It’s a peach of a fes­ti­val, Wi­nona, (and those pies are de­li­cious)

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - JEFF MA­HONEY jma­honey@thes­pec.com 905-526-3306

I can’t re­mem­ber just when I started notic­ing the Wi­nona Peach Fes­ti­val had changed from the mod­est coun­try af­fair it had been in 1982. But at some point, in the 1990s or maybe 2000s, I re­al­ized I had to park half a mile away.

The place was teem­ing, dizzy­ingly so. There were fleets of buses. It was like run­ning into some­one you last saw in their child­hood and now they’re a 7-foot-one point guard for the Rap­tors.

This year it’s ripened into a ro­bust 50-year-old (it typ­i­cally at­tracts around 200,000 vis­i­tors over the course of its week­end, with al­most 2,000 of the can’t-get-any­where-else peach pies for sale).

And for its semi-cen­ten­nial an­niver­sary it has some spe­cial plans, such as a time cap­sule, a sky diver and big­ger clos­ing cer­e­monies.

The Wi­nona Peach Fes­ti­val was one of the first events I cov­ered when, new to the Hamil­ton area, I worked for the Stoney Creek News. That was the early ’80s, when Stoney Creek was sov­er­eign unto it­self, una­mal­ga­mated and free.

Even then, in its 15th year, the fes­ti­val had grown from the days in the late 1960s when all the en­ter­tain­ment could be fit­ted on the flat bed of a truck. But in the early ’80s, it was still more quaint than colos­sal.

And yet, the whole fes­ti­val is now put up, put on and taken down every year strictly by vol­un­teers. No staff. I’m not sure you can say that about any other fes­ti­val of its size.

The turn­ing point, say vol­un­teers Ge­orgina Beat­tie and Terry Gud­geon, was the mid-1980s when the fes­ti­val went from two to three days.

“That was an im­por­tant de­ci­sion,” says Ge­orgina.

The peach fes­ti­val started, Ge­orgina re­mem­bers, as a kind of small town­ish cen­ten­nial project. It wasn’t even called the Wi­nona Peach Fes­ti­val but the Fes­ti­val of Fruit, and even that, the fes­ti­val on Aug. 18-19, 1967, was but one of a se­ries of four events that sum­mer meant to mark the mile­stones of the grow­ing sea­son.

Ge­orgina was a con­tes­tant in the first Peach Queen Pageant.

“It was not a beauty con­test,” she says.

“It never has been. But back then it was mostly about the ac­tual dress, the his­tor­i­cal cos­tumery.”

The look the con­tes­tants were go­ing for was 1867. “I made it (her dress) my­self … with help,” she adds with a smile. Jo­hanna Van Essen won the pageant. Ge­orgina Smith (that was her name back then — yes, of the E.D. Smith fam­ily) and Lind­say Poole were the ladies-in­wait­ing.

Ge­orgina says she would love to see peo­ple from the early days of the fes­ti­val come back for the 50th — former queens, ladies in wait­ing, vol­un­teers and so on.

The pageant is one of the con­stants at the fes­ti­val, like the peach pies (Fifty United Church has exclusive rights to make them), mas­cots Peter and Paula Peach, the DeWildt Chrysler ve­hi­cle prize and sev­eral other el­e­ments. Ac­tu­ally, af­ter the first pageant, there wasn’t an­other un­til 1974 but since then it’s been held every year.

Ge­orgina’s pitched in on every one of the fes­ti­val’s 50 years. The ef­fort takes hun­dreds of vol­un­teers, in con­trast with the dozens needed in the ear­lier days. Vol­un­teers. The soul of the event. Peo­ple like Terry Gud­geon, the fes­ti­val’s direc­tor of ad­ver­tis­ing and chair of park­ing and buses. He’s been in­volved for decades, but not quite as long as Ge­orgina.

“You’re so burned out by the end of the week­end. You vol­un­teer till you drop.” But, he adds, it’s worth every sec­ond.

Now, as head of park­ing and buses, in­clud­ing the shut­tle from East­gate Square, he’s got a team of 200 vol­un­teers.

“There are buses com­ing in from North Bay, Owen Sound,” he says.

The fes­ti­val con­tin­ues to grow. It does have its chal­lenges. One is that they’ve lost many of their trees in Wi­nona Park to ash bore. But they are a re­source­ful bunch and they do it for the cause. The monies made at the fes­ti­val go di­rectly back into the com­mu­nity.

This year’s fes­ti­val runs Aug. 25 (5 p.m. to 11 p.m.), Aug. 26 (10 a.m. to 11 p.m.) and Aug. 27 (10 a.m. to 6 p.m.). For more, 905-643-2084.

CATHIE COW­ARD, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Long­time fes­ti­val vol­un­teers Terry Gud­geon, Bob Lock­wood, Gina Church and Ge­orgina Beat­tie pose with the grand prize in this year’s fes­ti­val draw, a 2017 Jeep Sport Wran­gler.

THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

A his­toric photo from the first Wi­nona Peach Fes­ti­val.

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