Maybe the War of the Worlds wasn’t the best theme to choose for the fifth annual Great Canadian Steampunk Exposition — it seems to have become predictive. A kind of war broke out between dreams and realities.
While the all-volunteer team planned an experience to remember to be held at Fort George on September 21 to 23, they couldn’t have anticipated the sudden and urgent needs that would be imposed on each of them by their families. Says Susan Spencer, chair of the event, “Unfortunately over the last six months, one after another of our team has had major family issues arise and take us away from the project. We just weren’t confident we could produce the level of quality our loyal followers have come to expect, and the last thing we wanted to do was give them a less than stellar experience.”
“It was pedal to the metal on the event. And pedal to the metal on the family end. You just run out of feet.” She continues, “Making the decision to postpone the event was truly gut-wrenching — but the steampunk community and the local community have all pulled together and said, ‘Hey, do what you need for your families and yourselves. We can wait.’”
Spencer hopes the wait won’t be too long — the intention is to reinstate the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exposition at Fort George as soon as humanly possible. “The site just has so much oomph to it, so much history and spectacle. And our patrons say, ‘The town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is the most steampunk place on Earth! You’ve got to keep the event here.’”
Steampunk is an artistic style that draws from the past, present and future. NOTL definitely fits the bill.
Previous versions of the occasion have brought over 1000 patrons to the Fort, along with dozens of vendors, performers and specialty acts. Spencer and her team had secured the majority of the artisans and entertainers for this year’s happening, and were gutted to have to tell them about the postponement. “The entertainment and vendors are the hardest people to tell, ‘We need to cancel.’ They put so much into preparing for this kind of thing.” Spencer knows this first hand, having been a vendor herself for many years.
“I was one of those crazy people following reenactors around, selling them period pieces.” Her shop, Spenser’s Mercantile, specialized in historical goods, 1812 costumes and other pieces. In this iteration, she had been at Fort George a number of times. Her shop had a teaching component to it too, featuring workshops and classes. Spencer had become a vendor coordinator for functions as well — foreshadowing her skills for creating the Exposition. Perhaps her MBA from U of T and her experience working on Bay St (in the financial district of Toronto) also helped round out her ability to manage a major event.
The steampunk part of the story — like so many good tales — was accidental. “I was researching World War I for my shop, and working out prototypes for pieces. But if they’re not absolutely perfect, reenactors won’t touch them. A friend said, ‘You know, steampunk people would love these imperfect pieces — they don’t care about historical accuracy, they’re just going to play with everything and make it their own anyway.’”
So, being a person who does nothing by halves, Toronto-based Spencer attended a steampunk convention in Arizona to do some research.
“I arrived there and saw the skills they bring in artistry, engineering, seamstressing, creativity, and said, ‘These are my people.’” Not surprising, being a history geek from a family of engineers, chemists and scientists. “I love the community, the way they behave and treat each other. Steampunk is a very special community. Very gentlemanly, very courtly and respectful.”
Typical, then, that ‘her people’ would be so supportive and understanding regarding the postponement of one of the largest events of its kind in North America. “All without exception have said ‘family first.’”
The Grand Canadian Steampunk Exposition will return to “the most steampunk place on Earth” as soon as all of the players can make it happen. In the meantime Spencer says, “I would like to thank everyone for their support and understanding. It’s so heartwarming. I’m truly touched.”