On the sprawling field behind a quaint village on the banks of the St. Lawrence, a wooden lance shatters into a dozen pieces, sending a knight flying off his horse and onto the grass below. The spectators groan in sympathy.
This past weekend, the Medieval Festival set up camp at the far end of Upper Canada Village. It was an odd clash of time periods to be sure, but definitely a summer experience not to miss. I’ve always loved coming to this beautifully recreated 1800s village, which hosts a variety of events throughout the year, but this was the first time I had attended the festival.
The jousting tournament was the main attraction. The Knights of Valour, a full-contact jousting troupe that does demonstrations across North America, bravely endured the hot midday sun in full armour and helmets. They did several tricks before the jousting, reminiscent of scenes from the movie “A Knight’s Tale”, which involved hitting small targets and capturing rings. Presiding over the whole festival, the King and Queen watched from the shade of their own tent.
The jousting itself was no joke either. When a knight hit the ground, it was with a loud clatter of metal plates and chainmail. With the force of the impact and the weight of the armour, they often needed help getting back on their feet and had to used a platform to mount up onto their horses. One of the knights even had to discontinue after taking a heavy fall in the first round.
Before the tournament, we also watched a falconry show. The Canadian Raptor Conservancy put on educational demonstrations full of weird little tidbits of information. Did you know that turkey vultures can eliminate diseases like rabies and plague in the meat that they consume? It certainly gives you a whole new appreciation for birds of prey.
Throughout the festival, jugglers, minstrels, fools and clowns, storytellers, and dancers put on skits and performances. If you had some money to spend, there were plenty of merchants and artisans, selling everything from earthenware cups and herbal teas, to chain-link jewelry and sword reproductions.
There was so much to see at the festival that a whole day seemed like barely enough time. Historical reenactors were onsite to explain the lifestyles of various peoples, such as the Vikings, showing traditional methods of blacksmithing and wood carving. Off in the far end of the field, several medieval war machines had been set up to demonstrate siege warfare. In between all the rock flinging by trebuchets and catapults, the King even oversaw a mock battle between various heavily armoured knights and fighters.
It was a sweltering weekend, the first proper days of summer, and although I got sunburnt, I don’t regret a thing. For anyone looking to visit the Medieval Festival next year, I recommend getting there early to beat the lines and give yourself plenty of time to explore. My inner child was perfectly happy to spend the day among knights and ladies, slipping between the centuries as I peeked into one colourful festival tent after another.