Passing through the gate the smell of roasting meat wafts on the breeze, accompanied by the haunting sound of women’s voices rising in a Celtic song. Harp music pours from beyond the trees where men and women walk about, dressed not in jeans and T-shirts, but in jerkins and leather belts, billowing frocks and flowing dresses embroidered with silver and gold.
It’s no longer the 21st century.
Hear ye! Hear ye! Welcome one and all to the 15th annual Royal Medieval Faire.
The faire, which was held Sept. 15 in Waterloo Park, started out as an idea between friends over a decade ago, and now attracts thousands of people from all over the region.
“Really good years we easily get 5,000,” said Dwayne Price, director of operations.
Driven by volunteers, the non-profit event has partnered with the City of Waterloo, which donates the park space and provides a magical, and inexpensive, day out for the public – medieval aficionado or not.
“It’s for the community, it’s for the families and it’s run by the volunteers,” Price said. “We thank and appreciate anybody who does anything for the faire. Without volunteers, it just doesn’t happen.”
Price himself is a volunteer. Starting out by working at the fry stand years ago, he moved up to games and is now on the board, helping to run the show. Even after all this time he still marvels at the size and scale of the faire.
“You come out and you look around and there’s this whole village, this whole other land,” he said.
Indeed, it does seem like another place and time when stepping into the park. Being southern Ontario’s largest Renaissance festival, the faire has over 40 vendors, and plays host to games, archery and rock climbing.
The faire also featured, a maze, a working battering ram and large-scale crossbow. There was also delicious snacks on sale for the famished.
Merchandise included everything from real chain mail, apothecary setups, vampire-slaying kits, animal skulls and leather pauldrons, to swords, bows, costumes for the kids and handcrafted magic wands. Although admission is always a low $5 for adults and $2.50 for children, some products can cost up to a few hundred dollars.
The faire has true artists at work, ones who have spent hours perfecting their craft and embracing the medieval arts and trades. Price understands.
“I just sort of fell in love with it too,” he said.
Among the pirates, lords, ladies, elves, faeries, knaves and knights attending the faire, familiar faces pop out for those who go year-after-year. The actors too seem to enjoy the event, returning again and again, often to play the same role in a themed story that builds upon the previous year’s tale.
These include Bernie Roehl, who plays King Bertram, and Tracy Biggar as Queen Charlotte.
Since the first year of the faire, Roehl and Biggar have placed crowns upon their heads as the rulers of the Kingdom of Mearth, and entertained faire-goers, simply for the delight in it. Biggar also makes sure to take time out of her busy day to knight any wayward attendees.
“I hardly ever stab anyone,” she said as one young boy knelt in front of her in the sun.
As the clock nears closing time, the buzz of excitement in the air can be heard even above the clashing of swords. People flock to the bleachers around the tournament ring and await the next event with their families in tow.
“They get drawn to everything,” Price said, and rightly so.
If anyone misses the joy and magic of the faire they’ll have to wait a whole year, until next fall, before the blacksmith hammers and the dragons come back again. The park is already booked for next year’s event, which will be held on Saturday, Sept. 21. For more information, go to www.royalmedievalfaire.org