The St. Catharines Standard

September 16, 2008 / Press /

Tuesday September 16 2008
By Monique Beech

Wine festival parade crashers become marshals

Natasha Pedros remembers ushering Niagara Wine Festival parade revellers off the official downtown St. Catharines route to watch a group of Brock University theatre students strike mannequin-like poses.

While her classmates became statues and unofficial parade entries, Pedros would stand out front and promote her burgeoning theatre company.

“We just started performing in the parade without being invited to,” Pedros said with a laugh.

Seven years later, Pedros and many of her friends at Suitcase in Point Theatre Company are this year’s parade marshals.

“It’s great that we’re going to do it this year with an invitation,” said Pedros, 29. Other arts and cultural leaders are also parade marshals, including musician Joe Lapinski and artist Stephen Remus of the Niagara Artists’ Centre on St. Paul Street.

All were recently recognized with City of St. Catharines Trillium Awards for excellence in the arts. The local artistic flair in this year’s parade brushes over to other elements of the 57th annual Niagara Wine Festival, which runs from Sept. 19 to 28.

A new Artisan Fair will take over James Street this weekend, featuring the handcrafted work of 13 local artists.

Up to 90 per cent of the musical acts in Montebello Park come from Niagara. Festival president Ken Weir said this year’s mandate is to promote all things local.

“We are the Niagara Wine Festival,” Weir said. “It’s amazing to us what’s in our own backyard, really emphasizing (Vintners Quality Alliance) wines and Niagara culinary and entertainment. We do have a hotbed of entertainment of people being internationally recognized and winning awards.”

This year’s Celebrate Ontario theme with its Niagara spotlight comes after some rumblings of the festival losing its community focus last year.

More stringent parade guidelines cut out a few entries last year, causing some discontent in the community. Others applauded the changes, designed to improve the quality of the parade.

This year, community members sat on the parade board and local artists lent a hand to people building floats. Overall, there are 60 entries in the Sept. 27 Pen Centre Grande Parade.

Pedros said this is the first year she’s felt really connected to the festival, and applauded organizers. “I think that they are involving the community. The arts community in particular, because I think it’s a pretty
creative festival.”

“I think it’s great to bring in musicians from outside Niagara, but it’s a Niagara festival. The fact that this year we’re really celebrating not only Niagara wines but the Niagara arts as well is great.”

Lapinski said he hopes other high-profile events in Niagara follow suit and highlight local talent performing original music.

“I’ve really liked looking at the schedule this year and seeing a lot of people that I know, and that I’m associated with in St. Catharines, that are performing,” said Lapinski, who is also performing in Montebello Park.

More than 400,000 people are estimated to attend the festival each year.

Copyright © 2008 St. Catharines Standard