Clowns “Gert” (Linda Shrout, Smiths Falls) and “Aud-Aster” (Audrey Baker, Merrickville) help “Merrickville’s Bug Lady” (Andrea Howard) with her wingS

By Ken Mews

Oh yes, and plenty of funny faces painted on happy kids. The turnout was good and the Merrickville Lions Club put on a high-quality event that was well-planned to please all who attended.

A featured attraction again this year was the voyageur canoe trip. Seating up to 18, these big canoes shuttled back and forth to the Rideau Bird Sanctuary for a 30-minute tour of the river upstream from Merrickville. It was amazing to watch as the lead voyageur whipped the inexperienced group of kids and adults into an efficient team of paddlers, all going in the same direction. The Rideau Roundtable sponsors this interactive experience at events throughout the Rideau Waterway with Stew Hammill, of Merrickville, and Shirley Walsh, of Carleton Place. Stew recently took the Prime Minister out in the big canoe for the Métis sunrise commemoration.

In charge of the entertainment at Canalfest this year was local musician and member of the Lions’ Club, Patrick Attwell, also known as Mr. Four Face. He took the stage himself on Saturday morning, followed by Big Band Ottawa, led by Robert Vogelsang, with featured vocalist Doreen Smith. They played an upbeat set of big-band jazz favourites. On Sunday morning, it was Jack Arnold and Pocket Change, making way for Kingston’s Irish Roots with stirring performances of traditional songs like “I’ll Tell Me Ma”. On Monday morning, there was to be an open-mike session co-ordinated by Patrick and in the afternoon, the Kemptville 3, led by Anne Lyon.

Among the exhibitors was the stand displaying alpaca products for sale by Kathy Enright and Corinne Côté, of Alpaca Tracks, Oxford Station. Kathy and Corinne brought along two members of their flock—a different pair each day—to amaze the kids. They are really funny looking animals.

Down the park, a short way off, Marlene Rios, of FUNtasy Entertainment, was busy creating works of art on the faces of young visitors. When I dropped by, I met a kitty with a turquoise headband (Becky Teo) and her brother, Gregory, who was totally into having a rainbow painted on his face. I later met the most charming blue-butterfly girl, called Sydney Lefebvre.

Meantime, a small group was circulating in black t-shirts promoting Merrickville’s upcoming, first-class jazz festival—October 13 to 16. I had a short chat with Lou Birta, one of the volunteers, who was very upbeat about both Canalfest and Jazz Fest. It is amazing how much happens in a small place like Merrickville. And it’s really good, too.

Also among the displays were two of interest to budding naturalists. Rebecca Hellam, of Parks Canada, explained the recent changes in fortune among the many creatures that live along the Rideau Waterway. Painted and snapping turtles are doing well and have been removed from the endangered list, while their spotted and stinkpot cousins are not doing as well. The least bittern is becoming rare due to climate change and loss of habitat, while the black or grey rat snake is the subject of intense investigation at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park.

Rebecca also told me about the best way to move a turtle out of your driveway. Don’t attempt to grab it anywhere in front of its back legs, because its neck is long enough to give you a nasty bite if you do. A snapping turtle can break a bone. If you must pick it up, try the space between the back legs and the tail. But don’t touch the tail. Even better is to dangle a rope in front of its head. It will take the rope in its beak and won’t let go. You can then drag it in the direction it was going, out of harm’s way. You can also try manoeuvring a snapper onto a car mat and dragging it. Don’t try reversing the turtle’s direction, though. They are extremely stubborn and driven by instinct and routine.

Merrickville’s Bug Lady (Andrea Howard) explained the life cycle of the butterfly to the Blue Butterfly Girl using plastic models of caterpillars, cocoons and mature adults. Spiders have special significance for Andrea, who was once terrified of them. She still shows them respect, but understands better what makes them bite humans. The nervous system of a spider is concentrated on its ventral or underside. If you attempt and fail to crush a spider its reflex is to bite you and release its venom. Better to brush it off from the side or shake it out of your clothing. Oh yes, and daddy longlegs are not really spiders and don’t bite at all.

All of this activity could never happen without a dedicated group of volunteers. Every member of the Merrickville Lions should be proud of this year’s Canalfest, especially Patrick Attwell, Carol Kelly and Carol Côté, the principal organizers.


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