Photos: Heidi Csernak
Summer might be officially over, but the greatest and most exciting events are just getting started! Autumn is an inspiring time of year as South Eastern Ontario’s picturesque landscapes and gorgeous locales take on a vivid spectrum of warm colours. The cool breeze carries with it the whisper of a season’s end – but also promises a wonderful array of new beginnings.
Rather than mourn the loss of another summer, there are several captivating ways to embrace autumn and experience the best the season has to offer. Chief among them is a particularly brilliant and spectacular evening event presented by Parks of the St.Lawrence.
Pumpkinferno is an artistically fueled annual event held at Upper Canada Village, in Morrisburg Ontario. The event offers visitors a breathtaking assortment of handcrafted pumpkin-lanterns, that transform the village into a vibrant and interactive visual journey like none other. When we received an invitation to attend the opening night of Pumpkinferno 2017 – Heidi and I were beyond excited. We were going to be experiencing the event for the first time, and during this year’s premiere no less!
Without further delay, let’s get right into our (mostly) spoiler-free account of Pumpkinferno 2017!
The Elegant Hospitality of Willard’s Hotel
Our evening began with a dinner reservation at the famous and historic Willard’s Hotel. Situated on Queen Street, and just a few steps from Crysler Store, Willard’s is a wondrous and historically significant venue that once operated near Prescott. The building was first constructed in the late 1700’s and remained a hotel until the 1850’s. Today, Willard’s Hotel continues to welcome travellers and visitors alike; operating as an authentic time-period restaurant with an inviting and rustic Victorian charm.
The area where we were seated, was towards the back of the main floor beside a welcoming hearth. The dimly lit area had a wonderful ambience and was decorated to coincide with Pumpkinferno. The special menu we were presented with had some delectable items to choose from. Heidi decided to go with the oven roasted chicken breast, which came with a delicious mushroom sauce, roast potatoes and root vegetables. I could not resist the pork tenderloin with peppercorn sauce.
The food was beyond amazing – and more akin to an authentic homemade meal. The meat was tender, the vegetables were fresh – and the potatoes were roasted to perfection. The peppercorn sauce was rich and had just the right amount of zip – while the mushroom “gravy” that accompanied Heidi’s dish was the perfect companion for the tender and flavourful chicken.
For dessert, we were presented with a number of tantalizing options. In the end, Heidi had the apple rhubarb crumble, and I delved into the sweetest and most delectable British pudding I have ever encountered, which was absolutely drenched in warm toffee syrupy goodness.
Night Descends Upon the Village
After an amazing dinner, we left Willard’s Hotel to realize that a gorgeous cobalt dusk was settling upon the village. We did a bit of exploring around the Hotel as the night approached. The waning daylight had begun to reveal the illuminated displays that we would soon be observing on our much-anticipated tour. Not wanting to spoil too much – we soon met up with our guide: Susan LeClair – the Manager of Customer Service & Corporate Communications with Parks of the St. Lawrence.
It was time to begin our journey through Pumpkinferno!
Enter a World of Autumn Fantasy!
Susan led us back to the main entrance of Upper Canada Village which was now beneath a darkening sky. The bridge was adorned with a delightful display of lights and jack-o-lanterns each with a uniquely carved visage.
As we passed beneath their glowing grimaces amid the cool autumn twilight, we had the distinct impression that we were walking into something magical. We were taking a step beyond the confines of reality, and into a realm of creativity and eerie fascination.
Standing ever watchful upon the other side of the crossing, was Pumpkinferno’s official greeter and usher: Jack. This wasn’t the last we’d be seeing of Jack – as he and his multiple selves were waiting throughout the village to guide us along the path.
To prevent from spoiling the entire experience, I’ll only highlight but a few of our favourite exhibits. I don’t want to give everything away. I want you, beloved reader, to feel the same level of excitement and wonder that we did – when you first arrive at Pumpkinferno.
Here, There be Dragons
Early on in our journey, we came face to face with a mythical and larger than life creature born of Far Eastern legend and lore. Towering beyond a large tree adorned with lanterns bearing various ancient symbols was an enormous and elaborately crafted dragon!
This legendary creature and her young hatchling (that’s right, TWO dragons!) were among the very first – and absolutely vexing displays we set our eyes upon. We had hardly begun our tour – and were absolutely blown away by these jaw-dropping carvings of epic proportion! Made up of intricately designed pumpkins – these towering giants were simply spellbinding!
Dia de los Muertos
Likely my favourite of the displays was the striking Day of the Dead exhibit. The elaborately crafted Calaveras (skulls) and dazzling dancers dressed in ornate flamenco fashions were simply breathtaking. I could practically hear the jubilant music, smell the tamales – and taste the sugar skulls as I stood in absolute awe of this intricate and elaborate homage to Mexican folklore. Qué hermosas!
Stroll Through an Otherworldly Art Gallery
Another memorable exhibit was the Night at the Gallery display. Here, we observed an eclectic collection recreations representing the masterworks of several famous artists.
Each piece was an affirmation and testament to the creative talent at work by Pumpkinferno’s amazing artists. These fabulous tributes were easily recognizable – but infinitely unique in their own way.
It was truly astounding to see just what could be done by using pumpkins as an artistic medium. My favourite of these re-creations had to be the portrait of Vincent Van Gogh – showing his good ear of course.
A Celebration of Canadian History & Culture
The core theme for this year’s Pumpkinferno was a diverse variety of authentically Canadian cultural and historical representations. They ranged from wildlife to key time periods and other uniquely patriotic icons. From the Fur Trade to the Aurora Borealis there was a consistent and wonderfully familiar narrative at play, deeply entrenched within Canada’s diverse cultural saga.
So much more than Jack-O-Lanterns
At first, without knowing much about Pumkinferno, you might be thinking: “Ok, big deal, it’s a bunch of jack-o-lanterns.” WRONG! It is so much more than that.
This mystical event takes the concept that began as the traditional pumpkin lantern – and takes things to an entirely new level of awesome. After a guided tour of this captivating and inspiring event – I can tell you with absolute confidence – that Pumpkinferno is the most inspiring and memorable event you can experience this fall.
Prior to attending the event I tried to keep a fresh head – and avoided as many spoilers as possible. I wanted to go into this with a blank slate. This story that we’ve created is but a tiny morsel of the immense and incredible spectacle that awaits you – at Upper Canada Village.
I highly recommend that you fill the car with family and friends – and experience it for yourselves! It’s also worth mentioning that you can visit a really cool “fall fair” styled area of the village called Pumpkin Park. Here you will find an array of fun activities for the whole family, as well as a free WI-FI zone where you can share your favourite pictures on social media.
Be sure to tag us in your #Pumpkinferno memories with #GreatWaterway!
Exit Through the Gift Shop
By the end of our experience, we were absolutely blown away. Pumpkinferno far exceeded our expectations and left us with memories that we will not soon forget. We would like to wholeheartedly thank Susan and the entire staff of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission.
Congratulations are also in order – to the numerous artists who poured an immeasurable amount of passion and painstaking dedication into creating this arresting and interactive gallery.
After saying our goodbyes, Heidi and I could not pass up the opportunity to peruse the fabled gift shop, that was filled with vintage finery, irresistible confections – and of course: the ever famous fresh loaves of bread that were nearly picked clean by the time we wrapped up our visit.
Experience the Magic of Pumpkinferno!
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Located along the north shore of the St Lawrence River, the South Eastern Ontario region spans from Cornwall and The Counties to Ontario’s burgeoning wine and craft beer country known as Prince Edward County and the Bay of Quinte. Along the shores of these waterways, you’ll find fascinating history, quaint villages, inspiring art, live theatre and gastronomic delights. No matter how you choose to experience it, South Eastern Ontario offers some of the best places to visit in Ontario.