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Anachronistic movement picking up steam

Fledgling fest embraces medieval times, future worlds

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It's been said that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Then there are those who do learn from history -- and then reimagine, reinvent and relive it while dressed in really cool costumes.

A bunch of them will be converging on Coronation Park this weekend for Winnipeg's first Swords and Sabres Pirate, Steampunk and Renaissance Festival.

The free, family-friendly event takes place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the corner of St. Mary's Road and Taché Avenue and will feature costumes, games, music, dancing, displays, food -- and probably more than one battle involving the titular weaponry.

As festivals go, this one is a bit of an esthetic stew: a mash-up of past and future, history and imagination, chivalrous knights, salty dogs, plundering vikings, and goggle-wearing lovers of all things steam-powered and Victorian.

"There's stuff for a three-year-old and stuff for 80-year-olds," says organizer Michael Paille, 33, a.k.a. swashbuckling Capt. Blood Raven.

Little buccaneers can battle it out with swords and blunderbusses in the safe confines of the Nerf pirate arena and pose for a photo with a Capt. Jack Sparrow impersonator. There will also be a walk-the-plank contest for gutsy scallywags.

Festival-goers will also be able to rub armoured shoulders with nobility from the Middle Ages and otherwise get their medieval on with members from the Barony of Castel Rouge.

Up for a little Norse discourse? Wander over to the viking village, where the Sons of Lugh will be standing by to regale visitors with tales of their own pirate adventure on the Irish Sea and to show off their prowess at "rebated-steel combat."

Anyone who has ever wondered how the technological wonders of the modern world would look and work had folks in the Victorian era envisioned them will want to catch up with the Winnipeg Steampunk Cosplayers.

In case you've been out of the goggles-gears-and-corsets loop, steampunk is the subculture that inspired Justin Bieber's Santa Claus is Coming to Town video. According to the Steampunk Bible, it's "a grafting of Victorian esthetic and punk rock attitude onto various forms of science-fiction culture. It has also been described as "the Industrial Revolution re-imagined with the advantage of modern hindsight."

"My favourite definition is 'If the future was in the past,'" says Athena Kovacs, 29, a member of Winnipeg Steampunk, which will have an information booth at Saturday's festival.

The subculture originated during the late '80s and early '90s as a literary genre, an eclectic mix of science-fiction, fantasy, romance, alternate history and speculative fiction -- usually involving a setting where steam power is used. Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley are often named as major influences.

Steampunk has since expanded to include art, fashion and design that incorporate anachronistic technology and themes.

"It's really gathered, ahem, steam in the past five or so years," says Kovacs, "and you're starting to see it crop up in more mainstream movies." Wild, Wild West, The Time Machine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the new Sherlock Holmes flicks are recent examples, she says.

The Winnipeg group is still "pretty fledgling," Kovacs says, but this fall it will host its first Steampunk ball. The event, dubbed Ratchets and Sprockets and Gears, Oh My, has a Facebook page.

To find the steampunks among the costumed crowd, look for the signature goggles. "If you're living in a world of mad science, safety comes first," says Kovacs, who will be sporting her favourite aristocrat-lady look.

Paille, meanwhile, will be swaggering around Coronation Park with his scurvy crew, The Norwood, decked out in full Capt. Blood Raven regalia. The costume, custom-made by a Florida woman who worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, cost $6,500 and adds another 110 pounds to Paille's five-foot-six-inch frame.

"It's weighted correctly," says the father of two when asked how he can walk, let alone battle for booty (using laser-tag weaponry) aboard a ship at sea, as he recently did at a convention in Florida. A U.S. Supreme Court judge was among the swashbuckling crew.

Such conventions or "ren fairs" are hugely popular in the United States right now, Paille says, especially in coastal states like Florida and California, where they can draw 35,000 people over a weekend.

Being a pirate -- or a knight or a mad scientist -- for even a day is a popular childhood fantasy, but it evidently holds a certain appeal for grown-ups, too.

"It represents the freedom of being out there and not having the stress we have now in life," says Paille, who is expecting around 2,000 people at Saturday's festival. "It's that taking a walk away from reality."

For more information, go to


Swords and Sabres All-Ages Pirate, Steampunk and Renaissance Festival

Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Coronation Park (corner of St. Mary's and Taché)

Free admission

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 5, 2012 C3

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