From the spark of an idea and a desire for the Comox Valley Arts and Cultural History to be properly recorded and not lost, has come a fascinating window into the past.
A DVD chronicling the history of the (in)famous Courtenay Renaissance Fair has been produced and donated to both the Courtenay Regional Library and the Courtenay and District Museum and Paleontology Centre by a group of former organizers and participants.
For two years the group contacted as many former fairgoers as possible by email, Facebook, telephone and word of mouth to share and collect photos and stories. The cover of the DVD proudly boasts that it contains “more than a thousand photos, videos, newspaper clippings and personal stories from Courtenay’s ‘Hippie Festival’.”
The Renaissance Fair was among the first of the arts and music fairs that are now a standard part of summertime entertainment and was the first organization to use the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds (CVEX) for an event other than one featuring the agricultural or equestrian communities.
It had humble beginnings; the first one was in 1974 being a small arts and craft fair with a single guitarist held around the fountain at the Bickle Theatre, (now Sid Williams) and the next three took place in Lewis Park. In 1978 the Renaissance Fair moved to the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds, (the Fairgrounds) and grew to attract an audience of over 12,000 people by its final curtain call in 1984.
The rules were simple; all crafts people had to come from the Comox Valley or Denman and Hornby Islands. They represented an amazing range of high quality crafts much the same as we see today, including for one year, a blacksmith’s shop.
The fair was true to its “renaissance” name as it introduced new leading-edge music and new musical talent along with incredible arts and crafts.
It represented a true renaissance of music and art. After the area known as the Rotary Bowl was created by the Rotary Club to accommodate the RCMP’s famous Musical Ride, the fair moved into that field. The flat field that was left provided a perfect place for a main stage. This area had been a wetland, which had been drained allowing for that crucial place for the irrepressible dancers to enjoy themselves to the fullest.
The DVD was compiled and edited by Bunky Hall who was the first electrician to connect a music stage and five coffee urns all demanding maximum power at the same time on the CVEX grounds.
The Regional District has upgraded the Fairground’s water and electrical service continually since those times as it now hosts the Vancouver Island Music Festival.
The photos were donated by fairgoers and staff who had saved them as personal reminders of the many years the fair took place. Thanks go to all those who shared their memories, both photos and personal memoirs. Copies of the DVD can be purchased for $10 each at the Comox Valley Art Gallery, 580 Duncan Ave, Courtenay. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org.