The Warkworth Lilac Festival was little more than a vision when Janice Allen became Honourary Chair of the Festival Committee in 2009. The Committee's vision has bloomed into one of Trent Hills' most beloved events, and the Village of Warkworth is gearing up for the opening weekend of the ninth annual celebration of all things lilac on May 25 and 26.
The Millennium Lilac Trail, the original Festival site, now boasts over 300 plantings of 83 varieties of the fragrant spring bloom including many rare varieties. Thanks to a blend of early, mid and late-blooming species, the Trail provides an ever-changing tapestry of colour for 30 to 40 days. It’s not just about the flowers, however. It takes a village, they say, and the Village of Warkworth comes together every year to roll out an activity-packed opening weekend that celebrates music, art, dance, food, fun and local business.
“It was good for the businesses, bringing the festival to Main Street,” Janice says. “The challenge was to balance the happenings in town with activities along the Millennium Trail to make sure that visitors enjoyed the full experience.” The Festival is a major tourist draw, bringing countless guests to Trent Hills and offering a favourite destination for bus tour groups from throughout the province.
A new section of trail opened this year, extending the scenic, scented route to just under 3 km. As well as the immersive splendour of the lilacs themselves, the journey on Festival weekend offers plenty of discovery with live music, dancers and a Crafters' Market of artisan vendors situated along the path. The trail is easily navigable for those with physical challenges and guided tours are available by appointment.
One of the Festival’s most popular highlights, the Victorian Tea, takes place in the gazebo on the trail. “I met a lady on Main Street last year,” Janice remembers. “She was beautifully dressed and had a gorgeous purple hat. She told me she came all the way from Ottawa to attend our tea!” This year’s theme is the Roaring Twenties. Coordinated by Ellie Tweedie, elegant sandwiches and treats are served with tea or punch in bone china teacups by Warkworth Guiding. Guests are encouraged to dress for the occasion in vintage hats, gloves, pearls and boas. Some hats and gloves will be available for loan at the Tea party should anyone be caught unprepared.
Warkworth’s Main Street is a veritable hub with activities planned non-stop from opening to closing daily. As well as live music at The Mews, the thoroughfare showcases local crafters, artisans and horticultural vendors along with live demonstrations from rug hooking to bellydancing. The festivities include an annual photography show with entries competing for prizes sponsored by local businesses and organizations. This year’s photo gallery will be hosted by Centre & Main Chocolate, which will once again be offering a celebratory spring lilac chocolate bar to mark the occasion. The pretty delectable was a hit with Festival guests last year.
Art Around Ah! at the Arts and Heritage Centre is also a major draw, featuring the work of local artists in various mediums. Children’s activities include crafts, cupcake decorating and facepainting. The Blades of Glory medieval entertainment/education company from The Realm in Hastings will be appearing at the Festival for the first time this year with a live reenactment of the tale of King Arthur and the Sword In The Stone. Kids will have an opportunity to vie for the crown and do their best to free the sword.
The Touch of Lilac floral design competition is always a winner, Janice says, both for the participants who create the flower arrangements and for the observers who have a chance to enjoy them on the porch of the Cheeky Bee Candle Company storefront.
The first day’s celebrations come to an end with the signature Jazz in the Lilac Room performance at the Warkworth Town Hall Centre for the Arts on Saturday night. “The room always looks just beautiful,” Janice says. “It’s all decorated and they set it up to look like a French nightclub”. This year’s performance is another first, the premiere outing for the Moonglow Jazz Strings quartet and the “coming together of a dream” for founder Howard Baer. During his 38-year musical career, one of Howard’s “greatest musical pleasures” was to write and conduct full orchestra scores which he “put on hold” in 2010 when he turned to playing upright bass. The Warkworth resident has scored and produced the sold-out performance, featuring Karen Oxorn as vocalist, Allanna Ellison on harp, Michael Monis on guitar and Howard on bass, presenting beloved jazz standards by the likes of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter.
Janice is excited at the headliner for this year’s fundraising luncheon as well. We’ve held the luncheon in a tent, and in a garden,” she laughs. “Every year we held it outdoors, we had problems with rain and wind.” Marking its third year at Villa Conti Oak Heights Estate Winery, the venue is now “nice and cosy”, she says. The Mane Event, A Hair Raising Luncheon, features Canadian celebrity and award-winning hair style artist Darek Wierzbicki. The Villa will offer Italian cuisine and wines while Darek shares information on new hair styling techniques and demonstrates a live hair and cosmetic makeover. All proceeds from the luncheon go towards the Lilac Festival and the Millennium Lilac Trail.
The Warkworth Lilac Festival was recognized with the Canada 150 Garden Experience Award in 2017. “We are very proud of that,” Janice says. Commending the “wonderful committee” behind the Festival, she also salutes the “tireless efforts of volunteers, organizations and businesses that contribute their time and support to the success of the Warkworth Lilac Festival and the development and maintenance of the Millennium Lilac Trail.”
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Guided tours of the Millennium Lilac Trail, email WLFTours@gmail.com