Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Minerva Ward won’t declare it as such, but she heard from many members that a record may have been set at Saturday’s Peach Celebration on Queen Street.
“I heard that word from several of our merchants,” Ward told The Local Monday. “We had a fantastic turnout, and the weather was so good. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Peach Celebration. Everybody was happy to see it back: the vendors, the merchants, the bands. We’re having a very strong August tourism-wise.”
Indeed, many locals who walked the three blocks to enjoy the music and the street performers and to sample some of the peach delicacies were amazed at the size of the crowd. The Toronto All-Star Big Band, The Tropical Steel Band and Melodie Italiano provided the soundtrack while stilt walker Paulino Pavliuk and juggler Ben Burlind wowed children and adults alike.
A number of farms were selling baskets full of the fuzzy fruit which were being scooped up quickly.
Dave Lepp of Lepp Farms lauded this year’s crop for its robust qualities.
“We had a little challenge with some early weather, but the crop is really good,” he said. “There’s a good sweetness, and we have incredible size. The peaches are larger than usual. Some of that is because there is less fruit on the trees due to our winter. But the flavour has really come along with the heat we’ve had this summer.”
Second generation farmer Michael Kauzlaric of Kauzlaric Farms agreed.
“We had the big rainfall in July,” Kauzlaric explained, “that really helped with sizing. Then the heat came on and helped with colouring and sugar. We’re really excited with the fruit quality this year.”
Kauzlaric was somewhat surprised to see how many people came for the celebration.
“There are so many from outside of Niagara,” he told The Local. “Lots of US bus trips it seems, too. We’ve participated in years past, when we’ve seen visitors from all over. It’s good to see them coming back after COVID.”
Lepp added, “people are wanting to get out to these festivals. It’s great to see people out enjoying life again. I’m loving it.”
The harvest celebration continued with the Peach Festival Sunday at St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church.
Volunteer organizer Terry Choules said the church had more than 100 volunteers helping out, the most ever for the 32nd annual Peach Festival.
The church’s location at the corner of Picton and Wellington Streets serves to attract a lot of those bus tours that Kauzlaric spoke about Saturday.
“We draw so many of them,” Choules said, “because the buses have to come by here before parking at Fort George. And people walk right in front of the church on their way to Queen Street.”
Peach pies were flying out of the back of the trailer about as fast as volunteer Sandra VanderKaay could load them on the edge. Choules added that the white elephant table had more items on it than ever.
“People during COVID were cleaning out their houses when there was nothing else to do,” he explained. “So now, we’re getting all that stuff. I can’t believe how many racks of artwork we have this year.”
According to Choules, the Peach Festival typically brings in about $15,000 in revenue to the church, but looking around at the turnout just past noon Sunday, he was pretty sure they were going to exceed that number.
“We already sold over $3,500 in raffle tickets,” he said, “and all the great prizes have been donated this year. This is the first year we asked the wineries for donations, and they really stepped up.”
Choules was also excited to see the return of American tourists. And it certainly helped the church earn a healthy profit Sunday.
“We can tell we’re seeing an abundance of tourists from the States, just by looking at the money,” he said. “And we’re not giving any exchange rate on the American money, we’re taking it at par. We’ve always had a lot of support from our American friends.”