Don't get me wrong, I had a great time. I know that I say that a lot. But I don't know that anyone else knew what they were getting into. I have been to some Ontario Medieval Fairs before, so I knew almost exactly what to expect from the Great Northern Medieval Fayre.
We arrived at the Fairgrounds just outside of Collingwood at about 1:30 in the afternoon on Friday. We realized as soon as we got there that we were joining the ranks of the school children, particularly Grade 4s whose curriculum includes medieval history.
It had rained all Thursday, so the field was largely muddy. I am sure it was not as bad as it would be on Saturday and Sunday, when it rained the whole time. The problem with the fairgrounds outside of Collingwood is that they don't feel very woodsy, they feel very agricultural. Though the Medieval Fair in Kitchener/Waterloo that is held in September is by and large the same thing, the surrounding woods gives the park more of the fairy tale feel.
The prices for entering the fair was $20 each. As I say, I had a great time. I got my french fries, wandered over to the Merlin the Magician show, where I saw that he was doing the trick with the rope of several different lengths. Since I already knew how this was done I moved on. I went over and spoke to the vendors about what they were selling, and why they liked medieval crafts so much. I saw the vendors from whom I had bought my purse several years previously at the Kitchener medieval Fair, and then went over to watch the joust, which was interesting. My dad then bought a wooden sword, so that he too could join in the ranks of the other fourth grade boys.
But I got the impression that the teachers that had brought their children for the day were disappointed that one of the biggest things to do was shop. They hadn't told all of the children to bring money. By the time that 2:00 had come it is clear that most had tried the archery and putting on the chainmail. From what it looked like it was largely a long recess. I think the teachers weren't thrilled.
The best part of the fair were the jousters. That is something that is missing from the Kitchener Fair, which also has shows, though they are usually scripted by one of the organizers, and are all kinds of cheesy.
The jousting was definitely worth something, though I wasn't sure it was worth twenty dollars. Even while I sat there a family was trying their best to cheer up their mother, who was feeling disappointed and ripped off. They spent most of the joust comparing the price to Medieval Times in Toronto, and the convenience of having that right in your backyard as opposed to having to go all the way down to the city.
I was watching the joust, but I have to admit I was distracted by the kids who were sitting in front of me. They were having their own mini joust, and I cringed every time their swords whacked together. It didn't help that I couldn't really hear the announcer.
In the end you did sort of have the impression that you were paying $20 to shop. I wasn't sure how they were going to attract large enough crowds on Saturday or Sunday with that kind of a deal. At the same time, it wasn't that large a fair, so it would probably fill up nicely without that many people. And you would always have people like me, who were going to come to the Medieval Fair no matter what.
All in all, it wasn't bad for their first time out, though I would have some suggestions for them. If possible I would choose a different venue, one with more trees, because Medieval Fairs are only very cursorily about medieval history or society. They are about the fantasy and romance which draws many of us, even academics at first, to the medieval period. It would be good to play this up more. If at all possible, reduce the price, perhaps by charging the vendors more to be there. The medieval fair that they used to have in southwestern Ontario that was a summer long, every weekend event, charged something like $20 (granted, without inflation) and was such an experience that by necessity all Medieval/Renaissance Fairs are compared to it. These two things are crucial. The adding of more vendors and activities will come, no doubt, as the Medieval Fair matures. But that is less important than giving people the impression that this is something that they want to come back to.
This is the interview conducted at the beginning of the Fair by Medievalists.net.