Sunday, August 25, 2013

We spent the day at Art By The River

There are a lot of cool events that go down every year in Essex County. Things like Art in the Park, Eat Your City restaurant week and the Tecumseh Corn Fest. There are so many of these events every summer that I never manage to make it out to all of them. Heck I don't even make it to half of them. Art by the River is one that I do try to attend every year and one that I just got back from.

Art by the River is held each year in the town of Amherstburg Ontario. Amherstburg is a historical town that's living up the heritage thing while still trying to be modern and relevant. It's a War of 1812 heritage community and the site of Fort Malden is the location for Art by the River as well as a slew of other annual festivities. This art and craft show is very similar to the big Art in the Park festival held in Windsor, but slightly smaller. Due to this smaller size I've always found it to be more personal, plus the prices seem to be more reasonable.

We got up early this morning and packed up the kids and headed out to Romas Pizza for breakfast. Romas is in the town of LaSalle and it's about half way to Amherstburg. Not only was it directly along our route, they also serve a great breakfast but on weekends only. I'm a big fan of their meat-lovers omelet.  They also have an awesome Gyro Pizza I recommend anyone in the area to try at least once, though not for breakfast (they don't start serving Pizza until lunch).

After breakfast we finished the rest of the trip and spent some time driving around the small town of Amherstburg looking for a CIBC bank so we could get some cash. This ended up being fortuitous since the ATM at Art by the River was down when we got there. We drove around for quite a bit and were really surprised by the changes in the town. The old Sherwood mall was completely gone replaced by the typical Canadian big box lot. There was a Walmart, Sobey's, Mark's Work Warehouse and more. This is all stuff that is new to the area. Stuff that previously people would have to drive to LaSalle, Essex or Windsor to get. It seemed odd to me as up until just recently Amherstburg really hasn't changed much at all.

After our quick driving tour (there's only one CIBC in the entire town, it's in the old downtown, the last place we checked, of course) we spent a good 10 minute sharking for a parking spot. That's the one thing about all of these local events, there's never enough parking. We eventually found a good spot, headed in and paid our $10 at the door. It's $5 each for the adults and free for kids under 12.

I was really impressed with the show this year. It seemed like they added a few more booths than last year without making the place seem crowded. There was the usual mix of crafty stuff like painted ceramics, fine art, paintings, photography and everything in between. For some reason glasswork seemed very popular this year, with lots of beads and some really awesome glass creations. I really wanted to buy a particular glass snail for my girls but I know it probably wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes in their hands. I was also very tempted by a wooden dragon puzzle. My wife lusted after some sun hats and ended up picking up a nice one for my oldest daughter. In the end we did end up buying some of the glasswork but only a small, much less breakable acorn.

Along with lots of cool and impressive arts and crafts there were also a wide variety of live shows. There were no less than four performance areas at which there was always at least a musician playing. One larger stage hosted more in depth shows including some historical reenactment by the Essex County Historical Society I think I heard the cannons go off twice in the four or so hours we were at the event. Actually you could find reinactors walking around throughout the show looking far too hot in the 1800s garb. My kids especially love to sit and listen to the live music, which I was  thankful for as it gave a nice break from the crowds and the heat.

Art by the River also has a small kids section. There you have face painting, a clown on duty and a painting area where kids get to paint at an easel and take home their art. I swear I remember there being a lot more for kids to do last year including a local dance company giving free lessons and trying to sell parents on sending their kids to the school. I'm not sure why they weren't here this year. My kids were happy enough just to get to paint and didn't seem to miss anything from previous years though.

The other thing you can find at shows like this is food. Now these events always have a food tent where you can get stuff to eat. This particular one had the typical hot dogs and burgers and overpriced pop and water. That's not really what I'm talking about here. What I'm talking about are the booths that are selling cool food products. We picked up a liter of pure Canadian Maple Syrup from Uncle Richard's Maple, some gourmet nuts from C'est Bon and the best Kettle Corn I've ever had from Poppers in Harrow (I would link to their website but it seems to be broken and just plays a rather funky Popcorn song but nothing else). I don't think my kids would let me leave any of these local events without buying at least one large bag of Kettle Corn.

In addition to stuff I bought there were also booths selling a variety of dips and sauces. The Wicked Gourmet was there this year selling their great products (most of these are now available at Remark Farms so I usually don't buy from them at festivals). There was a guy that was very excitedly trying to get people to try his hummus and at least two booths selling spices. I was surprised we didn't see The Bean Ladies this year, they were always regulars at this event and Art by the Park. Most of the booths with food items also offered samples which had my kids yanking us this way and that so they could try everything.

On the trip home we stopped at a couple of the fruit and vegetable stands along the highway. All through Essex county you can find these along any of the major county roads, each of them selling a selection of local produce and often some home made crafts or sweets. My wife grabbed some local onion and peppers as well as some fresh picked strawberries. Pretty much any trip we take out in the County includes a stop like this on the way home.

A good meal, a nice drive down by the lake, a tour of a historic town, great art, great performances and some great food. I can't ask for much more on a warm Summer Sunday.

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