CANADA'S best festival? That would be the Pictou Lobster Carnival, which topped the voting in the WestJet online competition for 2010. The Calgary Stampede? Oh, yes, here it is in fourth place.
Pictou is a charming, historic Nova Scotia seaport with a population of almost 4,000, just across the Northumberland Strait from Prince Edward Island. Its upset victory suggests that you don't have to be a big city to throw a big party; it also suggests that people in Pictou are fiercely proud of their festival and have access to computers.
This season, the Pictou Lobster Carnival runs this weekend, July 8 to 10, marking the end of fishing season with three days of seemingly non-stop lobster dinners, music and special events.
Dining on the world's freshest lobster is a major draw, but there's much more to see and do. Since the first carnival in 1934, the event has evolved into a showcase of Maritime culture, music, food and the province's Scottish heritage.
At the end of fishing season, coastal celebrations are all about lobster trap pulling, lobster banding competitions and boat races. Trap-pulling is the maritime equivalent of chuckwagon racing: lobster fishermen scramble against the clock to get their traps into the water, then haul them out and stack them on deck using nothing but their own strong backs. For spectators' convenience, the action unfolds in Pictou harbour, just off the wharf.
As for lobster-banding, putting heavy elastic bands around a lobster's claws may not be steer-wrestling, but it's not for the faint-hearted, either. (That tasty meat in a lobster claw? It's all muscle, and the lobster knows how to use it.)
Nearly all the carnival's attractions are presented along the town's beautifully rebuilt waterfront, so it's easy to take in several attractions without much travel -- a real bonus for seniors and families with small children.
Music and more music is also key to the carnival's success. For three days it's bagpipes, rock bands, children's entertainers, bagpipes, folk music, fiddlers, bagpipes and more. The music continues all evening along the waterfront, and into the night at the beer garden. An old-time street dance is another annual favourite.
The Lobster Carnival parade is not to be missed. It has a relaxed, small-town feel, and Pictou's narrow streets bring the parade close to the spectators. People on the floats shout out to their friends in the crowd and toss treats to the children. Bring your own seating and be early, because the parade is a big attraction.
For the kids, the carnival is three days of fun and entertainment. A small, travelling midway comes to town, there's face-painting, an appearance by Brad the Balloon Guy, a children's parade and a soapbox derby.
Every Boomer, and every Boomer's parent, will almost certainly find the dream car of their youth at the antique and classic car show.
More of the don't-miss spectacles for the whole family include action-packed bed races, a dog show, another instalment of the Amazing Race Scavenger Hunt, and a fabulous display of fireworks at sundown.
Watch pictoulobstercarnival.ca for updates.
Runners and joggers should bring their shoes for the annual YMCA Run for the Lobster. It's a five-and 10-kilometre race on a relatively flat course with one moderate hill. Register the morning of the run.
For those who prefer to stroll and sightsee, Pictou Renaissance (a group dedicated to attracting new residents; pictouliving.com) is putting together a self-guided walking tour. The town is rich in history and blessed with more than its share of graceful Victorian architecture, including handsome hand-crafted stone buildings. (To preview some local landmarks, go to www.parl.ns.ca/pictoutour.)
Many of Pictou's finest accommodations for visitors are architectural gems: lovingly preserved vintage homes and converted historical buildings such as the 1810 Consulate Inn, a sturdy stone house that later served as a U.S. Consulate. (See townofpictou.ca. Under Visitors Guide, click on Accommodations.)
Without question, the main attraction of the Pictou waterfront is the full-sized replica of the ship Hector that carried the first wave of Scottish settlers to New Scotland in 1773 (see the website at shiphector.ca).
Next to the ship is the Hector Quay Interpretive Centre, which presents a moving account of the Hector passengers' harrowing voyage. The original Hector, a worn-out cargo ship meant for European coastal waters, set sail with 170 Highland passengers who faced a weeks-long ordeal of disease, storms and hunger.
-- Postmedia News
WestJet festival contest winners
About 200 festivals were nominated in 2010. The Pictou Lobster Carnival won with 770 votes; second place finisher was Oktoberfest, Kitchener-Waterloo with 542; third was Seafest in Yarmouth, N.S. with 439 votes; in fourth place, the Calgary Stampede, 391 votes; and in 5th place the Shambhala Music Festival in Salmon River, B.C. with 288 votes.
Adopt a lobster
For just $5, you can give a promising young lobster a good start in life.
The Northumberland Fisheries Museum in Pictou operates a hatchery which sees tiny lobsters through the early stages of growth until they can burrow safely into the sea bed when they're released.
Life is hard for lobster hatchlings in the wild. Through the first three stages of their development, they drift helplessly in ocean currents, and about 99.9 per cent of them become snacks for fish.
The hatchery greatly improves these odds. Lobster fishermen support it for practical reasons of their own; donations to the Adopt-A-Lobster program also help cover the costs.
Donors can name their lobster, and they receive an adoption certificate showing the name, plus the date and location of the youngster's release into the wild.
During the summer, visitors are welcome at The Hatchery on the waterfront, and they can release their adoptee into Pictou harbour from the hatchery's wharf.
Single adoptions cost $5, a couple can adopt two for $7, and there's a $10 family plan. Last year, nearly 2,000 lobsters were adopted.