It was Thanksgiving Monday 2009 and both hubby and I had the day off. We had spent the weekend with family and friends eating more turkey than we thought humanly possible (like many of you, I bet). So, for our Monday, we decided to pack a lunch and have a quiet picnic together at Balls Falls. Being fairly new to the area, little did we know that we were about to stumble upon the wonderful, annual Balls Falls Thanksgiving Festival. Thank goodness we did; we had a blast in 2009 and this year marked our 4th year as attendees.
The Balls Falls Conservation Area is in Jordan Ontario (just minutes off of the QEW) on your way to St. Catharines. The grounds are home to the historical Balls waterfalls (upper and lower) and the homestead of the Balls family, not to mention the old Grist Mill, blacksmith shop and Conservation Centre. Each year this conservation area comes to life at Thanksgiving with music, 130+ exhibitors, food vendors, birds of prey, pony rides, magicians, historical demonstrations, a gourmet food tent, raffles, free cotton candy, and wine (God forbid I forget the WINE!). 20 Valley Tourism had a booth setup this year where you could grab a glass of wine and browse the festival vino in hand.
One of my go-to attractions every year is the Sky Hunters Birds of Prey – the Barn Owl and his big eyes are my favourite. I especially like hovering around the 2-4 year olds as they “hoot-hoot” their way into history. This year I was particularly entranced by the Peregrine Falcon — it seemed to like me (maybe it was just hungry) and the POOFED up to prune its feathers. The birds live in Port Colborne and it is not unusual to see them at community events around the region.
Another of my must-do’s at the festival is to take a walk through the herb garden. This year the Camomile was in full bloom and it was so nice to smell; I think I’ll grow it in my own garden next year. This year a soup called “3 Sisters” was being served beside the corn patch. The name is based on an aboriginal legend and relationship between the soup’s 3 main vegetables – corn, beans and potatoes. They were cooking it over a fire in a big cast iron pot and it was yummy and warm and took the edge off of what was a little bit of a chilly day.
As is every year, the Blacksmith’s shop was open and local artist Tyler Thiessen was demonstrating his work. If you were at the Jordan Art in the Village or the Niagara Antique Power Association heritage day you’ve seen him before. How he keeps his cool so close to the forge is news to me. My favourites are the ornamental leaves whereas my husband likes the armour and tools – go figure.
Naturally, I also picked up a bag of stone-ground flour from the grist mill. There is something about the fall that sends me on a bread-making frenzy and this flour usually kicks it off. The bags sell for $5 and you have to keep it refrigerated because there are not any preservatives and, I thought this was a great idea, you get a recipe for how to make bread the “old fashioned” way.
This year the Conservation Centre was open and serving free cotton candy. How can anyone pass up free pink cotton candy especially at a Thanksgiving Festival? Iwas pleasantly surprised by the Conservation Center as it is modern and full of maps, pictures and information about the Niagara escarpment that reaches from Niagara all the way to Tobermory and Flower Pot Island.
Last, but certainly not least, we hit the exhibitors and food vendors. This being our 4th year at the Festival I found that I recognized 90% of the exhibitors. It is great to see people come back year after year to showcase their creations – but I do like finding the “newbies”. In mingling through the exhibits you can find pottery, jewelery, hand-made wooden bowls, felt-work, wood-work, iron-work, glass-work (EVERY kind of work), candles, creams, crafts and the like.
My purchase this year (I make ONE ever year) was from the collection HoneyBea DesignHive. Now, to the unsuspecting eye you would think I bought a bees-wax candle but that is not the case.
HoneyBea Designs is an “earth conscious and community-minded clothing and accessories company based in Toronto”.
Bea, the owner and designer, has come up with the most fabulous idea – Bum Warmers! They are made from re-purposed sweaters and look like mini-skirts. You can wear them over jeans or tights and they look fab with knee-high boots. I saw her at the Festival last year and went this year with an aim to be a new Bum Warmer owner. I did not take a picture but you can see her designs at honeybea.ca.
Lunch this year was something new. There was a food truck that I had not seen before – and I did not even notice a name. What I did notice was that they were serving vegetarian everything – chili, tacos, quesidillas, quinoa salad, kale salad, nachos — the works. How could we say no? Well, we said yes and it was tasty. My husband said that the tacos could have used some more cilantro – but for me (who is not particularly fond of cilantro) the balance was 100%.
Then, as if we had not eaten enough already, we headed to the gourmet food tent. Two vendors stuck out – one was Brooks Chocolates from Stouville. Her combination of milk chocolate, butter, sugar, almonds and maple syrup was divine! I left with a bag (it is gone already) AND will likely be ordering more for Christmas.
The other vendor I just walked by, not so sure at first, but now I wish I had stopped. The company is called Provisions Food Company and they make savoury shortbread. But this is not any kind of savoury shortbread; they infuse it with cheese! Take a second to think about that one. As if shortbread in all its buttery and sugary amazingness is not good enough, now we are going to pair it with cheese – my kind of cookie! The good news is that I will soon have my go at these little guys because the Wrapped Up in the Valley event (happening in November) is going to be featuring these little cookie delights at their wineries! So, more to come on these treats in the near future.
All in all, the Festival was a great success. It has become part of my Thanksgiving weekend and I know it will be part of all my Thanksgivings to come. I love finding and creating new traditions with my family and friends. And so, on our way back up to the car, (yes, UP the BIG hill that takes you to the parking lot) we decided to grab some cider (hot!) and apple fritters. Let me tell you, fritters look disgusting on their way into the vat of canola oil. But, once golden brown and covered with icing sugar they are the perfect way to end a perfect Balls Falls Thanksgiving Festival.