Chasing Harry Potter in Ontario, Canada – Festivals and Performances to Attend or Avoid

What to do as a Harry Potter fan who lives in Ontario, Canada, far away from either the Universal Parks or the Studio Tour? Attend Ontario-based festivals and performances! Once again, I got the opportunity to explore another way to celebrate my love of Harry Potter – this time by attending two Ontario-based festivals and a two-man skit performance. I have to confess the festivals didn’t live up to my expectations, but there were still aspects that were enjoyable. On the plus side? The two-man performance honestly blew me away. With that mildly optimistic and positive introduction, let’s get to it!

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The first festival my cousin (and fellow Potterhead) and I attended was the Magical Wizards Festival on the Waterloo Central Railway Museum Station grounds. My cousin and I suspect that this festival was born out of the craziness that stemmed from the sold out Transfigured Town event. By far, the most exciting aspect was the round trip train ride to and from the festival. All aboard the Hogwarts Express!

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On the train, decorations and appropriately dressed staff members made the experience stand out. There were Harry Potter trivia games, magic tricks by a magician, and the magical score of the films to keep patrons entertained. The only downside is that the rest of the festival did not live up to the train.

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The festival itself was largely a vendor sale, but most of the products were admittedly Harry Potter-based. Some of the designs were beyond stunning, and the woodwork in particular was gorgeous.

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Another aspect of the festival was the promise of entertainment. We saw two areas where performances were being held, but neither were the promised duels that we were told to be on the lookout for. The decorations in the building being used as the Great Hall were fairly impressive, and the Sorting Hat ceremony and photo op cutouts improved the overall atmosphere.

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We checked out the food area, paying $5 for a homemade Butterbeer that was unfortunately not worth it. Instead of adding any form of butterscotch, it largely consisted of cream soda. It must be difficult for them, though, as the event is not connected to JKR or the legitimate Potterverse, thus they have to be careful when it comes to naming and recreating aspects of the universe. With that in mind, it was easy to forgive certain aspects of the event.

We did get to meet Artemis, an American kestrel (falcon) who was taken in for rehabilitation after an injury. After she was healed, she was released back into the wild, but chose to return, no longer able to take care of herself.

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Regardless of the type of festival or the validity of connection to JKR’s wizarding world, the fans can always be counted on the show up to the occasion decked out in their best. My personal favourites were Moaning Myrtle and Sirius Black, and a remarkable Dumbledore.

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This festival was not all I imagined it would be, and it felt as though there was more they could have done to improve it. The layout did not flow in a way that made sense, and the lack of signage led to some confusion. Still, the festival came together quickly and given the lack of affiliation with the legitimate wizarding world, it was enjoyable. Particularly now, far too long after attending this festival, it’s easier to look at the pictures as I upload them and see that in some ways it was a great success for what it was. In the end, as it turns out, we would enjoy this one more than the second festival.

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To get this out of the way, one of the biggest upsets about the Harry Potter and the Transfigured Town event was the way it was promoted. The original festival was meant to take place in Goderich, ON, but after the event sold out and resulted in a massive outcry, two more rounds of tickets were released. The amount of people who bought tickets had by this time outgrown the capacity for the original festival location, so the entire thing was moved from its original and picturesque location to Blyth.

The result was – at best – okay. If I’m being realistic about it, there was very little I enjoyed at this festival, though there were some bonuses.

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The lack of decoration was disheartening. They did have a few pop up photo ops such as Platform 9 3/4 and the cupboard under the stairs, but for the most part decorations were nearly non-existent. The signage was lacking at this festival also, particularly when it came to the Quidditch match times. By the time we found the Quidditch pitch, realized a game was on, and slipped and sloshed through the mud to get there, the final whistle was blowing on the last game and it was all over. It’s really a shame that we weren’t able to get to the Quidditch pitch earlier, because from the two minutes of game we saw, it looked like one of the best events the festival offered.

One of my biggest dislikes about both festivals was how much of a vendor-driven event they were. Unlike the first festival, only about half of these seemed related to Harry Potter, though some of the designs were impressive.

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The downside of the festival needing to be moved to accommodate a bigger crowd ended up leading to long lines for food. Though Leah and I would not have been able to attend this festival without the second round of ticket sales, we both remarked it likely would have been better if they had ignored the outcry and kept the festival the same small size it originally was intended to be.

Another big downside was not remotely the event’s fault – the weather. It was a dreary and miserable day to begin with, but rain and wind picked up throughout the day and drowned everyone out. The last day of the festival, the winds were so high that the largely tent-based festival cancelled the full day for safety reasons – an extreme upset considering people traveled far for this and weren’t given any sort of refund or compensation. While most of the proceeds went to charity, even the pre-purchased parking was not refunded.

There were two pleasant surprises – and one drastic disappointment – within the nearby arena that was being used for the festival. First up, they had a virtual reality system set up so you could fly around Hogwarts on a broom. I didn’t try it personally, but I did get a kick out of Leah’s attempts at controlling the broom. The $5 cost was worth it for the laughter alone.

The second pleasant surprise was the way they had decorated the inside of the rink to make it seem as though you were attending a Death Day party. The walk along the lighted boards allowed you to get close to the ghosts (figure skaters), and you were greeted at the end by a truly spectacular ice sculpture of Nearly Headless Nick at the ice bar.

The downside? The “Butterbeer”. After the first festival’s Butterbeer disappointment, I didn’t even bother trying this one, particularly after seeing the outrageous cost to drink size ratio. Leah tried it and regretted it immediately. We’ve yet to find some style of copycat recipe that works, but it definitely wasn’t this one.

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All in all, I’ve kind of learned my lesson with these two festivals, and I’m not sure I’ll be attending another Harry Potter festival of this style. There were several ways each of these festivals could have been better, but the second in particular was extremely disheartening. It was disorganized, rather empty of activities, devoid of signage and decorations, and we left feeling underwhelmed. Leah and I talked often about all the people who had traveled across Canada, from the United States, or even from international destinations like France and New Zealand, and how disappointed they must have been.

I’ve tried hard not to come across too harsh (though I’m sure I did), but we weren’t the only people with complaints. After the event, people took to the comment section of the group’s Facebook page to discuss the reality of the event and their opinions of it, but any comments that didn’t consist only of praise seemed to magically disappear. In the end, the numbers speak for themselves – by January 2017, the 2017 event was sold out (including the next rounds of tickets), but this year, with about a month and a half to go, there are still tickets to sell. To prove we weren’t the only ones disappointed, here’s a short but honest thread.

Luckily, there is one Harry Potter experience in Ontario that is beyond worth checking out. Not based in Ontario? Don’t worry – they travel! Behold: my opinion of the Potted Potter show!

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Part of me was beyond dismayed when I realized just how long it’s taken me to sit down and write this post (err, almost a year after attending the festivals). The other part of me is beyond thrilled because I had a positive note to end on!

Not long ago, Leah and I took the Subway into downtown Toronto to attend Potted Potter at the CAA Theatre. My first delight of the night was getting off at Museum Station, the only truly decorated Toronto subway stop, thanks to the Royal Ontario Museum on the streets above.

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From there, it was a short walk over to the theatre (as opposed to a longer subway ride that looped back up). After getting our tickets checked, we walked further into the lobby to discover the second delight of the night – they sold BUTTERBEER!

Despite the length of time it had been since the festivals and the sub-par Butterbeer experiences, in the back of my mind I was wary of trying it, even as I jumped eagerly in line. In all honesty, the best one is still found at the Universal Parks (even the studio tour one wasn’t as good), but this one was right up there. It was seriously tasty and a delicious surprise.

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After receiving our scrolled program and finding our seats, I happily obliged the no photos rule by putting my phone away, content to just sit and enjoy my popcorn, Butterbeer, and the show.

This show was legitimately hilarious. The two guys were funny, witty, amusing, and a true joy to watch on stage. The show covers the seven books in a little over an hour, but since you spend so much time laughing hysterically, you’ll hardly notice the time pass. The jokes were awesome and well-timed, the game of Quidditch was ridiculously amusing, and the two performers were truly a pleasure to watch.

After attending the two festivals and the Potted Potter Performance, I have a good idea of what I would recommend to people and what I wouldn’t. In the end, I don’t think the festivals were really worth the price, although any Harry Potter thing once is better than no Harry Potter thing ever. Unfortunately, the company behind the Transfigured Town didn’t seem to want to take into consideration any constructive criticism – there were instances of peoples’ comments being removed if they contained even the slightest truth about what went wrong with the festival. My hope is that it will actually improve, because it has the potential to be something great.

I would absolutely, 1000% recommend Potted Potter. It was time and money well-spent, and I enjoyed every moment of it. If you’re Ontario-based and looking for something Harry Potter related, definitely check out this performance!

Have you been to a festival you felt was mediocre?

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