Celebrated Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer recently said, “In a climate of fear and separation, Wolfe Island Music Festival is a welcoming port in the storm.” Now that I’ve experienced the weekend event for myself, I completely understand what she means.
The vibe of Wolfe Island Music Festival is as humble as the people who attend it. Ferry boats full of people, of all ages and backgrounds, ready to leave their worries on the mainland and commit to a weekend of genuine Canadian arts appreciation. And then there are the locals of Wolfe Island — some of the most genuine and friendly characters that I have ever met.
With this wholesome excitement, and simply being on a magical piece of land where the waters of Lake Ontario meet those of the St. Lawrence Seaway, made the task of talking to people about their personal connections to water a relatively effortless one. During this year’s Wolfe Island Music Festival, my team and I collected over one hundred inspiring Watermarks and had a blast doing so.
Friday night of the festival, Swim Drink Fish Canada sponsored the main stage which featured Lou Canon, The Kents, Your Boy (featuring Shad), and Said The Whale, giving me the perfect opportunity to hang out side stage and talk to some of Canada’s most treasured performers about my favourite subject: the Watermark Project.
There I discovered that Toronto hip hop artist and former CBC Q Radio Host Shad had never really learned how to swim but still considers one of the greatest days of his life to be one that he spent in the waters of the Pacific Ocean.
I also discovered that Ben and Tyler of Vancouver-based indie rock band Said The Whale love to fish, like, really LOVE to fish. Tyler grew up as the son of a Tugboat Captain, fishing and boating on an arm of the Pacific Ocean between Vancouver and the mainland coast of British Columbia known as the Strait of Georgia. Ben admits to daydreaming about being on his boat or riverside all of the time, thinking about fishing for salmon these days but explained that he, “grew up fishing rockfish and lingcod, flounders and dogfish and all the good things you can catch by jigging a buzzbomb up and down” (and other words that I didn’t entirely understand.) ;) When on tour, the two have been known to bring a fishing rod with them and have even insisted that promoters take them out on the water before a performance.
And then came the rain and it was awesome, literally awe inducing: awesome. Mother Nature had held off the storm until nearly the very end of Said The Whale’s set and then she opened the skies to unleash a down pouring of rain and fury of wind onto Wolfe Island.
Let it be known that all of those people camping on Wolfe Island for the music festival this year are my new personal heroes.
The rain hadn’t dampened any spirits come Saturday morning. The sun was out, beautifully reflecting on the water, and the crowds began pouring into Marysville baseball diamond, where a majority of the festival takes place, around 11am ready for a full day of great music, local brews, laughter and dancing. (Again, heroes).
The Watermark Project team and I had set up a tented booth at the edge of the field and began talking to people about their waterbodies and why they feel a personal connection to them. We met Kinston locals, like Douglas Poucher who’s Watermark is Lake Ontario:
I swim for 2 or 3 times a week from the RMC wharf to Fort Henry West Tower or CFB Kingston Marina or to Cedar Island and back. Best times are 1st thing in the morning when the lake is calm like glass and visibility is about 15 to 20 ft---Awesome beautiful swims!
Heard some great stories from Queen’s University students, like Stephen Lough who explained:
Our Queen's University Biological Station resides on a peninsula on the Northern shoreline of Lake Opinicon. Since 1994, I have welcomed and taught undergraduate students from across Canada and around the world. Perhaps my most cherished memories are of revealing the lakes, its inhabitants, including loons, heavens, snapping turtles and bullfrogs, and its history to Chinese youth.
and James Dalton, who passionately professed:
My most powerful memory of this waterbody was the time when Queen's stopped tossing frosh of the pier (PUC) because it was too polluted, and it was sad.
The days of carefree swimming with my buds throughout the years were gone, never to return..until you save Lake Ontario!
There were so many young families attending the Saturday portion of Wolfe Island Music Festival and as soon as the kids recognized that we were simply asking people to talk into the big microphone about their favourite things to do in and on the water, they were all about it. Eight year old Linda shared her memory of:
The time I fished eels with my dad in Lake Ontario.
And ten year old Declan, who is growing up in Hong Kong but has been visiting family in Canada this past summer, shared some of his experiences with us:
There are not many lakes around Hong Kong, so my favourite lake in Canada would have to be Lake Ontario.
I like kayaking, swimming and sometimes tubing on Lake Ontario. When I go tubing, I go behind the boat, while the boat pulls you. It’s really cool. It’s fast but it’s very fun. I went the other day with my cousin, and it was really fun. We used my grandmother’s boat that she just got back a few days ago. I’m going to do as much tubing as I possibly can, because I’m leaving soon. I want to go as many times before I leave.
I also like to go for midnight swim in Lake Ontario, because it’s nice and fun. It’s dark and there’s lots of bugs around, and it looks cool.
Before her Saturday set time, we also met up with indie rock Goddess Elizabeth Powell, lead singer of Land of Talk, who excitedly spoke about growing up in Oro-Medonte, Ontario, along the Coldwater River, a place she credits for her meandering soul today.
Many thanks to everyone involved in coordinating the Wolfe Island Music Festival. And a massive THANK YOU to all of the lovely people of Wolfe Island, to each of the incredibly talented performers of the festival, and, of course, to all of the festival attendees who took the time to give their personal Watermark stories and discuss the water policy issues that affect them the most. You all helped to create a most memorable port in the storm. Literally.