Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The perfect little literary festival

Barbara here, saying goodbye to an old friend. After thirteen years, the curtain has descended on perhaps the most perfect little literary festival in Canada – the Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Mystery Festival. I have had the privilege of being involved both as an invited author and behind the scenes as a board member for the past six years, and it was with a mixture of pride and sorrow that we voted this fall to discontinue the festival. We felt we had brought all we could to the festival over the years and wanted to end it on a high note.

Wolfe Island is the largest of the famed thousand islands in the St. Lawrence River which serves as the border between eastern Canada and the US. Beneath its deceptively bucolic facade of heritage churches and tight-knit families, it has a devilish history of smuggling, rum running, and contrary individualism. It is also the birthplace of Grant Allen, Canada's first crime writer, whose grandmother, the Baroness of Longueuil, was a founding settler of Wolfe Island. What better place to host a festival devoted to crime fiction?

From the start, the one-day festival had a unique vision. A maximum of 100 people, only five featured authors, and an annual Grant Allen Award given to an established Canadian author who has made an outstanding contribution to Canadian crime writing. The day started with a free ferry ride from Kingston  and a coffee hour with the authors at the lakeside patio of the Island Grill. From there the day was packed with author readings, writing workshops, panel, guest speaker, and award presentation, all within the gorgeous halls of two heritage island churches. It was an informal, "homey", deliberately small festival that provided attendees with an old-fashioned "island" experience and plenty of chances to mingle closely with the featured authors.

Behind this intimate experience that drew attendees back year after year was a group of volunteers: board members who committed to numerous planning meetings a year, and others who committed their time for the weeks or days surrounding the festival. Scene of the Crime's board was made up partly of mystery writers responsible for the writing aspect and partly of local Wolfe Islanders who formed the logistical backbone. It was these latter Island volunteers, and the women's auxiliaries who prepared the old-fashioned church lunches and suppers, who gave the festival its unique feel of stepping back in time.

But mounting a successful festival year after year requires hard work, constant innovation, and the sacrifice of other interests and activities, not to mention family life! After years, board members felt they had contributed all they could and although many people came forward with offers to help, none could make the commitment to take over the reins. It's difficult to stop something that fills a unique need and has been a continuing success, but allowing it to lose its vibrancy and novelty would be worse.

In a final gesture to honour the man who inspired the festival, the Scene of the Crime board commissioned the restoration of the Longueuil burial monument in the Trinity Church cemetery on Wolfe Island. A ceremony to rededicate the monument was held on a lovely autumn afternoon in October. The contribution of the perfect little literary festival will live on in that block of limestone as well as in the memories of all the invited authors who had the privilege of participating and all the mystery lovers who shared the day with them.


Vicki Delany said...

I am going to miss it so much.

Hannah Dennison said...

What a wonderful gesture. Great post Barbara. I wish I'd had the chance to attend.