Wee Ones and Grown-Ups Back For Another Fun-tastic Children’s Festival!

Ahhh, soak it up Ottawa families! It was a beautiful batch of sunny Spring days filled with world-class entertainment for your wee ones as Ottawa’s most family fun-tastic event, the Children’s Festival, returned to turn LeBreton Flats Park into Canada’s biggest daycare. If you were waiting for the O-train or out for a morning jog by the river you may have heard a youthful giggle or 200. Plenty of laughter and smiles were shared this past weekend when busloads of children scooted, stomped and scampered both out and in the War Museum for the 33rd edition of the festival.

“Every child has the right to be an individual, to be proud of who they are each and every day, to know that their world has no limitations especially where imagination is concerned,” said festival Artistic Producer Catherine O’Grady in her welcome message to attendees found in the event’s program.

“Opening up our community’s young hearts and minds to creative excellence has been the job of Ottawa’s Children’s Festival for more than 30 years,” she adds and a quick flip through the rest of the pages would show there would be much to keep those imaginations racing at Lightning McQueen like speeds. Ka-chow!

If Canada as a whole had that friendly grandfather with the warm grin ready to brighten your day with a song or two, then he’s got to be Fred Penner. As one of the country’s most beloved beacons in children’s entertainment, he has been on a mission to bring the healing abilities of music to the masses for over four decades now. Those (like this writer) who’d sit wide-eyed as a child to watch Fred Penner’s Place are now grown and bringing their kids or grandkids to singalong to tunes like “This Old Man”, “Sandwhiches” and a certain song about a certain cat coming back the very next day. You may have heard it?

“It’s going into another zone it seems,” Penner told Ottawa Life last year when asked about the multi-generational audience that now shows up to his concerts.

“I was moving into some level of retirement. Then all of a sudden it turned the corner and that generation started growing up and I started playing the bars and universities from coast to coast. People now saw me in a new light, that I was still relevant to some degree. From my point of view, I was still desirous in wanting to connect to the audience. I found that there was more to be said, more to be communicated and the value of this work was not finished yet.”

Penner, who spent some of his own childhood not far from the festival grounds growing up in Hull, delighted with ten performances over the five days. If the kiddies were tuckered out from climbing the outdoor Altitude Gym, whooping it up at a Mad Hatter Tea Party, bouncing up and down on a Springfree Trampoline or rolling around in an enormous Zorb, Fred found a way to mine every nugget of energy they had left. His concerts don’t go very long before they fill the gap between stage and seats with dancing little feet.

Other Canadian acts included the hilarious Kif-Kif Sisters (who looked like they’d be right at home on a 1920s vaudeville stage), the Machine de Cirque and Montreal’s Theatre Puzzle. New this year was an offsite adventure to Remic Rapids Park for Swan River, a production by Ottawa’s own Skeleton Key Theatre which used the landscape itself as their stage.

Of course, the Ottawa Children’s Festival is always a globe-treking event with O’Grady and her team always on the look out for new, diverse acts to join the more homegrown talent. This year, your festival passports could be stamped in Scotland with The Secret Life of Suitcases, a high-spirited production that rejoiced in more handmade creativity in this digital age. Then it was off to Demark to meet Boxy George, a non-verbal puppet who thought he knew his way around the world until life took one of its unexpected turns. You could then get whisked away with Australia’s Bernie, a charming puppy that took kids roughly three seconds to fall in love with while watching him in the show New Owner.

Of course, the festival’s welcoming arms are not just open to the wide-array of talent that visits each year. O’Grady says that “we take great pride in our community and we celebrate our diversity. We proudly welcome hundreds of new children from war torn countries to the safety of our community and happily offer them the common language of art, of music, of theatre, of dance; imaginative opportunities for children no matter what their cultural context.”

The Ottawa Children’s Festival continues today and tomorrow at LeBreton Flats Park and the Canadian War Museum. Full programs and other information can be found on their website.