A gentle breeze can add to the springtime ambience of the unofficial harbinger of spring, but there was nothing genteel about the weather that greeted visitors at last weekend’s Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. The event’s 45th year was met with nasty morning winds.
“It was definitely a disappointing start to the day – it was pretty brutal,” said festival chair Lavern Brubacher.
“I thought we had endured all kinds of weather but that was a little new twist to everything again. The temperature and the climate wouldn’t have been much of a stumbling block, I don’t think, but that wind was really hard on our vendors,” he said, noting that some 30 vendors were unable to set up in the morning as the wind wreaked havoc on their tents and displays.
The poor conditions took a toll on attendance numbers, which were much lower than in previous years. Brubacher estimated between 35,000 and 40,000 people attended the festival Apr. 4, down significantly from last’s year’s high of 70,000. By extension, the festival committee’s total cash contribution to community organizations will also take a dip. While the final figures won’t be known for at least a few weeks, organizers are certain that 2008’s total donation of $42,000 won’t be matched.
“I’m guessing that our contribution will be considerably smaller than last year back to the community – I think that’s where we’ll find the biggest hurt,” said Brubacher.
That said, as the day progressed, the wind died down and things did improve.
“It was definitely a good crowd here throughout the middle of the day, and our pancake tent did very well,” said Brubacher, noting that the day was a success on other fronts.
“This festival really isn’t all about raising money; it’s also a community kind of effort and community spirit [event], and that part still worked very well – a lot of people came out and endured the weather.”
Past chair Doug McLean offered up a similar take on the festival.
“I was actually surprised at how many people came out on such an ugly day. General consensus is we made out OK.”
No doubt a silver lining was to be found on Saturday in the smaller crowds: fewer people on Arthur Street meant smaller lineups at the pancake tents. Whereas last year lengthy queues saw pancake tents tapped out by 2 p.m., last weekend the same amount of pancakes were sold over a longer period of time and with shorter waits.
“Our pancake tent did very well,” said Brubacher, noting that approximately 12,000 pancakes (820 kilos) were used up by midday. Some 7,000 people were served.
“It proves that people will still come out and enjoy some sweet maple syrup and lots of food even on an ugly day.”