August 21, 2014 by Renee
As many of you know, I live in a small town in Ontario called “Tweed.” Now, Tweed isn’t exceptional. It’s not much different than any other small town in North America, but it’s gotten its share of media attention (occasionally for the wrong reasons).
Like many small communities, tourism is crucial to Tweed’s economy. We’re centrally located between Ottawa and Toronto, so we get a lot of people just passing through on their way to the nation’s capital (Ottawa) or Ontario’s capital (Toronto). Not many stay, of course, and most don’t even bother to stop. In our little village, and the towns surrounding us, tourists flooding the area every summer bring a much-needed financial boost to small businesses. This often helps carry these businesses through the long winter, when the town is officially “dead.” (although this is changing) The media is important to tourism. I used to think any publicity is good publicity, but after the Colonel Williams nightmare, I’ve revised that opinion. Looky-loos are not helpful tourists. I’ll leave it at that.
Anyway, one of our biggest tourist attractions is the Tweed Tribute to Elvis Festival. (And thanks to Trudeau Park, the Tweed Stampede and Jamboree, sponsored by the Dodge Ram Rodeo Tour, is becoming an even bigger event each summer.) Many of my online friends ask about this Elvis connection and I imagine you’ve wondered why the hell an Elvis festival would be held in a tiny Canadian town that has nothing to do with Elvis or Graceland. Well, sit down kids. I’m going to share a little Tweed history with you. After this, you have no reason to ask me about Elvis again. Are we clear? Good.
The Elvis Festival hasn’t always been the major event we know today, but it’s been a long-running thing for the locals. How did it start? Well, it began as bad press. A reporter once quipped that he’d found Elvis’ ghost alive and well, and living in Tweed. His point was that this town was so dead; it’d be a perfect place for famous ghosts to hide.
Now, we could’ve just ducked our heads and hid our embarrassment at this insult, but we didn’t. Instead, someone decided we should use this bad press in a positive way. In 1989, the Ottawa branch of the Elvis Sighting Society declared Elvis was alive and well and living in Tweed, and after that, a local festival honoring Elvis Presley was held every year in July. Those first festivals were small, and pretty ridiculous, but my fellow Tweedites kept at it and (slowly) it caught on.
A reporter from the Toronto Sun even came to Tweed in 2005 to investigate if there was truth to the rumors. (Of course, we all know this wasn’t a serious investigation, right? Good. But still, read the article I linked to. Hilarious.) All said reporter found was a short road called Elvis Lane, which is located near the proposed site of the Tweed Muskies stadium. (In 1996, Tweed made news when it applied for a CFL (Canadian Football League) team which would’ve been called the Tweed Muskies. Yes, we’re a little embarrassed about that one, but you never get anywhere in life without trying, right?)
All of our hydrants are painted, by the way. Don’t believe me? Here are a few more:
So anyway, we all embrace the Elvis. Even me.
The Tweed Elvis Festival begins again tomorrow, and Elvi (Elvises? How does one spell the plural “Elvis”? Whatever.) While the original festivals were local events, put on by businesses in and around the area, since 2011, the Tweed Tribute to Elvis Festival has been licensed with Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. and it is recognized as one of the top 100 Festivals in Ontario by Festivals & Events Ontario. It’s a non-profit event that is partially funded by local organizations like the Kiwanis club of Tweed, the Toronto-Dominion Bank, the Tweed Legion, and others.
Now, this year’s theme is G.I. Blues, which honors Elvis Presley’s military service as well as Canadian military personnel. On Friday night (that’s tomorrow), any military person, current or veteran, gets a free pass (plus a guest) to the festivities at the fairgrounds.
What happens during the Elvis Festival? Aside from this:
Most of the local businesses decorate their storefronts, and the Tweed Chamber of Commerce awards prizes for the best decorated store. Some businesses even go as far as to go all-in with the current year’s “theme.” One year it was Hawaiian shirts and leis and last year it was Heartbreak Hotel.
This year, we’re wearing camouflage (because the theme is G.I. Blues) where I work (which is at Vito’s Pizza), as are other businesses.
At the fairgrounds, which is where the main event happens, Elvis impersonators from all over the world (seriously) compete to win the title of King of Elvis impersonators. Several mini-competitions are also held all over town as well. Tonight, the Legion is holding a “meet the contestants” event where locals (and tourists) can greet and chat with the competitors.
Okay, maybe it’s silly and ridiculous. I have to admit, when anyone passes through and asks about Elvis’ ghost, I want to stab them in the eye most of the time, but I smile and answer politely (like a good Canadian), stifling my homicidal urge, as I should. Most of the time they chuckle, but they also comment about what a cool way to get people here every summer. I might get sick of hearing about Elvis, but I’m proud of how Tweed has taken its tiny and ridiculous festival and turned it into a major event that attracts Elvis competitors and fans from all over the world.
But let’s not talk about Elvis again until at least July, okay?