Story by Rod Charles
The people of Mount Forest have always known their easygoing, peaceful town had a lot of spark.
Located an hour’s drive north of Guelph at the junction of Highway 6 and 89 in the township of Wellington North, the beatiful town of Mount Forest, with a population of 4,700 people, has always had a reputation as a great place to escape the big city, catch a few fish, pick up some fresh produce, or just enjoy a scenic rural drive.
But over the past decade, the town has quietly carved out another, more distinct reputation — as one of the best places to go in Ontario to see a jaw-dropping fireworks display. The Mount Forest Fireworks Festival, taking place July 20-22, 2012, has grown from a tiny event that began a little more than a decade ago to a provincially recognized mid-summer evening light show that attracts more than 25,000 people and is showing no signs of slowing down.
Without a doubt, a big reason for that reputation is fireworks display supervisor David Whysall and his company, David Whysall Fireworks Inc. A British immigrant and entrepreneur, Whysall found a life for himself and a home for his company in Ontario.
Mount Forest District Chamber of Commerce office administrator Crystal Seifreid says organizers saw a way to promote the local fireworks business at the time by marrying it to the annual summer festival and since then, Whysall has helped create the best rural fireworks show in the province.
“We hadn’t had fireworks here for many, many years, and that first year was when we expanded on our summer festival into a fireworks festival.” says Seifreid. “There are lots fireworks shows that happen across the province, but nothing as spectacular as what we have out here in the country. David has been a huge part of that.”
Whysall has been playing a part in the fireworks industry for more than 45 years and has performed in international competitions. In 2008 his team won the DaNang International Fireworks Competition for Canada by beating out Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Malaysia. In that same year, he took first place in the “Show Designer” category for team China at the GlobalFest International Fireworks Competition in Calgary.
Besides international performances, Whysall, has filled contracts at the Ontario Place Festival of Fire, Ashbridges Bay and Niagara Falls, to name a few. Each job has its own unique challenges and thrills, but he makes it clear there is no place like home.
“Mount Forest is great. It’s just a thrill to be a part of this, to be able to do what I love here. I really like the entire area, the people are wonderful, and everybody gets along very well,” says Whysall. “People in Mount Forest, and the people who come to the festival, are just like everybody else, they just want to see a bigger display. And I think that’s actually helped in the growth of festival, people just wanting to see a bigger display. And the best part is it’s right here in our community.”
Besides the fireworks show, the festival will also feature Canadian entertainment, local restaurants and barbecue vendors at every block. Other events at the festival in recent years included the Kin Club Beef Barbecue and the Royal Canadian Legion Chicken Barbecue.
Another great attraction will be the much anticipated car show. Doug Hawkrigg, promoter of the Kin Club Car Show, says there were over 600 cars at the show last year, some of them dating back to the late twenties.
“It’s a classic car show, and it’s so large we close off the entire main street,” says Hawkrigg, who added that there were cars from as far away as Illinois last year. “These are incredible cars. If you want to see well over a million dollars worth of cars, this is the place to come.”
For Ray Tout, president of the Mount Forest Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Fireworks Festival committee, community is what the show is all about. He says the fireworks are only the tip of the iceberg.
“There are 13 members on our committee and last year we had 163 volunteers. I have to say, our community, our volunteers, have really rallied behind us to make this event what it is,” says Tout, who explained this year will feature new musical performances and circus acts for the kids. “We simply wouldn’t have accomplished what we have so far without all the support.”
The fireworks festival is free, but admittance to the actual fireworks show will cost $5 (free for kids under five). Food is extra. Parking is available along side streets throughout town. The fireworks are usually at 10 p.m. of the third Saturday in July each year, unless it rains.
For more information, check out the festival website or call 1-877-323-4480.