It went from blistering hot to pouring rain throughout the course of the long weekend. But there was one constant – people were having a blast at the Virgil Stampede.
“It is so nice to be back here after COVID,” Niagara-on-the-Lake resident Lisa Alfarano said after playing a fishing game with her two children.
“Look what I got,” her daughter Paige Young said as she waved a pink fairy wand in the air.
Paige won the prize for her stellar fishing abilities at one of the many parlour games at the Stampede.
And why did she choose that particular prize? Paige had a simple answer.
“Because I love it,” she said and held her toy close to her.
Paige and her brother Jason Young both said their favourite part of the fair was the slides.
Alfarano is a longtime resident of NOTL and said the Stampede had been greatly missed during the past two years of the pandemic.
“It’s great to be here and it’s his first time,” Brad Wiens said about his son Wes Wiens.
“He was born in 2019, right before the world shut down.”
“I got this,” Wes said as he held up a toy he won at the Whac-A-Mole game. Wiens held his small son in his arms while Wes hammered away at the moles.
There were a plethora of great activities at the Stampede this weekend. Kids and adults alike could be seen enjoying the games, dining on hot dogs, onion rings and french fries, holding snakes and lizards, and going on amusement park and pony rides.
There was also a professional skateboarding demonstration hosted by West49 Inc., with about 10 skaters tearing up the park at the Stampede.
And it wasn’t all surfer dudes with wavy hair who were carving the cement. Indeed, one of the most active boarders there was 12-year-old Fay Ebert from Toronto.
Fay has been skateboarding for four years and said she relished the opportunity to make her mark on NOTL’s park.
“I like this park, for sure,” Fay said.
“It’s nice to skate on a new park that I’ve never skated on before.”
Fay is the youngest member of the Team Canada skateboarding team.
The young skateboarding ambassador attracted quite a crowd of young NOTLers as well.
Watching the skateboard demonstration was more than a dozen of NOTL’s very own youth, friends from Crossroads Public School and Royal Oak School.
The kids called out to a reporter from The Lake Report to take their picture and were practically tripping over each other for a chance to be interviewed about the Stampede.
“I just got here but it’s been really fun,” said 12-year-old Mia Philip, a student at Crossroads.
Asked about her favourite part of the Stampede, her friend Felix Volmer, 12, interrupted with a witty, “Seeing me.”
Indeed many of the kids there said the best thing about the fair returning was that it gave them a place to hang out after two years of lonely COVID summers.
Felix and his buddy Holden Powell, 12, both said they missed the Stampede greatly during the pandemic shutdowns.
“It’s so nice to be here since it’s been shut down,” said Max Ruller, 12.
“It totally sucked not having the Stampede around,” Max said.
“The Stampede better never end,” said Ruby Eltoft, 13, a student at Royal Oak School.
For Ruby, the weekend was a major social event.
“I really like catching up with friends because a lot of them, I don’t see them at our school. So, it’s really nice to catch up,” she said.
But there was an extra bonus this year, partially spurred on by the two-year gap between Stampedes.
“I’m finally tall enough to go on all the rides,” Ruby said with a big smile.
And rides there were, with a myriad of coasters dotting the grounds.
But one ride stood above all the rest for many young NOTLers.
“The rides are the best and I think my favourite ride is Zero Gravity,” said Hope Herman, 10.
“We’re all in Grade 5 and we’re all 10 years old,” a group of kids yelled out at a reporter after growing tired of being asked the same question over and over again.
“Zero Gravity is my favourite,” Felix said.
“It’s got to be Zero Gravity,” said Holden.
“I like the games and the rides. My favourite is Zero Gravity,” said Anastasia Ruller, 10, making it unanimous.
Zero Gravity far and away got the most mentions from the group of kids who made the Stampede their home for the weekend and the ride consistently had the longest line. There was barely a minute of the day when it wasn’t in operation.
All this praise begs one question: what’s so good about Zero Gravity?
“You can’t feel your face or move your head,” Anastasia said to nods of approval from her peers.
For Fiona Alison, the best part of the Stampede was winning her new stuffed elephant at one of the games.
“His name is Mr. Elephant,” Fiona said.
Hope saw one of her teachers at the Stampede, but said it was not weird to see a teacher outside of the classroom. My, how the times have changed.
One thing was clear from the many NOTL kids The Lake Report interviewed at the Stampede: they were living like kids again.
“Seeing my friends has been the best,” Hope said.
“I like to see all my friends here,” Sophia Ruller said. “We’ve seen a lot of people that we didn’t mean to meet up with.”
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report