LONDON, ONTARIO: HARVEST FESTIVAL AND POW WOW IN PICTURES

by Slavka
Pow Wow dancing

One of the top cultural things to do to fully experience Canada is to go to a Pow Wow, visit an Indigenous site and learn about the true, original inhabitants of Canada. If we are utterly honest, except them everybody else is an immigrant or a descendant of an immigrant. The amazing natural landscape and the First Nations are the ones who have been here long before European settlers and all the modern, man-made Canadian attractions. Indigenous people, their history and culture are an integral, and rather underrepresented, part of Canadian charm that attracts foreign visitors to this country.

If you come from another continent, I strongly encourage you to include Indigenous tourism sites, tours, events, and attractions into your Canadian trip itinerary. Canada is not only the Rockies, Niagara, CN Tower, hockey, whale watching, and maple syrup. It’s much more colourful and layered, and why would you as a visitor leave out the rich and fascinating dimension of Indigenous tourism?

The one experience that is a great introduction to Canadian First Nations, their culture and traditions is visiting a traditional Pow Wow event.

 

DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS A POW WOW?

If you are new to Canada and North America in general, you probably have no idea what Pow Wow means. Pow Wow is a social gathering of North American Indigenous people to celebrate, honour the traditions, dance, sing and just be together. Pow Wows take place all year round in various communities and locations. Some Pow Wows are private; some are open to the public.

For visitors, attending a public Pow Wow is the best occasion to meet First Nations people, admire Indigenous dances, songs, and music as well as see the various types of regalia and try out traditional dishes. It’s also the opportunity to purchase authentic Indigenous art, clothing, and crafts.

Below is a report from the annual Harvest Festival and Pow Wow taking place every September in London, Ontario, Canada.

 

LONDON HARVEST FESTIVAL AND POW WOW

 

Where is it and how to get there

The festival happens at the open-air area of the Museum of Ontario Archaeology in Attawandaron Road. The museum is located in the north-west corner of the city along the Wonderland Road North.

You can enter Attawandaron Road from Wonderland Road N via Attawandaron Gate or Aldersbrook Road. Parking space in the street is very limited, so I suggest you park in the subdivision across the Wonderland Road or follow the organizer’s instructions and park your vehicle at the parking lot of the Saint Marguerite D’Youville Catholic Elementary School. They run shuttle buses between the school and the museum, so you don’t have to walk that far.

 

When does the London Harvest Festival and Pow Wow take place?

This festival is an annual event and it usually takes place during the second or third September weekend. Unfortunately, the event has been cancelled for 2020. For now, you can read this article and view photos and the video. Come back and watch out for updated event dates for September 2021.

 

Dos, Don’ts and the Pow Wow Etiquette

As a first-time visitor new to the Indigenous culture you might not be aware of certain rules.

Pow Wows have MCs who direct the whole event and give instructions. Listen and follow them. There are moments where all attendees must stand up in honour or stay silent.

Make sure you leave your pet at home as well as cigarettes, alcohol, and other substances.

Bring your own collapsible lawn chair if you join later and plan to spend more time at the festival because provided chairs in front rows will be taken. Water and snacks are not a bad idea either, especially if you take kids with you.

Pow Wow dancers wear regalia not a costume. From respect and for good manners: you don’t touch dancers’ regalia without permission.

Furthermore, bring some cash. Many Pow Wows are held outdoors and there might not be an ATM on the premises. Bring cash for admission and food. Also, various vendors sell crafts, arts, Pow Wow music CDs, and clothing, so if you want to buy something, you must have cash with you.

 

What to expect at London Pow Wow Festival

Harvest Festival and Pow Wow is a family-friendly event that focuses on the First Nations’ culture.

When the weather is favourable the whole event takes place on a grassy area behind the palisades with a quintessential backdrop of a longhouse.  To get the best view from the front row seats, arrive early.

Indigenous dancers compete in various dance categories showing off their skills, fitness, and regalia. There are separate categories for children, women, and men. Some rounds are intended for all who want to join. So, if you would like to try and learn some Pow Wow dancing steps this is your chance.

Except the dancers, drummers and singers also compete for a prize.

During breaks, don’t forget to check out the entire area. There are various vendors, food kiosks, and stations with activities for children such as crafts or corn husk doll making. Kids can get their face painted or they can try their hand at archery and flint knapping. Children will also like pottery pit firing demonstrations and see a tent dwelling of first overseas settlers.

The longhouse is open, so enter and view the exhibits. This is also your chance to speak to the local Indigenous people, especially if you, like me, come from another continent and are interested in learning about different people and cultures.

Furthermore, except music, singing, and drumming you’ll hear one or more Indigenous languages. For me as a foreign language enthusiast, it’s very intriguing to hear the sound of a new-to-me language, its flow, and melody. It would be interesting to learn some basic expressions such as hello, thank you, how are you, excuse me, pardon and goodbye.

 

POW WOW DANCES

Enjoy the visual feast of meticulously decorated, colourful regalia, feel the drum beat and the great energy of Pow Wow dancers. For each dance, there is a particular type of regalia.

 

WARRIORS IN TRAINING

As in every culture, traditions and customs are passed down the generations by parents teaching them to their children. Young indigenous dancers show off their dancing skills in several rounds. They are adorable in their beautiful regalia not to mention skillful. Give them a huge applause.

Warrior in trainingToddler girl dancerBoy dancer in regalia

Indigenous dancing boy in regaliaIndigenous girl dancer in regaliaYoung indigenous dancer

 

First Nation Female DancerLADIES

Women have their own specific dances. The ones you’ll be able to recognize are jingle dress dance, fancy shawl dance and the traditional dance. Dancers compete in several rounds.

 

Jingle Dress Dance

This type of dance requires special outfit adorned with over 300 metal cones that jingle with every step. The dress is quite heavy and can weigh over 10 pounds. Originally, special requirements were also placed on dancer’s footwork. Dancers were not allowed to complete a circle, cross their feet or step backwards. Their feet had to be  close to the ground. Over time dances have evolved and dancers have more freedom to move.  Jingle Dress Dance is a traditional healing dance used for spiritual healing.

 

Traditional Dance

The slowest of all women’s dances traditionally performed by mature women. It’s a dance that requires minimal movement and involves low bounce and sidesteps with feet very close to the ground.

Traditional Dance is elegant and graceful. Women wear intricately embroidered dresses and shawls with colourful bead work. Integral part of the outfit is an eagle feather fan and medicines in the form of tobacco and sage.

Young First Nations woman dancer

First Nations dancers during Pow Wow

Pow Wow in London Ontario

Female dancer in regalia in London ONSenior indigenous Pow Wow dancerSenior Pow Wow dancer in London ON

 

Fancy Shawl Dance

Typically danced by young women in beautifully decorated regalia and wide long shawl with dozens of flowing ribbons. It’s a fast dance that shows off dancer’s fitness and light dance moves.

Smiling dancer in full regalia

Dancing at Pow Wow event in London Ontario CanadaYoung indigenous female dancerDetail of indigenous woman's regalia

 

 

MEN

Men’s dances are a lot faster than women’s dances.

 

Grass Dance

Grass Dancers wear colourful regalia consisting of richly decorated shirt, pants, front and back apron, cuffs, belt and a roach headpiece. The outfit is adorned to stand out from the crowd of other dancers. The shirt has myriads of long ribbons and thin yarn that represent the swaying movement of tall grass on the prairies. Dancers wear moccasins and bells around their ankles.

Colourful indigenous regaliaIndigenous male dancer at Pow WowIndigenous male dancer at Pow WowPow Wow dancingPow Wow male dancerFirst Nations dancers in full regalia

Young indigenous dancerAnnual Pow Wow eventSeptember Harvest Festival and Pow WowRegalia detailYoung male warrior dancerIndigenous Canadian dancerPow Wow danceMale Indigenous DancerMale dancer in front of spectators

 

Fancy Feather Dance

This fast and showy Pow Wow dance style is for young warriors to show off their speed and physical fitness. The regalia consists of roach headpiece, two large feather bustles, shoulder tabs, bodice with beadworks and flowy ribbons, breechcloth, leggings, sheep fur with bells on calves and moccasins. The whole outfit is brightly coloured with dozens of long ribbons and fringes. The two identical feather bustles are attached to the back of the neck and the lower back. They give the regalia a striking appearance and add to the total attractiveness of this energetic Indigenous dance style.

Dancers get points for keeping up with the fast drumming rhythm as well as for the striking a pose in the right moment.

Young male dancerColourful indigenous regaliaDetails of a dancer's costume

 

Traditional Dance

Traditional men’s Pow Wow dance is a semi-fast warrior dance. Dancers wear a roach headpiece, shirt with embroidered cuffs, and a long breastplate. Their lower back is fitted with feather bustle.  On the lower body, they can wear leggings and a breechcloth with fringe. Traditional dance style follows the movements of a warrior tracking an enemy on a warpath.

Indigenous Warrior DancerTraditional Pow Wow Dance

 

 

DETAILS

First Nations drummers and singers

Pow Wow drum

Indigenous singers drumming

First Nations drummers and singers

Women's regalia detail

Jingle dress skirt and beautiful embroidered shoes

Regalia headpiece

Women’s headpieces and intricate hairdos

Dream catcher

You can buy an authentic dream catcher

Tribal flags

Tribal flags

Arrowhead necklace pendants

Handmade arrowhead necklace pendants

Inside a long house

Detail of a longhouse interior

First settlers

Reenactment of the life of the first European settlers

Pow Wow and the Harvest Festival

War Dance

You can join and try a war dance

For some rounds, non-Indigenous spectators can join the dancers. Your chance to try and learn a war dance.

Great Canadian cultural experience

Attending a traditional Indigenous Pow Wow is the most authentic Canadian experience.

 

 

IF YOU GO

Festival info

Address:  Museum of Ontario Archaeology, 1600 Attawandaron Road, London, Ontario

Time:  11 am to 4 pm

Date:  Saturday 12 and Sunday 13, 2020

Cost:  $5 per person above 12 years of age. Children under 12 go in for free.

 

Where to stay

For those out of town, there are plenty of accommodation choices within the city. You can either try Airbnb or hotels.

 

Where to eat

I suggest you try food from the vendors who offer some delicious dishes typical for the Indigenous cuisine. If you have never tried First Nations food, such as fry bread, corn soup, Indian tacos or wild rice, this is your chance.

For more food choices you’ll have to drive or walk around 600 m to the closest plaza at Wonderland Road and Fanshawe Park Road West intersection. There are coffee shops, Asian food restaurants, a pizza place, and a grocery store.

 

What else to do in London, ON

After the festival, London offers tons of fun things to do and see. For ideas on places that you could visit with children, check out this detailed list of the best family-friendly activities in London, ON. Or get inspired by taking a look at the virtual tour of London.

 

–> You might also like other articles about things to do and see in and around London, Ontario.

 

Have you ever been to a Pow Wow? What has impressed you the most and what have you learnt? Let me know below in the comment section.

 

Bookmark this article for future reference:

Indigenous pow wow event in CanadaCanadian Pow Wow in Ontario

 

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6 comments

Jay Artale July 16, 2020 - 8:12 am

My best friend just moved to New Mexico and attended her first Pow Wow and she said it knocked her socks off – not just because of the events, music, and colors that bombard your senses, but the sheer emotion of some of the events. She got really swept up in it encouraged us to time our visit when it happens, so we can experience it. It sounds like it’s entertainment and education, all wrapped up in a neat little package … and much more than just a chance for this nation to celebrate their heritage.

Reply
Teja July 16, 2020 - 9:27 am

Wow! That’s such an amazing opportunity! I seldom see Canada travel articles about the indigenous tourism. Thank you!

Reply
Ket July 16, 2020 - 11:53 am

Beautiful photos of a very fascinating event. I had never heard of it, but you describe it so beautifully. I was always very interested in indigenous cultures of North America.

Reply
Yukti Agrawal July 16, 2020 - 9:17 pm

I never knew about this London Harvest festival but it would be great to see something so colorful in Ontario. I would love to see traditional dance of women in this festival. Those children warriors look very cute. Nice photos of festival as they make the post very lively.

Reply
Justine July 16, 2020 - 10:14 pm

I use the expression ‘pow wow’ but never knew or considered the origins of the phrase. Fantastic to read about the festival.

Reply
Renata July 17, 2020 - 4:48 pm

Just this morning I saw this video from a Native American Model talking about people misusing the culture and costumes for fun so reading this is soothing and beautiful. I would love to attend and witness this wonderful culture in person. Thank you for sharing your experience and the beautiful pictures on this extraordinary post.

Reply

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