BY LINDA MONDOUX
They peer out at you from behind store windows and from on high, where they sit on rooftops, snooze in trees and dangle from lampposts. They’re in the parks, in the schoolyards and at the harbour. “They” are what bring thousands of visitors to Meaford each fall, all curious to see what the creative folk in this Georgian Bay community have in store for this year’s version of the wildly popular event known as Scarecrow Invasion.
The fact that Scarecrow Invasion keeps getting bigger and better each year — you never know where you’ll find one of those stuffed souls lurking as you round the corner — is what keeps visitors coming back. Most important, the event, which in April 2011 won its organizers a provincial award for volunteerism, has brought Meaford together in a display of community spirit that is the envy of other municipalities.
It’s the kind of recognition that helps communities thrive and grow. “I was in Meaford in 2004 and remember the scarecrows fondly,” says Charley Sunhuntin Davidson in a 2011 posting on Scarecrow Invasion’s Facebook page. “I have photos of them on light poles and in people’s yards. Absolutely amazing. Makes me want to come back and stay for good.”
What started out in 1996 as a promotion to attract tourists to shop downtown has grown to include a scarecrow competition, parade, family festival and the town’s own marching band — the Meaford Marching Scarecrow Kazoo Band celebrates its sixth birthday in 2011. Now organized by community volunteers, the Scarecrow Invasion also serves as a tool to ensure there are plenty of visitors around to support the full schedule of fall events in Meaford.
“It is probably an experience you will never have in life, visiting scarecrows,” says Marilyn Morris, who as chief organizer has held the official title of “head scarecrow” since 2000. She is also a member of the Kazoo band, and you’ll find her most days walking the streets of Meaford in her trademark scarecrow costume.
“Scarecrow Invasion, which is a month-long event, is unique in that it helps to showcase a beautiful part of Georgian Bay and culminates in a weekend we call the Big Weekend, which features our Apple Harvest Craft Show. People enjoy being in the area, and regional tourism is part of who we are in Meaford.”
255 volunteers needed to fill 445 roles
The scarecrows are in town from mid-September to mid-October, serving as a backdrop to Beautiful Joe’s 5th Annual Autumn Adventure on Sept. 17; the Apple Harvest Craft Show Oct. 1-2; the Farmers’ Market every Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Rotary Pavilion until Oct. 7; and Dragons’ Den Meaford on Oct. 26. Leading up to Scarecrow Invasion season is the Meaford International Film Festival, which was held Sept. 1-4, and the Meaford and St. Vincent Fall Fair, held on Sept. 3 this year.
All these events require volunteers to achieve success, but none more so than the Scarecrow Invasion, which needs 255 volunteers to fill 445 roles — from cutting cornstalks to decorating lampposts with orange ribbons to hosting scarecrow-building workshops. There are also judges to find for the scarecrow competition, an apple pie contest to organize and entertainment to round up for the family festival. And that’s only part of the chore list. Fortunately for Morris, there seems to be a never-ending supply of volunteers ready to step up in Meaford.
“We have something that very few communities have,” she tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “We have a volunteer contingency that’s incredible. I don’t think there is a single soul who doesn’t wear five or six hats, whether it’s volunteering on the hospital auxiliary or some other cause. This is relatively unique to Meaford.”
Morris and her Scarecrow Invasion volunteers — more than 3,000 over the past 15 years — were recognized big time in the spring, when they were awarded the June Callwood Outstanding Achievement Award for Voluntarism at a special ceremony in Toronto. The award recognizes leadership, innovation and creativity in volunteerism and community service.
“There were 175 nominees for 20 awards. It really is something special to get it,” former Meaford and District Chamber of Commerce president Geoff Solomon told Simcoe.com at a reception held in Meaford to celebrate the honour.
The provincial award is the second to be taken home by Meaford in 2011: The town’s innovative effort to attract entrepreneurs and create local jobs was recognized by the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO), which awarded Dragons’ Den Meaford top honours in the category of Product Development - Business Retention/Expansion.
'Everyone loves the Scarecrow Invasion'
Morris, who called the June Callwood award the “Stanley Cup” of volunteer honours, said it was earned by all of Meaford, which was transformed into a sprawling community of tiny communities as a result of amalgamation in 2001, when St. Vincent and Sydenham Township were joined to the former Town of Meaford as one under provincial order. It was the Scarecrow Invasion that helped ignite that first glint of community spirit back in 2002, when residents came out in droves to support a bid to get Meaford into the Guinness Book of Records. While Meaford’s 2,221 scarecrows fell just shy of the new world record, international media coverage of the bid did wonders for tourism and brought the newly amalgamated town closer together.
“Everyone loves the Scarecrow Invasion,” says Morris, who moved to Meaford with her husband Richard after a Toronto career in community development. “It’s a feel-good event. It’s so apolitical. It’s all about the love of Meaford, tourism and economic development and getting to know each other, celebrating the harvest and building a community.
“We might bicker for 11 months of the year about this issue or that, but mention Scarecrow Invasion and people pause and ask, what can I do help? I can’t tell you how proud I am to play the role as head scarecrow. The dedication of the community just blows me away.”
With Meaford in the provincial spotlight with two recent awards, the town of 11,500 has plenty to cheer about these days — and nothing unites people more than working together toward success. As Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MPP Bill Murdoch told Scarecrow Invasion organizers earlier this year: “You make our area the best place to be in the world.”
You can check it out for yourself by enjoying a scarecrow-counting tour of Meaford. Bring the family. You’ll also want to be in town for the main event on Sept. 30 — the 15th annual Scarecrow Invasion and Family Festival. This event alone attracts about 5,000 people.
It all begins at 5 p.m. on Sykes Street in downtown Meaford with the pre-parade tartan fling featuring performances by The Celtic Dance Company of Owen Sound. That’s followed at 6 p.m. by the Rotary Club Scarecrow Parade. There will be floats, animals, classic cars, lots of scarecrows, the Kazoo marching band and plenty of surprises. Bushels of fresh local apples will also be distributed along the parade route. Meaford is, after all, the Apple Capital of Ontario.
The event continues with the Scotiabank Family Festival at the harbour. There’s something for the whole family to enjoy, including entertainment, farm animals, puppet shows and games. Scarecrow competition winners will be announced at the festival.
See you there!
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — September 2011