Fiddle Park unofficially returns to Pembroke

For the second year in a row, Pembroke's biggest event of the year, the Fiddle and Step Dancing Championships, has been cancelled due to COVID-19. But that didn't stop more than 90 trailer campers from returning to Riverside Park this Labour Day weekend to fill the air with music.

"This year, I booked this trip about four months ago, rain or shine, fiddle or no fiddle," says professional fiddler Anna Ludlow.

It's no Bluesfest or Escapade music festival, but this is the exact kind of music weekend Ludlow has been looking forward to for years.

"I wish I could have seen it for the first time; they're not going on this year," said Ludlow, who is usually touring the east coast around the end of summer. "But my friends who I've come with have told me many stories."

Walking through Riverside Park this long weekend, you can find stories going back decades from people like David Souliere, who travelled from Brantford and has been attending the Fiddle and Step Dancing Championships for the last 40 years.

"These are the people that are here for a good reason, and that's making music and relating to people from the bygone days and die hards," said Souliere.

Another long-time attendee who wasn't prepared to miss another year is Leo Downey from Manotick.

"We've been doing it since 1979," said Downey, who added the buzz around the park was reminiscent of years past. "We enjoy the music here at night time. Last night we sat out here and listened to what we're used to listening to."

But not everyone has 40 years of stories to share. Some have an entire lifetime, like sisters Emily and Shelby Stang from Cornwall, aged 24 and 21 respectively.

"When I was really little, we went over to watch the competitions at the arena and I said, 'Mom I want to do that!' And that's how it got started with us playing and step dancing," the elder sister told CTV News.

"We've been coming ever since, and fiddling and step dancing since as long as I can remember," said Shelby.

For those that attend Riverside Park every Labour Day weekend, Fiddle Park isn't about the competitions, but rather the music that fills the air every night and day.

"It's great to be around the music, watching everybody play, walking around last night, going to different jams," said Emily Stang.

"I'm actually really interested in learning the Ottawa Valley style," said Ludlow, who was prepared to meet a few players that would give her a run for her money. "So I might sit back a little bit, listen to some other players, and then join in."