Summer here is festival season. Because many Canadians are celebrating Canada’s 150th year, this year our region of Eastern Ontario has been particularly well provided, even embroidered with concerts, weekend programmes, and festivals that provide several weeks of music. Literary and poetry festivals abound as well, and of course theatrical ones. Some of these are long established, others new.
Choosing which events to attend is the challenge, as there are so many you’d really not want to miss. My favourite summer music series, presented at the Westben Theatre (a purpose-built barn with great acoustics) in Campbellford ON, is now in its 17th year and a flourishing concern. Westben presents a wide variety of music from Bach to Broadway favourites, opera, jazz, fiddle, folk and world music. Performances range from full symphony orchestras, fully staged operas to solo banjo, flamenco guitar and chamber music. The festival’s enthusiastic and faithful audience was thrilled that founders and directors, Brian Finlay and Donna Bennett were made Members of the Order of Canada this past June.
Listening to wonderful music, while summer dances through the barn on a cooling breeze, takes some beating. I love classical music and was able to hear pianist Angela Hewitt, tenor Michael Schade and the Rolston String Quartet in this setting in July—all fantastic performances. I’ll be buying my 2018 tickets in January, as a winter present to myself of summer delights to come.
Equally exciting was a new festival I attended, Women Killing It, on the Labour Day weekend September 1st and 2nd. This was sponsored and organized by Janet Kellough, Vicki Delany and Christine Renaud. Janet and Vicki are well known Canadian mystery writers who live in Prince Edward County, Ontario and the festival was held in Picton, the county town. The celebration of Canadian women crime-writers was a sold out success. Nine authors of the genre took part in three events and Mary Jane Maffini gave a special writers’ workshop, The Body in the Library, which friends told me was both inspiring and practical. When asked why the festival celebrated women writers in particular, Janet Kellough said she feels that women have struggled for many years to have their work taken as seriously as that of male crime writers and that they should have more recognition.
Canada now has many women authors in this field and, I can tell you, having read many of them, they are well worth searching out and savouring. Janet’s comment about the challenges faced by women were backed up by New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley, one of the speakers at an afternoon session, served with a splendid Victorian Tea, called, Murder at the Vicarage and held at charming Macaulay House in Macaulay Heritage Park. She commented on the patronising attitude she sometimes encountered to the thrilling romantic/mystery fiction she writes and then went on to talk about her work, which very successfully combines meticulously researched historical material with paranormal elements neatly pulled together by both an historical and a present day romance. The real people she introduces into the story and whose lives she has probed give her novels a special depth. I am looking forward to the release of her of next book. Though Janet Kellough moderated some of the sessions, she was not one of the speakers, but she too writes a series of carefully researched and gripping historical mysteries, which have as their amateur sleuth Thaddeus Lewis, a Methodist circuit rider, who actually existed, but is surrounded by mostly fictional characters and solves fictional mysteries.
Murder at the Vicarage was a session about cosy mysteries and began with an analysis of what a “cosy” is by Elizabeth J. Duncan, author of a long standing series set in North Wales, where Penny Brannigan, a transplanted Canadian meets with and solves a number of mysteries. In true cosy style Penny is an amateur sleuth living in a beautiful, small town among mostly charming and eccentric characters. Following her adventures is always fun. Melodie Campbell, who earlier in her career was a stand up comic, spoke about using comedy in her mysteries and Mary Jane Maffini, author of three award winning series of traditional cosies, talked about writing partnerships. As Victoria Abbott she and her daughter are writing a new series. She considered the pros and cons of partnership and explained how they manage their collaboration on the novel. It was a fascinating afternoon and I was delighted to hear from Janet Kellough, a few days ago, that they are already making plans for next year.
Being involved in the organisation of the Spirit of the Hills Festival of the Arts which will be staged in Cobourg ON, November 3rd and 4th 2017, I hope you may be interested in our preparations for yet another exciting event.
You can get news of this end of the year festival at our Facebook page.