Every September for the past 16 years, artists and artisans from Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding Algoma district gather along the Sylvan Valley to display their talents and crafts. This year will be no different. The annual Sylvan Circle will take place on Saturday, September 17th from 9:00am – 5:00pm.
The Sylvan Circle tour first hit the road in 2001, after an organizing committee formed the year prior, with the aim of highlighting and promoting regional talent. “We have exceptional talent in the region, including in Sault Ste. Marie, Elliot Lake, Bruce Mines, Echo Bay, and so on. The Sylvan Circle allows artists to gain exposure, sell their products, and be recognized for their talents,” says Errol Caldwell, who has been with the committee since its inaugural year and is the current Chair.
While the tour was modest in its first year, it has grown in popularity, attracting anywhere between 1,500 – 2,000 people in the one day event. “The tour has been picking up speed ever since.”
Besides attracting art enthusiasts and shoppers looking to find unique, one-of-a-kind holiday gifts, the Sylvan Circle continues to entice some of the Algoma districts best painters, drawers, photographers, woodworkers, jewellers, glassworkers, potters, fabric makers, and more. “There are no exclusions on what artists are allowed to display. We showcase quite the variety of talent. There is a screening and selection process in the spring of each year when we do a call out for artists. Not all who apply will get in. But that’s not a judgement of an artist’s talent. We try to diversify what the tour offers each year. We don’t want it to get stale. So if you’ve been selected this year to display, you may not get selected next year.”
Over 50 artists are on display each year.
The self-guided free tour features 12 stops – 10 community centres and two studios – and roughly 100 kilometres of driving along the backroads and hilly countryside of Algoma on Highways 638 and 17 East. Breathtaking views and the fall colours make the tour a one-of-a-kind experience along the northern shore.
And stop number 10 on the map, Johnson Township Community Centre in Desbarats, Ontario, will be boasting more than just crafts and artwork this year. The organizing committee teamed up with the Rural Agri-Innovation Network’s (RAIN) successful Eat Algoma festival for “a great Saturday outing with good eats”, making this year’s Sylvan Circle unlike previous years.
Eat Algoma, now in its third year, is a food festival fundraiser which celebrates the annual harvest and allows participants to enjoy local, homegrown food, sourced here in the Algoma region. From 12:00pm – 5:00pm, the festival will be serving up the likes of pulled pork and bison sliders, caramelized leek and goat cheese tarts, pumpkin seed brownies, fish soup, fair trade coffee, and more from various food vendors. Live music from The Frantic Young and The Wildman Sisters, family activities, and free ice cream samples are also plated for the festival, which draws in crowds of over 400 people.
For Caldwell, partnering with RAIN and Eat Algoma made sense. “We’re hoping that by bringing the two events together, we will be able to bring in more people. This was a genius marketing idea. We’ve each been supporting each other’s marketing campaigns and hoping that by doing this, we’re raising awareness about each other’s event. We’re hoping to see record turn out this year because of Eat Algoma.”
According to David Thompson, Project Coordinator at RAIN, food has always been a large part of the Sylvan Circle but never had an official stop on the tour. “Local food has always been part of the Sylvan Circle tour with the number of farmers’ markets and roadside stands along the route. Both of our organizations felt this year it would be great to amplify the connections between local art and local food. It also provided an opportunity to bring Eat Algoma to the farms.”
Plus, bringing Eat Algoma to Desbarats is allowing the food festival to test out a new locale. Since its first year, the festival has changed locations. Organizers are currently looking for a permanent site to house the popular farm-to-fork fest. Previous locations include downtown Sault Ste. Marie and the Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre.
Tickets for Eat Algoma are $15.00 for adults and $10.00 for children (ages three – 12) and can be purchased at any ScotiaBank location in Sault Ste. Marie and Blind River. Those who cannot purchase a ticket in advance are asked to RSVP online.
(feature image: Stone carvings by PHIL JONES, a First Nations artist from Garden River, Ontario, whose art represents Woodland Legends and Teachings. (photography courtesy of Sheri Minardi)