This year has seen a huge change in normal life across the globe. Here in sleepy Port Colborne many things are different. Few things bring this home to me more clearly than the absence of the Empire Sandy to kick start Canal Days with a literal bang as they fire the cannon on their arrival the night before.
This cannon signifies to anyone in earshot, which is 90% of the population, that they should batten down the hatches for a long weekend of crowds, noise, traffic congestion, and queues. Everywhere.
Around the downtown core, street performers and musicians entertain patios full of diners with live music and food from around the world. On the water, the Tall Ships are open for tours and trips out into the lake. Along the canal, street vendors and food trucks line West Street from one end to the other. You can enter a wide range of prize draws, drive golf balls across the canal, race plastic ducks, even graffiti a wall.
There is a mini-carnival for the kids with a Ferris wheel and other rides. Birds of Prey and other animal attractions are on display. Craftsmen offer everything from caricatures to chainsaw carving. At the various parks we have car shows, kite competitions, face painting, live music, any number of activities.
The central market square across from City Hall is turned into an outdoor music arena for the duration with bands performing on stage from morning until night, to the enjoyment of the many thousands of tourists that flock here, and the dismay of those in the surrounding city blocks that just want to sleep. Saturday sees the main music event, whoever the headliners happen to be that year.
The whole shebang concludes on Sunday with a boat parade of lights, followed by what is widely acknowledged by almost everyone, locals and tourists alike, to be the best fireworks display in the Niagara region, bar none. The fireworks are also preceded by the firing of the Empire Sandy cannon. It’s a neat start and finish bookend to the weekend: Between two cannons, that’s Canal Days.
After the fireworks, the crowds drift away. Families head home. Locals, those vendors that are staying one more night, and boat crews head somewhere air conditioned to cool down and wind down. The clean up crews start work. Monday sees the remaining vendors leave. The Tall Ships leave. By end of day, the City is almost back to normal.
Another year, another Canal Days. For over forty years. Until 2020.
Many here in Port Colborne hate it. Many love it. The debates at City Hall and online are often heated, repetitive, endless. In other words, normal life in a small community. The tourists that come not only from the surrounding region but across from Buffalo and New York State to see this annual spectacle often come back year after year, so this little corner of Canada must be doing something right.
All I can say this year, is that it’s awfully quiet. I miss that canon.
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