Small literary festivals are tremendously appealing, both to
writers and to the reading public. They are also an expression of the community
in which they take place. Nationally and even internationally renowned as
individual participating writers may be, the programme of which they are now a
part speaks directly and specifically to the community out of which the
festival has emerged.
When that community is Knowlton,
a small community in the Eastern Townships “known for its Loyalist history and
as well as being a member of the Association
des plus beaux villages du Québec,
you might expect a festival that takes place mostly in English, with a large
dollop of French. And you would be right.
The Knowlton WordFest got its start two years ago in
collaboration with a French-language literary event – the successful Correspondances
which has been running since 2003. Now an independent entity, WordFest has
impressively literary programming,
thanks to an able committee headed up by Philip Lanthier. This year’s lineup of a dozen writers included literary
headliners Kathleen Winter, Sheree Fitch, Anne Fortier and Kim Thuy.
Lanthier and his team did a creditable job of publicity. It helped that they had
arranged for Shelagh Rogers to attend, in a collaboration with CBC Radio and
the Peter Gzowski International Literacy Gala (for which Fitch is poet
I checked into the
Auberge Knowlton on July 16th in the very heart of
downtown Knowlton, if the village of Knowlton can properly be said to have a
downtown. Knowlton was decked out in all
its summer glory, for this was also peak season, with the Townships’ annual
Tour des arts
and the second Rencontre des arts contemporains
bringing in the public along with WordFest.
So Knowlton was full of summer visitors in
pastel-coloured shorts and skimpy tops. Cars were sidling along rue Knowlton
with their tops down, the boutiques had their doors wide open, and the village was
festooned with petunias.
The wide terrace of the elegant old Auberge Lakeview
provided lunch and a view, not of the lake, but of the gallery across the road
displaying broad canvases on its lawn; a WordFest marquee set up in the
driveway for Raymond Parent’s cartooning workshop scheduled for that afternoon.
My first event, an on-stage conversation on the rebirth of English writing in
Quebec, was at the Hub, the building on Knowlton Road
that houses the local radio station: questions from host Lanthier and from the crowd, followed by a book signing courtesy
of Brome Lake Books.
Most of the crowd then
moved up the hill for the next event, Rogers' interview with filmmaker Kevin Tierney at the Old Masonic Hall. The day ended on a terrace overlooking the Mill Pond. Biographer Brian Busby spoke about the late John Glassco, who was a
local author. The evening mellowed with musician Stanley
Lake and his band, readings by Townships writers, and good
cheer until a thunder moon put in a
dramatic appearance and we called it a day.
View across the Mill Pond **
My on-stage conversation the next morning with Kathleen Winter, author of Annabel,
attracted another good crowd, which was all the more remarkable at 10 a.m. on a
Sunday. More about that conversation next week.
* Blinn's Inn, the
building was the original stagecoach stop of the Old Magog Road Stage
Coach Line going through Bolton Pass and the village's first public
establishment with accommodation, food and beverage. Auberge Knowlton is
the oldest continuously operating hotel in the Eastern Townships. At
the rear and left of the Auberge (yellow building) still exists the
original blacksmith shop used by the stagecoaches on their passage
through the Bolton Pass. From Knowlton Historic Walking Tour,
** Courtesy Knowlton, Quebec.