Pack your beach bag, slap on some sunscreen and head straight to the water as Orillia’s Waterfront Festival returns for another year of aquatic themed entertainment along the shorelines.

What began as a simple boat show designed to garner more business for local retailers has quickly evolved into a much awaited family friendly festival featuring a number of water themed shows and contests to partake in. And though hundreds of boats can still be found floating in the harbour throughout the weekend, the annual event has grown to include water-skiing shows and demonstrations, live music, cardboard boat races and more than 100 vendors selling the latest and greatest in boating accessories and water equipment, indoor and outdoor cottage décor, handcrafted summer fashions and artisan treats.

“It all began as a boat show and a way to bring people in to look at boats,” said Doug Bunker, Special Events Coordinator for the Orillia Waterfront Festival. “But to make it bigger and draw more crowds and get more people interested in the waterfront and potentially purchasing [a boat], we added more to the festival than just dealers. Now it has become a lot more than a boat show and new people are getting interested in boating.”

Running from August 5-7, the festival is known to draw more than 20,000 people annually throughout the weekend from its opening Friday at noon to closing up on Sunday at 6 p.m.. Held along the shores of the beautiful Port of Orillia and neighboring waterfront parks – including Lake Couchiching, a medium-sized lake separated from Lake Simcoe by a narrow channel which has become superbly popular for cottagers looking for lakefront vacations – it is the perfect opportunity to enjoy Orillia’s picture-perfect cottage country.

Back by popular demand, the festival’s 30th Annual Cardboard Boat Race is celebrated for being the largest spectator event held during the Waterfront Festival.

“The boat race is all for fun and enjoyment,” said Bunker. “It’s not about constructing the most realistic boat; we have a Titanic Award for The Best Sinking. People have fun with it.”

Continually drawing the largest crowds and highest level of excitement, the handmade boat race – held at the Port of Orillia – welcomes participants of all ages to try their hand at battling the waters and staying afloat in nothing but paper.

The rules are fairly simple: the boat may be as big or small as you want as long as the outside and inside structure is constructed from cardboard, the hull may be painted [but cannot be sealed with waterproof coating], absolutely no wood, metal or motors are allowed on the vessel and the boat must be self-paddled – but by however many people you so choose.

There are no constraints on creativity when it comes to design; past notable boats have included a Doctor Who themed ship, a double decker bus inspired boat and vessels modeled after old-time planes and antique cars.

The race does allow for the boat to be filled with floating materials to aid paddlers in case the boat does begin to go down, but crew members must also wear a lifejacket at all times – no matter the age of participants.

Alongside the most prestigious Titanic Award, participating paddlers are eligible to win the awards for the Smallest Boat, Biggest Boat, Best Dressed Crew and Longest Floating Boat.

Exciting Water Ski shows and demonstrations are also held throughout the weekend and are said to draw more and more crowds each year.

And though the festival has strayed away from its vendor centric roots, the in-water boat show continues to remain a highpoint feature of the weekend. Featuring over 250 boats of varying caliber along with new, dealer trade and select brokerage models, the boat show is the perfect pit stop for locals and tourists looking to take the plunge and purchase their own watercraft.

Along the shores, over 100 land vendors and exhibitors take up residence to offer everything from boating accessories and water sport equipment to guidance on equipment use.

“It is a great weekend overall,” said Bunker. “People visiting Orillia, and locals, should take it in and come check out the waterfront.”

For more information on the festival visit the Orillia District Chamber of Commerce website at orillia.com

Written By: Gabrielle Tieman