BY PENNY COLES
Niagara Independent News Association
Organizers of the Virgil Stampede are gearing up for another spectacular celebration over the May long weekend.
It’s the 53rd annual family event since a neighbourhood fireworks display for locals took place in Virgil, and grew to become a popular three-day event drawing families from across the region.
Each year organizers blend a mix of the favourites with some new attractions, and all that was best from last year will be back, says Richard Wall, president of the Virgil Business Association, which stages the event.
The smashing and crashing Demolition Derby, put on by Thrill Show Productions, brings in about 2,000 people Saturday afternoon, says Wall, and will put on another great show this year, with the volunteer-run food booth nearby. Although the company brings teams of drivers, there is an opportunity for locals to participate.
The Royal Canadian Air Cadets will be inside the arena with a glider Saturday and Monday, says Cory Abt, one of the organizers. There will also be physical challenges, games and activities for kids who are interested in learning more about cadets and what they do.
The Kids’ Pavilion will be back, with lots of free entertainment for the youngsters in the crowd. The Ben Show’s high-energy comedy, juggling, unicycling and circus stunts will be performed three times each of the three days. Ben Burland wows audiences and makes people laugh, perfect for a family event. Last year was his first appearance at the stampede, says Wall, “and every time I walked by the Kids’ Pavilion when he was performing, there was lots of hooting and hollering going on. The kids loved it.”
Also back by popular demand is Tim Holland, the funny stunt ventriloquist, for three performances each of the three days in the Kids’ Pavilion.
And Mike London, a veteran at the stampede, will be back to provide an opportunity to interact and learn about some of his reptiles — he brings different ones each year, but usually includes an iguana, a 10-foot python and an alligator, along with an assortment of geckos, chameleons and jumbo tortoises.
Also a favourite in the Kids’ Pavilion will be air-brush face-painting, with a family of artists on hand to make sure the line-up is never too long for youngsters to wait. There is a charge for the face-painting.
The Miniature Horse Show, always a favourite, will be back Monday, beginning at 11 AM, offering competitions in 30 different classes.
There will also be free pony rides for the kids all three days.
The popular nickel sale will be in the Mary Snider Room of the Centennial Arena all three days as well.
The outdoor Vendors Market, open all three days weather permitting, will offer about 15 vendors selling a range of items, including clothing and jewelry, with representatives from several home-based businesses. Also part of the market will be Wolf Starchild, whose business is archery and axe-throwing, which he will demonstrate and will offer members of the public an opportunity to try.
Amusement rides are provided by John Homeniuk all three days, with bracelets for $45 for all-day rides. Bracelets are available at Phil’s valu-mart in Virgil at a discounted price of $35, until Friday, May 17, at 9 PM.
The event will wrap up with the traditional Victoria Day fireworks, Monday at dusk.
This year’s stampede proceeds will help pay for a new skateboard park and a pump track for bicycles, skateboards and scooters, which will be built in stages in the municipal Virgil Sports Park.
The VBA has committed funds to help pay for what will be an expensive project, says Abt, with the build expected to begin this summer.
Gates open at the Virgil Sports Park Saturday, May 18 at 10 AM, Sunday, May 19 at 11 AM, and Monday, May 20 at 10 AM.
Gate admission is $5 for adults Saturday and Monday, free to kids under 10. If a wrist band is purchased in advance, entry is free.
There is no gate fee Sunday.
New this year, says Wall, is increased security at the gates. The property will be fenced, with personnel from a professional security firm — one accustomed to handling major events with large crowds — checking bags as people enter.
There have been some minor incidents with teens in past years, Wall says, so on the advice of the Niagara Regional Police the decision was made to bring in security guards, “to ensure we continue to have a great family event for everyone.”
In the decades since the first stampede, when proceeds went to help fund the first arena at the sports park, the VBA has raised more than $1.2 million to put back into the community.