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A giant, joyful day at Wellington Pumpkinfest

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
It could be said the annual County pumpkin festival is all about giant pumpkins, but without question, it is also about its traditionally joyful parade.

The Prince Edward County Pumpkinfest saw thousands line Wellington’s Main Street to take in its well-loved and much-enjoyed parade Saturday morning, and it did not disappoint.

While a lake breeze kept the air cool, the sun shone all morning ensuring a splendid, full day of activities, games, festivities, food, vendors, animals and music. And, of course, there were a few pumpkins – especially the giant kind.

County mayor Steve Ferguson said it was wonderful to see so many contestants come from Quebec and rural Ontario to participate in the event’s weigh-off, noting the pretty serious cash prizes up for grabs.

“This is a terrific turnout, a perfect day for Pumpkinfest in Wellington,” said Ferguson. “I regard this event as probably the high point in the Prince Edward County social calendar.”

Mostly, the day was about having fun, seeing big smiles, and generally having a good time, while also enjoying the beautiful autumnal and harvest season.

Different zones were set-up in and around Wellington park incorporating a host of things to see and do, and experience.

The lawns at CML Snider School hosted a kids’ zone, Pumpkinfest merchandise, a kids’ vegetable sculpture contest, face painting, a balloon artist, a petting zoo, and a junior firefighters challenge. Kids’ lawn games included harvest bowling, pumpkin sweat ‘n roll, pumpkin games, ringers, gourd tic-tac-toe, a corn toss and a sack throw.

The park also hosted a selection of vendors as well as various musical entertainment in the gazebo, including the popular Fade Kings.

Friends of Wellington library hosted its annual pumpkin book sale; the Wellington Heritage Museum sold bulbs, the Wellington Community Market had a few stalls set up in the Wellington United Church parking lot, and the Anglican church had a craft sale and show on its lawn.

Pumpkinfest, now in its 27th year, is a celebration of everything pumpkin and was celebrated in jubilant style by locals and visitors alike, some of whom were experiencing Wellington’s expertise of putting on these types of village events for the first time.

Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith reminisced about the festival’s early humble beginnings.

“I remember when Pumpkinfest was just a dream from a local farmer by the name of Bill Greer, about 29 years ago,” said Smith. “He started this festival and it was pretty small; there were a few people, and then these guys [PEC Pumpkin Growers] got together and brought in pumpkins from all across south-eastern and south-western Ontario and Quebec as well, and it’s become a great tradition.”

There were pumpkins, pumpkins and more pumpkins, some free for the taking, others giant wondrous treasures, along with pumpkin pie for eating, pumpkin beanies for wearing, where the streetscape became a sea of orange for a time.

As the warm sunshine was replaced by big black clouds by afternoon (although it remained dry), the traditional annual pumpkin weigh-off was underway.

It welcomed the traditional giant pumpkins, along with other giant vegetables, such as giant tomatoes and carrots, and sunflowers, along with gourd varieties, including long (or tall) gourds from growers across the County, and Ontario and Quebec.

Hosted by long-time member of the Prince Edward County Pumpkin Growers and organizer of the event, John Vincent shared information and stories and interesting facts about how these giant veggies are grown as the official weighing got underway.

Many gathered to watch the weigh-off, where Vincent noted crowds were back to normal after a few quieter COVID-19 pandemic years, combined with a good turnout of giant vegetable contenders this year.

“Here in Ontario, I believe we now have six or seven weigh-offs and we are all competing for the growers pumpkins and squash to come out to,” Vincent said. “And we are all competing for prize money of course, and I think we have had a really, really good turnout here.”

Total prize monies offered this year for top place winners totalled $17,500, with $3,000 awarded for first prize for the heaviest giant pumpkin of the day.

This year, the heaviest giant of them all went to Todd Kline’s effort for his 1,565 pound giant pumpkin. Second place went to Dan Pitura at 1,380 pounds, and third went to Dave Dudley at 1,350.

Vincent notes Wellington’s weigh-off is the last of the season in Ontario and this year, it had the largest turnout of any weigh-off in Canada.

“It is a world-wide sport, there are 150 weigh-offs across the world, it’s quite an intensive hobby.”

Vincent also mentioned that none of the giant vegetables grown are genetically modified, where only heritage seeds are used.

Referring to how the growers achieve the magnificent specimens, Vincent said, “It’s not rocket science, but it almost is; but it’s certainly anything anybody can do.”

The final full results of the weigh-off will be posted on the Prince Edward County Pumpkinfest website in due course, at pecpumpkinfest.com

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