Peterborough & the Kawarthas – The Word Travels: Lakefield Literary Festival

Well I thought it might be nice to let you
know a little about the history of the festival and how it came to be. In 1995, the Ward family of Lakefield thought
it would be a really wonderful thing to organize an event honoring Margaret Laurence. And the plan was to have a dinner and readings
and a major CBC personality to host it. And the Wards would loved to have had Peter
Gzowski, and in attempting to secure him they came across Shelley Ambrose of the CBC who was
Peter’s right hand person. Peter was not going to be available but Shelley
managed to arrange for Shelagh Rogers to host that Saturday night event in 1995. And so it was a wonderful, wonderful evening
and the Ward family certainly had some very interesting ideas about literary Lakefield
and about what could possibly be built around the fact of her home, which by that time had
acquired. They had thoughts about it being a writers
retreat, or workshops, perhaps a tea room, maybe more book shops in town. A number of different thoughts, but one reason
and another, things weren’t quite working out the way they had hoped. And indeed it was Shelagh Rogers and Shelley
Ambrose who, after that one first session, I think they understood that there was the
potential here to grow something that would be more like an ongoing annual literary festival. That would feature not just the authors who
had lived and worked here, of whom there were great many historically and currently. But also authors from across the country and
both children’s and young adults and adults as well, so as of 1996 the festival began
to change and to grow into what we see today. And in those early years Shelley did probably
almost all of it, in terms of contacting the authors and organizing the dinner and all
these kinds of things. But during that time also a strong volunteer
group grew up locally, and now that very strong volunteer group is what manages this now three
day festival in it’s twentieth year. It’s been an amazing journey for many of us,
and a great many of the volunteers have been involved for long periods of time. It takes a lot of commitment in a small place,
to see something like this through. And to keep the continuity and the integrity
of the original concept, but also to keep it fresh. And also not to let it outgrow itself, which
upon occasion is a huge temptation. If you bring in a highly nationally known
author like say Margaret Atwood or Micheal Ondaatje. The pressure is on to perhaps host that event
at Wenjack Theatre or perhaps even Showplace because of the demand, but we thought no. No, we will stick to Lakefield College School
Theatre and I’m glad that we did that. Our volunteer base is very very strong and
the other interesting thing about this organization is that we are sponsor supported with our
very very generous and long term committed local sponsorship. It has allowed us freedom to plan and the
freedom to develop the festival in our own site, shall we say. And so the adventure definitely continues,
and one of the very, quite special aspects of this festival that began back in 1998,
was the beginning of a young writers, at the Lakefield Literary Festival contest, that
is managed by a volunteer and a group of judges but is also through the high school system. And that contest has produced some remarkable
young writers over the years. A number of whom will probably go on to write
in some form or another, but also we have an eBook that’s attached to our website, so
that all our winning entries from all those kids since 1998 at junior and senior levels;
fiction, nonfiction and now poetry. Those winning entries are all available to
see on our website, on the eBook. So that has been an enormous undertaking and
I think a really unique aspect of this festival. And our children’s tent is just a hoot. For anybody who loves kids, who loves children’s
books and illustrations, young or old everybody at The Children’s Tent just has a lovely,
lovely time. And that takes place down at the Cenotaph
Park and is free to all and everyone. So the festival continues to grow, we continue
to attract new volunteers. I can see it going ya know well on into the
future and we have great hopes that it will continue to bring people to our community. To discover not just the festival but all
the interesting things that are out there in the community that have to do with things
of the literary nature. There’s a walking tour, there are sites around
town with many historic plaques around town that are tied directly to our literary past. And various museums in the Peterborough area,
there’s the Peterborough Museum, Hutchison House, there’s Lang Pioneer Village and of
course Christ Church Community Museum where we are right at this moment. Which is very closely tied to the literary
heritage of the Lakefield and greater Lakefield area. It’s a very special little place! And I think, I think that anybody who came
to visit here would also find an openness, a friendliness in the community. It’s not just the physical beauty of the area,
but that is probably one of the special things that if one is interested in literary things,
after doing the obvious, is to just take a walk down to the river that flows both ways.

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