First Dandelion program

Things that seem contemporary one moment, become history the next. For those who are involved in various activities and festivals, it seems so disconcerting to turn around and realise that those days of frenetic activity and fun are now seen through the prism of the past, no longer known in the present. That is the way it is for the Dandelion Festival, which was an annual feature of North Grenville life for many years.

It might have been the Strawberry Festival. Back in 2000, when the North Grenville Arts and Culture Council [NGACC] made a presentation to the Township (as it was then) requesting matching funds to launch a new arts and culture festival in North Grenville, the proposal referred to the First North Grenville Strawberry Festival. That quickly changed to Dandelion, as the NGACC preferred the image of a wild flower and didn’t want people to think the festival was horticultural, rather than cultural! The motto of the NGACC Dandelion Festival became: “Art is like a dandelion, it spreads like wildflowers”.

The NGACC had been formed to bring together all the arts and culture interests in North Grenville to lobby for facilities, support, and to raise the profile of the arts and culture in the community. There was an awareness among the members of the immense range of talent that existed in North Grenville, talent that deserved a forum for expression, an event that would allow the people of the township to experience the wealth around them.

The Dandelion Festival began on June 10, 2000 with a day-long extravaganza in the Ferguson Forest Centre, running from 11 am until 4 pm, and co-sponsored by the Township and the ten member groups of the NGACC, with the support of the NG Chamber of Commerce. On to the stage came a procession of local musicians, bands, poets, dancers, and actors. There was belly dancing, djemba drummers, brass bands, and a fencing demonstration.

Around the grounds, visitors could browse through craft tables, art displays, and food vendors. People could enjoy the roaming musicians and poets, the face painting, clowns and jugglers. It was a magical day in the sunshine, and the organisers seemed as surprised by their success as the visitors were at the incredible range of things to see and do at this dynamic event. The late Pat Maloney acted as MC for the day, bringing his usual wit and warmth to the stage.

In the evening there was a dinner dance held at St. Michael’s. Diners enjoyed a silent auction, and displays of the murals and poetry created by children during the day’s festivities. Then they danced the night away to the music of the RANA Orchestra. Hal Antony was the MC for the evening. All in all, it was an amazing day. The initial budget? The NGACC asked the Township to match the $1,000 they had raised, and this, along with the sale of tickets to the dinner-dance, made up the entire budget for the first Dandelion Festival.

And it took off from there. By the third year, the Lions Club stage was being used, rented from the Merrickville Lions, and the schedule of events had increased, so that the Festival now ran from 10.30 in the morning until late at night, and the rows of artists’ and crafters’ booths filled the field. A second stage had been added, in St. Michael’s, and two MC’s were needed to co-ordinate them, Peter Nicol and David Shanahan, and the Dandelion Dash Race had been introduced. By its fourth year, in 2003, the Festival had moved to Riverside Park, as work on the new Municipal Centre took away the original festival grounds.

The Festival had offshoots in the form of Dandelion Coffee Houses, which were held on a monthly basis in Maplewood, Oxford Mills. Many will remember the evenings of song and fun, as local musicians, as well as others from further afield, took turns to play for an appreciative audience, sitting at tables which had been lovingly decorated. There was something quite magical about the Dandelion Coffee Houses, with tea and coffee flowing, cakes and cookies to eat (and the occasional brown paper bag mysteriously appearing outside, for some reason. Those who know, know!

The Dandelion Festival was the brainchild of the NGACC, and full credit goes to the original committee members and the many volunteers who had the vision and talent to imagine it and make it happen. At its beginning, it was a remarkable statement about the depth and breadth of artistic and cultural energy and talent which we still have in the Municipality of North Grenville. In the end, the Dandelion proved to be a perfect image after all. Wild. Beautiful. Often unappreciated; but always returning to bring colour and an untamed presence to manicured structure. That is something to celebrate!


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