Wandering Through the Special Madness of Maynooth

Video by Sean Buk. Photos and story by Michelle Annette Tremblay.

There’s a certain kind of madness that gets under your skin when you spend time in Maynooth. The small town has become a magnet of sorts for artists and dreamers, attracting a small but steady trickle of city-folk who are what the kids call ‘woke.’

“I’m very, very fortunate to be an artist here,” says Ren Lonechild, as he chills in the shade outside Wildewood Gallery. Inside, his paintings of ravens, dancers, turtles and the vast night sky are on display, with numerous other stunning works by talented local artists like Henry Melissa Gordon, and Freddie Towe. It is the Labour Day long weekend, and Maynooth is bursting at the seams.

Local artist Ren Lonechild chats about being an artist in Maynooth

“It’s the 29th annual Maynooth Madness,” explains festival organizer, Joey Shulman. He has been involved from the very beginning, and has watched people return to the madness year after year.

It’s not uncommon for a town to have some sort of homecoming weekend, which is what Maynooth Madness is in a sense: an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate the harvest, life in their community, friendships, art, heritage, and the passing of the seasons. But Maynooth Madness has an undercurrent that you won’t find anywhere else.

Fresh local produce at the market

“Over the years it developed two monikers,” says Shulman. “People would either say, are you going to the loggers games, or they’d just say, are you going to the madness? They wouldn’t even have to name the location… Nowhere else has the madness.”

So what is the madness? What’s so special about Maynooth? What’s so woke about this little scenic village?

It can be summed up in one word. Authenticity.

The streets of Maynooth don’t fill up every labour day weekend because of any big corporate sponsors, or big budget tourism strategies. The vendors are not the same old franchises that you see at various festivals across the province. Oh no. This festival has grown out of three decades of love. Love for art. Love for homesteading. Love for hobby farming. Love for music. Love for community. It depends on countless volunteer hours, donations, careful planning, and a shared burning love for village life.

Lakehouse on the Run gourmet food truck serves up great meals in Hastings Highlands

John Foreman, a well-respected old-timer in the area, plays his penny whistle and sings old shanty songs as he demonstrates authentic hand hewing of logs with a broad axe. A crowd of people wander over to listen to his stories, toes tapping. There are no animatronics or rides, or line-ups. Just people sharing stories, enjoying good food, taking their time, and enjoying the day. It’s the perfect festival for a wanderer. The whole downtown strip comes alive with horse-drawn carriage rides, a formidable farmers market with over 40 vendors, live music, kids activities, a car show, and so much food. And it feels like everyone knows each other. Even if they just met for the first time yesterday.

Master canoe builder Chuck Commanda of the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation demonstrates his skills

“I’ve never been in a community like this before,” says Lonechild. “It’s got a nice vibe, and everybody jives really well. All the artists get together and compare notes. We praise each other and congratulate each other when we sell work.”

Perhaps it’s the physical beauty of Maynooth, located less than an hour from famed Algonquin Provincial Park; or maybe it’s the low cost of real estate and low cost of living, that attracts so many artists and homesteaders. Or maybe, the rockhounds are right, and it’s crystal magic. Whatever it is that attracts you to Maynooth, you’re not alone. There is a madness here. A glorious madness that puts people above profit, and peace above progress.

Local musicians sharing songs

“Certainly over the last 30 years here, I just continue to be in awe of how much talent there is here,” says Shulman. “Musically, visual artists, writers, poets, designers… It’s a very expressive community. And it’s thriving.”

Do you feel the madness within you? Mark your calendar for the 30th Annual Maynooth Madness next Labour Day Long weekend. Learn more at https://www.maynooth.on.ca/