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400 Day LETS Odyssey
Copyright � James Taris

JAMES TARIS around the World- (2003-4)

With my mother-of-all-drumsticks!

CANADA - Kitchener (Wk.11 of 16 weeks)
Week 44 of World Tour

Pancakes, Taffy and Turkey Drumsticks

According to The Guinness Book Of World Records, the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival is the World’s Largest One Day Maple Syrup Festival, attracting 80,000 people, mainly from the Toronto, London (Ontario) and Kitchener-Waterloo areas.

Over 2,000 volunteers make this festival the success that it’s become after 40 years (since 1965), raising over $1,000,000 for various local charities in the process.

And the grittles get going at 7am to feed the constant influx of visitors, who consume 500,000 pancakes made from 880 kgs of pancake mix (using a secret festival recipe) and 725 litres of Waterloo Region’s finest maple syrup.

It’s no wonder why the Canadians seem to worship everything ‘maple’. And here’s why.

Canada accounts for 80% of the world’s maple syrup production.

So they flaunt the maple leaf …

- The brilliant red and white Canadian flag features a huge maple leaf in its centre.

- And the ice-hockey team representing Toronto, the largest city in Canada (4.6 million pop’n) is called the Maple Leafs.

Barb, Kit’s sister, was visiting from April 2-4. So she was pleased to accompany us to this April 3 event. At about 10am we picked up Nancy, a gift shop proprietor and Kit’s friend, and made our way to Elmira, a small town about 40 kms. north of Kitchener.

It was a warm, sunny day, and we got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic just half way into our journey. Maybe we should’ve left at 6.30am and enjoyed the first pancakes off the grittle for breakfast!

As we got closer, we passed dozens of black Mennonite buggies, set up as roadside stalls, selling maple syrup for $34 per 4 ltrs. I guess this was very good value because they seemed to be doing a roaring trade.

Mennonites, by the way, are a horse-and-buggy community. They shun modern ways of life such as cars, TVs, telephones, etc. The men all wear black jackets, black ‘Abraham Lincoln’ hats and black (or navy) trousers. And the Mennonite women wear long skirts, black tops and white lace bonnets. And they all wear black boots.

They are a very well-respected part of the community, and the Mennonite children walk about quite happily in groups. On one occasion, we saw a rather amusing sight. Four Mennonite girls roller-blading along a bicycle track.

Festival-goers being rounded up in hay wagons.

Just before we reached the festival, we saw our first hay wagon. Large red metal cages being pulled by shiny tractors, and herding people from the parking lots to the festival. And there were dozens of them. People climbed up a 4 step platform to get into them, then they stood inside the trailer, looking out through the metal bars, just like sheep being taken to the slaughter house.

Luckily, we had no trouble parking, and soon we were squeezing our way through the masses at the festival.

The first thing that caught my eye was the turkey drumsticks. Four guys were standing on the sidewalk eating them out of aluminium foil wrappers. They were gigantic! I nearly tripped over someone because I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Sure enough, I had to have one. So I paid the $5, which was excellent value, and made sure I didn’t drop it on my toe, because it could’ve done untold damage!

A little further along was the maple taffy (toffee) stall. For 50 cents you could get some maple taffy made just like I’d seen at the Sugaring-Off Exhibition in Quebec. Maple syrup was being boiled in iron caldrons hung by thick metal chains over open-wood fires. Ten gallons of syrup would be made into toffee on this day. And after getting taffy to the right, sticky consistency, it was ladled over a bed of snow (actually, shaved ice) and twisted onto popsicle sticks. I couldn’t resist the temptation, so I bought 2, and they were pleasantly sweet and tasty.

The Pancake Tent was being well promoted for this event, so we soon found ourselves in a very long queue, lining up to buy our pancake meal tickets. A double pancake (smothered in syrup) and a coffee was great value at $4. To get it, we had to walk through a production line, being served our plates, pancakes, syrup and coffee as we walked by each one. And the end of the production line took us straight into a large white marquee with tables and seats for 250 pancake eaters.

As you can imagine, by this time we were pretty full. So we avoided all other food stalls, and began browsing the hundreds of other stalls at the festival.

One stall which caught my attention sold lots of emu products. Mostly oils and lotions. But these products were displayed on an emu skin. I could tell it was from an emu leg because the section draped neatly over the edge of the counter clearly featured 3 emu toes.

These Canadians have an Australian sense of humour!

I encountered many Australian products in Canada, but even so, I was surprised to see didgeridoos being sold at another festival stall. They were 1.2m (4 ft) long and 6cm (3 inches) in diameter, and they were very well decorated with carvings and bright ‘dot’ paintings. But on closer inspection I noticed they were made from bamboo. A small sticker made sense of it all, ‘Made in Indonesia’. But at $30 it was an irresistible purchase for Kit.

The Zion Mennonite Fellowship was providing rest and entertainment in the ‘Resting Place’. So we ducked in for a short while to take a break and listen to the Mennonite band singing rock hymns.

We thought we’d end the day with the Countryside Heritage Tour. This tour would take us through genuine Mennonite property so we could get some first-hand experience of where and how these people lived. But the tours were being run hourly. The next one was booked out, and the following one only had 3 seats left. Waiting for more than 2 hours was too long a wait for these 4 tired visitors, so at about 2pm, we squeezed through the crowds once again and dodged the hay wagons on our way back to the car, and home.

This article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey

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