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Steampunkers pumped for festival

Mehreen Shahid

By Mehreen Shahid, Orillia Packet & Times

MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES
Suzy Burtenshaw, left, chair of the Coldwater Steampunk Festival, is pictured with Sarah Pickard, the festival's social media liaison, at the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum. The event will take place Aug. 6.

MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES Suzy Burtenshaw, left, chair of the Coldwater Steampunk Festival, is pictured with Sarah Pickard, the festival's social media liaison, at the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum. The event will take place Aug. 6.

A unique form of freedom of expression, art, nostalgia and intergenerational connection is what visitors can find at the annual Coldwater Steampunk Festival.

"The elderly like it because it draws from their nostalgia of their grandparents," said Sarah Pickard, the festival's social media liaison, "and they're finally connecting with an audience who wants to hear about it. We want to hear all about what they were dressing like, what their homes looked like and what it was like taking a steam engine."

Participants in the festival dress up, assume historical personas and use that as common ground to connect with visitors, who can be in costume or not, explained Pickard, who will be dressed up as a nurse -- Miss Morphine -- as part of an airship crew.

The annual event will take over main-street Coldwater and the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum all day Aug. 6.

It is "definitely a family affair," said event chair Suzy Burtenshaw.

"The kids dress up like crazy; the parents decorate the kids' strollers," she said. "I've seen families of four generations all 'steampunked.'"

Steampunk is inspired by Victorian-era works of science-fiction by authors such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, who fantasized about what the future would look like -- "submarines, rocket ships, airships and robots made of brass and copper," Pickard explained, "but they thought it would all be steam-powered." Hence "steampunk."

But the Victorian era is "punked" when it is reimagined or romanticized by the current generation, she added.

"A lot of people are aware of the racism, sexism that was rife in that age, but with steampunk, you're allowed to celebrate everything that was good about it," said Pickard. "I think it gives people access to the Victorian era -- women dressing up in ways they wouldn't be allowed to dress up back in that time."

In line with this year's circus theme, the headliner of the festival is the strongman Mighty Mike Show.

"He's going to do two performances at the mill and one at the museum, and we have a sideshow, Mental Floss, coming in, too," Burtenshaw said.

Also new this year is a wearable-art fashion show by Ruth Germain.

Steampunk author D.L. Narrol will visit the festival and Coldwater resident Kathryn Kaiser will be the featured artist, available to interact and mingle with visitors.

Smaller, lead-in events, starting Thursday night with a vintage car show, precede Saturday's full-day, free festival.

There are various activities for children, too.

"It's not your usual bouncy castle; it's crafts and creativity," Burtenshaw said. "We have a scavenger hunt for kids, a circus sideshow, a birds-of-prey show and a magic show."

The Steampunk Festival is in its sixth year and Burtenshaw's excitement hasn't waned, thanks to the diversity to be found at the event.

"You see young people in head-to-head conversations with the older generation -- 65 and up," she said. "So, on one hand, you have a lady who has been knitting all her life and she's connecting with a young girl who is covered with tattoos or piercings."

According to Burtenshaw, this is the only such festival that has a live-steam engine.

"You'll see a guy who is in his late 70s with a live-steam engine, and then you'll see a young guy with him who has been inspired to take over this piece of engineering that the older generation has preserved," she said.

For more information, visit steampunkfestivalcoldwater.com or call 705-715-6950.

mshahid@postmedia.com

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