this festival! It hosts the biggest two day car show in Ontario, that spreads throughout the downtown area of the community. Main streets are lined with racing, antique, classic and custom cars. More than 1,200 were on display in Y2000. Entertainers perform in-theme music on Goderich Street. Golden Oldies are played on speakers throughout town. Free concerts are staged on Gustavus Street by The Pumpkin Patch Rest, Water & Play area. Accompanying such a huge car show is a Giant Cinderella Carriage Car Part Flea Market and a Motorcycle Show & Shine.

Pumpkins are the theme. They can be sighted throughout town, but are most visible on the grounds of the festival's headquarters, Pumpkinfest Village, a short walk from Goderich Street. International Weigh-Off Competition takes place in the Growers Dream Tent on Saturday. Those in-the-know arrive early for a ring-side seat. Massive pumpkins and squash are moved into the tent by fork lift trucks. People hold their breath as skids holding the huge vegetables are delicately lifted onto scales. A benchmark weight is chosen for the humongous pumpkins and squash. Those that weigh above are marked and left in the tent. All weights are recorded and ranked. Results from around the world are tabulated and categorized and winners are declared. First place was guaranteed in Y2000 with a giant 436 kilogram=962 pound monster pumpkin grown by Harry Willemse of Forest, Ontario.

Pumpkin tent

There are so many entries, three fork lifts are in continuous use on Saturday between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Growers via for more than $40,000 in prize money and mention in the Guinness Book of Records. If a grower doesn't win first place, they can always dream about taking the "Closest to the Weight Dream Trip Award."

Competitions include the World's Heaviest Pumpkin, squash, watermelon and mallow, tallest cornstalk and sunflower, longest gourd. The Most Unusual Vegetable contest is always a hit with the crowd.

A discreet walk out behind the Growers Dream Tent reveals how ingeniously the huge vegetables are transported to the site. Pumpkins,cushioned by mattresses emerge from foam rubber and blankets. Having nurtured them through unpredictable summer weather, growers hover nervously near their rotund, misshapen babies, their eyes checking out the competition. The beauties are clean of dirt and cushioned on skids ready for their own personal weigh-in.

After looking at all those pumpkins, pie comes to mind. There are food booths on-site including several that serve pumpkin pie with whipped cream and pumpkin ice cream. Hmm good! For giant appetites, Harvest Dinners are held on Saturday evening in locations throughout town.

Pumpkin Pie  Elephant Ride

Pumpkinfest Village offers Artists Village & Craft Show, an Archery Activity Area, Family Entertainment Stage and Off the Wall Mountain Climbing. Children's rides are large proportioned too. Elephants provide an unusual experience but are certainly appropriate at a festival that emphasizes GIANT. The Family Entertainment Centre, on the grounds of Pumpkinfest Village, includes a Haunted House, pumpkin decorating contests, pumpkin toss and pumpkin bowling, Teen Inflatables and Giant Pumpkin Balloon Typhoon. Kids can enter pets in their own special show.

Port Elgin Pumpkinfest is very much a community event. More than 500 volunteers are needed to stage the festival. Forty-four non-profit groups raise money through their involvement and everyone has a wonderful time.

Cottage Life Magazine has called Port Elgin Pumpkinfest one of the "Wackiest Events in Ontario". It won "Best Community Involvement Award" from Festivals & Events Ontario and was chosen as the "Most Popular Event in Ontario" in 1996 and 1998 by the South Western Ontario Events Guide. This year's Pumpkinfest is on the Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, October 6 and 7. Isn't it time you went to see what it's all about?


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