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Issue 12 (Nov/Dec 1999): Toronto Fest

report toronto kite festival

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#1 Elain Genser

Elain Genser


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Posted 01 December 1999 - 04:00 AM

Photos by Ron & Sandra Gibian

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Unfortunately we are not often able to fly with each other because of the great distances. In addition, there aren't that many major festivals, and even fewer International Festivals. Verdun has been the biggy, and while I missed this year's edition, they were quite wonderful, with an unmistakable Gallic flavour that made them rather unique on the North American Circuit. Unfortunately rumour has it that this year's Rendez-vous will be the last one.

But Verdun was last June, and here I was one day in September, cruising through upcoming kite festival lists, and lo and behold, I see that they are putting on an International Kite event in Toronto, Ontario. I had counted my little coloured bits of Canadian funny money, including all my loonies and twonies, and still couldn't come up with enough bucks to make it to the AKA at Muncie. So why not get super nationalistic and head for the big event in Toronto where accommodations would be free (since I have many non-kite friends and relatives there). I have sort of wanted to see them again (it's been at least ten years since I was there) but it would take more than just 'people' to get me moving. A kite festival provided the right incentive. My cousins said, "Sure, you can stay with us, we'll even feed you." So I searched out a cheap charter flight and ended up using my airmiles to rent a small car.

I packed the kite coffin full of goodies and I was on my way!!! Arriving late at night, I was delighted to find that they had upgraded me to a minivan at no extra cost. They then let me loose on the freeway to find my way to my cousins. I later discovered that few normal Torontonians would ever CONSIDER driving on the freeway after dark. Fortunately I found that out after I had negotiated my way to my destination. My cousins had a stiff scotch waiting for me. I needed it.

This kite festival is rather unique. Six years ago the Toronto Kitefliers were already holding an annual small club fun fly down on the city's waterfront. The executive were approached by businessmen in the Chinese community who wanted to sponsor a festival that would appeal to families, and had some foundation in Chinese culture. The Mandarin Club of Toronto, which already ran the big Dragon Boat Race festival in the city would be the financial and volunteer support with TKF running the kite show of the festival, choosing the international guests, and MC'ing the event.

An international theme was developed where different Pacific Rim country kite teams would be sponsored each year to send a team to Toronto. Each country would be invited back each year minus the airfare. In addition, one North American guest team from Canada or USA would be flown in as well as several invited teams from the Province of Quebec. In past years Art Ross of Vancouver, Masaaki Modegi of Japan, Abdul Halib of Malaysia, and others from Korea and Hong Kong have filled out the guest list. The Toronto Kitefliers, which acts as the parent club of several Ontario region clubs would fill in the rest of the program.

Four fields are set up. A sport kite demo field, large kite field for TKF and invited International teams, a family flying field to try and contain some 450 odd children's kites and a Hong Kong style kite fighting competition area. That's right, glass cutting line.

This year would be the 5th festival. There are many corporate sponsors for this event including Air Canada as title sponsor.

Asia is always well represented, this year including a repeat performance by master kiteflier from Taiwan, Mr. Hsieh, and from Mr. Wang of Weifang, China. This year, invitations were also extended to European and American fliers.

The weekend started Friday with a Press luncheon in Chinatown, hosted by the Mandarin Club. We set up a display of our kites, and were warmly welcomed by members of the Chinese community. My minivan came in handy as I pitched in to help transport people and kites to the various venues. General Motors, another one of the sponsors, had provided two minivans, with kite festival logos all over them, and I would sandwich myself between them so I wouldn't get lost as they whizzed around the city. Fortunately, I was also driving a GM minivan!

We ended up down in the beach area of Toronto's Lake Ontario shoreline flying kites for Toronto's media. A beautiful spot for all the International teams to fly for the first time in Toronto skies with the downtown skyline forming the background. All the visitors were truly impressed by the shoreline views of the city, and we finished up in kiterly fashion with beers at an outdoor waterside bistro.

Saturday, my van became the main 'workhorse' vehicle, transporting HUGE canvas bags full of kites and inflatables to Milliken Park, way on the outskirts of the city. I was a bit surprised at the small size of the two fields. I must admit I am spoiled. Coming from the West Coast I am used to vast open beach spaces to fly on. But these easterners and Europeans sure know how to fly in a restricted space!!! By west coast standards winds were not terrific but more than adequate to keep us happy all weekend.

The flying fields were roped off, so that the huge crowds of spectators stayed outside of the flying zones. There were hordes of young Chinese teenagers running around setting up tables and sun shelter tents for all of the kiteflier guests. Outside the roped off fields the children (and adults!) flew the small plastic freebee kites that were being given out by Air Canada. These kites did prove to be a bit of a hazard as they sometimes floated over the main flying fields, their virtually invisible plastic fishing line occasionally bringing down the large kites.

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While it was not a big guest list, the invited guests more than filled the field. Team No Limit sent Ollie Stelling and Christian Hoberg from Germany. They came with their wonderful inflatable Sesame Street characters, as well as many line laundry carrying kites, including their incredible flashing compact disc line. I had met them both at Long Beach, and we had a delightful reunion. I have never seen two kitefliers work as hard as these guys, unless it was the Belgians, who never seemed to stop putting up even more interesting kites in the sky.

The husband and wife team of Jos and Kaatje Valke from Belgium presented an incredible spectacle of large inflatables and kites. By the weekend's end they still hadn't flown everything they brought. The colours in their kites were outstanding. It turned out they do not use ripstop at all, but use nylon, which has a greater colour depth. It also allows them a greater choice of material, and they often incorporated printed material in their creations. Kaatje designs the inflatables, and Jos figures out the construction. They both do the sewing. She also designs and makes the many wonderful little line laundry creatures hanging from one of their wonderful lifters. Talking to them, I discovered that most of the cutting for these huge efforts is done on their bathroom floor. European homes are typically much smaller than ours, and it is astounding to hear the stories from the Belgians and Germans about the small spaces in which they create their enormous creations.

Sandy and Ron Gibian's giant Gem kites were spectacular as usual. Ron flew a new series he had debuted last year at the festival in Avi, Nevada. He also put up a wonderful display of banners. He and Sandy did a spectacular show on the demonstration field and their effervescent good humour contributed greatly to the festive spirit.

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Mr. Kin Kan Hsieh with his son from Taiwan seemed to have a never ending selection of Asian kites on the field . He made just about every style of Chinese kite imaginable. His dragon kite, with 250 pieces was truly spectacular. However, one had to watch out for him, as he often flew enthusiastically on plastic fishing line! Mr. Wang from Weifang also brought a wide selection of kites by various Weifang manufacturers, and these kites were for sale. The crowd seemed to be a pretty partisan bunch, saving their real enthusiasm for the Taiwanese twosome. Mr. Hsieh was a charmer in his blue jeans, kite badge encrusted vest, and pin encrusted cap. He spotted my Vancouver Island badges immediately and had to have one, removing one of his own Taiwanese badges to trade for it.

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Sport kiters were well represented by demonstrations by Lam Hoac, winner of the 1999 Masters Ballet at Muncie this year, and the pairs team Aerial Assault, consisting of Drew Davidson and Mike Lin, winners of the 1999 Master Pairs at Muncie.

Quebec kitefliers were there en masse. Yves Laforest entertained with his amazing collection of giant kites. Lucien Gibeault, an old timer who is revered in Quebec for his long history of kitemaking, steadily presented a wide range from his collection. Of course, Robert Trepanier was there with his grotesque creations, and he is now playing with quad lines on his kites, getting his strange personalities to misbehave in the sky...teasing the other kites and generally being rude! In addition, there was a huge contingent of
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exciting Quebecois who came for the weekend event. Team S.T.A.F.F. members Jean Lemire, Jean Lamoureux and the father daughter team of Tanya and Bob Adams showed off their sport kite magic, and I finally got to meet 'Tricktail', a regular on the #kites chatline who I had been chatting with for over a year. Carl Bigras, of Ottawa known locally for his aerial photography, unveiled his huge 'hot air balloon' kite and battled for sky space with Alain Lalonde's incredibly long cobra.

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An interesting event that is becoming popular at festivals with sponsors, is the Corporate sponsored Rokkaku battle. The kites, made by Richard Gareau, sporting their corporate logo's, compete for the "General Motors Cup". On Sunday the winner takes on the rest of the TKF and International pros to compete for the "Air Canada Cup".

Saturday night the guests were hosted at a 12 course Chinese banquet. As is typical at Chinese banquets, there were games and competitions for all the guests that proved to be quite a lot of fun. Gifts were given to all the special guests, and I was surprised to find myself included among the recipients. While I was an 'uninvited' surprise visitor (and a mere western Canadian to boot) the Toronto kitefliers treated me royally, including me in all the special events laid out for the International guests. Made me wonder where they thought Vancouver Island was!

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Sunday was another beautiful day. There was time to fly, time to visit with other kitefliers, and time to wander around the more than fifty booths set up around the kitefield. There were food booths, kite booths, and many information booths put up by the businesses that had helped sponsor the festival. We wound up the weekend with an East Indian meal in one of Toronto's colourful ethnic neighbourhoods. The Europeans were fascinated by the 'multi-cultural' meals that were a feature of the weekend, wondering what 'Canadian' cuisine was all about. They understood 'Belgian' cooking, 'German' cooking, even 'American' cooking, but were fascinated that in a country that honoured the uniqueness of its diverse population, Canadians took multi ethnic foods for granted. It was with many regrets we said our farewells.

It was an excellent weekend, and an extremely well run festival. Hats off to Don Brownridge, Dr. Skye Morrison, Dr. Merv Cooper for their wonderful organization. Special thanks to ex-west coasters Dr. Michelle Welsford and Gary Mark (who were my navigators for most of the weekend) and all the Toronto kitefliers for putting on a world class event.
Elain Genser
nanaimo b.c.

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