Port Union Winterfest: Olympic theme beats winter blues

The bitter cold couldn’t keep Port Union families in their homes last Saturday. Not with the community’s 14th annual winter festival, Winterfest, going on.

The event held behind the massive Port Union Community Centre normally brings in about 3,000 people.

“It brings families together,” said Barbara Broadley, co-chair of Winterfest. “It brings them outdoors … to do things in the community, meet your neighbours.”

This year’s event was Olympics-themed in honour of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Honorary guests were Olympic torch-bearers Jan de Vries of Pickering, Imad Iqbal of Scarborough and Frank Peruzzi of Bradford. Dressed in their Olympics windbreakers and with torch in hand, the honorees gathered near the fire pit for a meet-and-greet and photo-ops with excited families, many of whom were hoping for a chance to carry the torch themselves, even for a second.

Seventeen-year-old Iqbal was nominated by his school, Victoria Park Collegiate Institute, shortly after his courageous battle with cancer.

“I’m really humbled by this entire experience,” he said with a beaming smile.

Jan de Vries was nominated to become a torchbearer by the National Council of Veterans of which he has been a member for more than 70 years.

“I’m a veteran of the Second World War. I fought in D-Day, Normandy, Belgium, Holland and then Germany. We’re the only unit, the First Canadian Parachute Battalion, to meet the Russians. That was quite an experience,” he said, his war medals strapped to his windbreaker. “I just do it to represent all the fellows we lost who can’t be here. So in my mind, it’s a real honour.”

Circling the community centre were activity stations: an obstacle course, Olympics hockey and ring toss, ice fishing, multiple inflatable luges, a clown toss, tug of war, and ice-blocks that would blow any Lego set out the water. Special activities included a mountain of snow to satisfy any adventurous spirit, stunning ice carvings that are constructed on site by IceCulture, and Hawks Shadow, a tracker and wilderness expert nested in a large teepee where he teaches bright-eyed children the ways of the wild.

Indoors, seniors invited children to enjoy a zoo table and woodcarving, which was demonstrated by members of the community centre’s woodcarving class, Jerry Spencer, wife Phyllis, and former instructor Ken Tsumura. Tsumura also created wooden Winterfest pins which donned their mascot, the penguin.

Local bands of all ages rounded up a large audience with four hours of rock, dance and soul.

Volunteers disguised kids and adults in elaborate face painting. To further engage them, each child was given an activity passport with which they could travel to each activity station and receive a stamp after completing it. Once they had collected 10 stamps they could take their passport to the prize room where cubs of the Second Highland Creek Scouts waited to hand out prizes and Olympic medallions.

“The medallions were a committee effort,” said Heather Lemieux. Each piece was tirelessly constructed by members of the committee and seniors from the centre.

The Mutt Show, one of their most popular events which was sponsored by Muddy Paws, featured prizes for the best hound in four categories. Crooning canines, dapper dogs and puckered pups competed for best singer, best dressed and best kisser. The last category of “Most Looks Like Owner” was swept by bulldog trio Charlie, Marley and Rocky.

All funds raised from Winterfest are to go back to community.

“This is a fabulous community, I’m very lucky to live here,” said Broadley. “My happiness is seeing the people and knowing you’re giving back to the community.”