Ottawa has got to be the festival capital of the world, and we’re heading into festival season. We have non-stop, overlapping, frequently obscure, outdoor festivals throughout all the months with tolerable weather. You name it, we’ve got a festival for it.
This weekend there were at least two that I know of: The Victoria Day Festival at Carling and Preston, and the Sheep-Shearing Festival just down the road at the Experimental Farm.
I don’t know why anybody would go to the VD Festival. Seriously. Look at the advertising. They don’t give anybody any reason to want to go to this festival. Their advertising poster does little more than identify their sponsors. I happen to know they have a ferris wheel and some other kiddy rides and food booths, which isn’t enough to entice me down there, but maybe a family with kids might go if the poster went out on a limb and hinted at some fun.
I did go to the Sheep Shearing Festival, because the Experimental Farm is the very best thing in Carlington and practically makes up for the fact that we still don’t have a coffee shop or a grocery store in the neighbourhood.
Besides, when you really think about it, aren’t you just a little bit curious about how they shear sheep?
Knitters are an interesting breed. Lots of us start with yarn and needles, and then we start working our way backwards. We want to dye our own yarn. We want to spin and weave. Eventually we develop an urge to raise sheep so we can shear the wool ourselves*.
In my case, the buying of the loom seemed to forestall the backwards progression towards total yarn self-sufficiency. The loom is in my basement. I have never used it, because it’s not the kind of thing you can just start using. You have to figure it out, and it looks really complicated. It’s big, too. At any rate, it has kept me anchored at the stage that precedes sheep acquisition, so it’s probably a good thing.
I had no idea what to expect at the sheep shearing fetival, other than maybe some sheep shearing.
The first thing I saw when I arrived was a border collie agility competition! I loved this. The border collies loved it too. My dog Sam was a border collie mix, and they’re so smart and focused. They have tremendous energy and agility and they love a challenge. They took turns running an obstacle course through tunnels and over see-saw things, weaving through posts and jumping over hurdles. (It was hard photographing them: those dogs move fast!)
After the agility competition, I checked out the knitting, spinning and weaving demonstration. The Ottawa Knitting Guild was there, and they had some interesting samples of their work. For example, they had a woman who knits using plastic bags as her yarn (see the picture on the right? Those were knit with plastic bags). You can knit with just about anything. There was a book open to a page in which a Waterloo woman had knit a functional boat. Here it is.
Then I went to the sheep-shearing demonstration. First they clip the sheep’s nails and give her a drink of medicine, then they shear. They try to get the coat off in one large clump because it’s worth more that way. Guess how much a sheep’s coat is worth?**
The sheep didn’t seem to enjoy the shearing much, but I think they liked being all naked afterwards.
After the sheep-shearing, I went to the sheepdog herding demonstration. I always thought the farmer just trusted the herd to the dog, and the dog took care of the herd and kept them from wandering off while the farmer milked the cows or something. But actually, the dog is the sheep-herder’s tool, and they work closely together. The sheep-herder controls the dog via voice commands and whistles, and the dog controls the herd according to the sheep-herder’s instructions. The dog never takes his eyes off the sheep or his ears off the human.
My last stop was the border collie fly-ball demonstration. The dogs ran relay races over hurdles to retrieve balls from a wooden thing. At one point they gathered six kids from the audience and had the kids compete against the dogs.
The Sheep-Shearing Festival continues tomorrow – I highly recommend it. Take kids if you have some, but they’re not essential. The cost is $13 per family or $6 for an adult and $3 for a kid, but I accidentally got in for free. I wasn’t trying to sneak in, but I guess I did by approaching from the west, at The Driveway and Morningside.
*Or maybe it’s just me who wants to raise a sheep.
**A sheep’s coat typically weighs about three pounds, and fetches about $2.70 on the market. It costs about $5 to pay someone to shear a sheep. The sheep are shorn primarily for health reasons. Sheep are raised for their meat: there’s no money in wool.