There was a time in Holyrood when, for a few weeks each summer, the waters teemed with squid, and all hands would take to their boats to make the most of it while the getting was good.
Though squid is less abundant these days, it still plays a star role, and more so this year, during the 25th anniversary of the Holyrood Squid Festival.
“The harbour used to be full of squid during July and August,” says Mayor Gary Goobie. “Holyrood used to supply the boats on the Grand Banks with bait (made from squid). Of course that became a market here. It was a lucrative industry and a lot of local residents worked in that industry in the early days and that’s what sustained the community for many, many years.”
Because of the local bait fishery, entrepreneur Jack Carroll started the province’s first mechanical cold storage in the Conception Bay South town.
Goobie was a member of the town council when the festival first got off the ground in 1988.
“I’m still involved in it and I love it. We get a lot of visitors from all over, and a lot of residents who have moved away look forward to planning their vacations around the SquidFest.”
The festival opens today and runs until July 21.
Steve Martin, the town’s director of recreation and community events, says the Squid Festival has been freshened up this year.
With a new logo and different marketing, the plan is to turn the event into a quality festival that’s competitive and on par with other festivals in the province.
“There should be changes every couple of years because you don’t want to have the same thing year after year,” he acknowledges.
But at the same time there are events that festivalgoers identify with. They have become tradition. In this case it’s the annual squid race on Maher’s River and the Holyrood beach party, set for Saturday, featuring the Masterless Men, Connemara and Rick and the Romans.
“Last year we probably had 600 or 700 people at the beach party, the highest attendance they’ve ever seen,” Martin points out. “This year we’re really hoping to step it up again, aiming for 900 to 1,000.”
During the past few years the festival has lost some of its squid flavour and the SquidFest committee is working to bring that back.
This year all food vendors on site are required to sell calamari rings, there’s a new squid-eating competition called Squid Your Face Off, and booths at all events will include squid merchandise in their wares.
Stuffed Squid isn’t a meal, but a 50-50 draw, where the stuffings are removed from a toy squid and replaced with cash; and the outdoor movie event, introduced last year, has been renamed SquidReel.
“Our tagline is Fun For Squids Of All Ages, so we really need to cover all demographics. This year we’re using a five-day setup instead of a full week and we’re targeting all age groups over the five days.”
Adding art is another way to open the festival up to a wider demographic.
“Not everybody likes Newfoundland music, so if you don’t like that, then maybe you like art,” Martin says. “Trying to incorporate all the different arts is important for a festival, and I was really excited to have both visual arts and drama and musical talent. The only thing I think we’re missing is a bit of culinary art, but you take it one year at a time.”
Unfortunately the drama portion of this summer’s festival, a play called “Goin’ Troutin’ Da’mar” had to be cancelled due to a cast member’s illness.
However, SquidFest’s inaugural art show will open at The Hat Ballroom July 19 and run through the weekend.
The exhibit will feature a variety of artwork from acrylics and oils to cloth sculpting, rug hooking, sketching and lino cuts. Every half hour artists will give visual demonstrations of various techniques used in their work.
Avalon Artist Group (Rosemary Byrne, Michelle Penney-Rowe, Agnes O’Flaherty, Denise Soper and Jean Walsh) set up the show. The five women met each other while attending related events around the area.
“Recognizing the immense amount of local talent gave us the idea to form and showcase these artists and their work,” Byrne says. “It’s our first show as a group and safe to say the first art show with multi art techniques — all in one room. There are 22-25 artists in the show with approximately 225 running feet of artwork.”
A wall will be set up specifically for pieces 3x4 feet and larger. There’ll be a silent auction, and free draws for an 18x22-inch framed image of squid jigging in Holyrood in the early ’60s.
Classic cars and teens
The Roody classic car show, July 18, is another first for SquidFest, as is the festival’s teen night later that evening. The car show will take place at the Eastern Health Parking lot at 6 p.m.
Teen night starts at 7 p.m. at Salmonier Line Soccer Field.
“A lot of communities and festivals really struggle with planning for the teen age group and we’re guilty of it too,” admits Martin. “But this year we’re doing three hours of paintball and laser tag for teenagers.”
Other new events include Sunrise yoga at 5:15 a.m. July 20, on George Cove Mountain; an outdoor market to be held in conjunction with the July 21 kitchen party; and a “whacky photo booth” where visitors can have My SquidFest 25 photos taken for a small fee.
For additional information on events and times visit www.squidfest.ca.