The first thing you notice about the Great Outdoor Show is that it is held indoors. Once you get your head around that small detail you are free to delve into an exhibition that boasts some 600 exhibitors all eager to show you their wares. A small but vital team from The Nation, three of us to be exact, made our way to the Olympic Stadium to take in the show and pretend like spring came early.
The first booth we hit on our way in consisted of three guys playing banjo music in an effort to sell Billy Bob Teeth (fake teeth that are intended make you look like your father married his sister). We passed on the hillbilly mouth ornaments and headed straight to the Native section.
Though the show seemed fairly busy to me, it was my first time attending and I was informed by a number of participants that attendance was down. I was also told that participation had dropped by as many as 1200 vendors from previous years. Reasons for the drop in attendance and participation ranged from the bad weather Montreal was experiencing at the time, to continued disappointment on the part of exhibitors who would prefer to see the show staged inside the main stadium rather than in the Olympic pool building and stadium corridors.
One exhibit that caught our attention featured detailed carvings by Native artist Christophe Fontaine. The 33 year-old carver from Sept-lles (Uashat) began honing his craft at the age of 12. Christophe’s inspiration came from his dad, who was a caribou hunter, and his grandfather who made hunting tools and snow-shoes. Fontaine’s preferred material is moose horn, but he also works with bone and caribou horns. The artist, who said he finds love in his work, acknowledged how much hard work it took to develop his technique over the years.
Size might not be everything, but “Bear” Robie Nicholls laid claim to having the largest dream catcher at the show. “It took me 41 days to make it,” said the Mistissini artist who was exhibiting for a second year at the show. Bear, who is hoping to get a commission from the city of Montreal to build a three-storey dream catcher out of steel, was also showing the works of Glenna Matoush, an outstanding artist who also hails from Mistissini.
The community of Ouje-Bougoumou was well represented at a booth that had reams of information on local eco-tour-ism. According to Robin Mianscum, wilderness tours have been growing in popularity. Busloads of students and elders from Quebec have been making the journey to Ouje-Bougoumou for excursions into the woods. Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Cree Cultural Tours, operated by David and Anna Bosum, has also been attracting tourists from France and Germany who jump at the opportunity to enjoy the wilderness and learn about Native culture.
As we moved through the stalls we saw demonstrations on how to craft everything from lacrosse sticks to canoes. The artisans were out in full force and the leather was everywhere.
Gradually we made our way past the indoor tipis and moved through the bowels of the Olympic stadium toward the rest of the great outdoor show. Here it got a little less mellow, if you know what I mean. A funny thing about sales people is that the smaller the product is – the harder they have to sell it. Suddenly, we were accosted by a gang of… wait for it… shoe polishers! One member of our intrepid party siezed the chance for a free shine and had his foot in there faster than you can say Doctor Marten. I thought shoe polish was a bit unusual for an outdoor show, but I guess you wear shoes outside so there must be some logic to it. But where do pots and pans, eyeglass cleaners, long-distance phone plans and credit cards figure in the great outdoors?
Speaking of the great outdoors, the place was stocked with enough goodies to equip a decent militia force. There were 4x4s and SUVs, there were safety vests and flashy crests, not too mention rods, reels, lures, nets, tents, coolers, boots, and shoes (they’ll need some shining I guess) and guns galore. Did I mention the big motorcycles and the very small motorcycles? I’m sure I saw an outboard engine the size of Texas. I was suitably impressed by a fishing boat that folds in half and can be easily placed in the back of a pick-up truck. Aside from a dizzying array of products, the show featured a BMX bike demonstration ramp, a kayaking pool, and an indoor climbing wall that was successfully attacked and conquered by two Nation employees. A couple of hours spent moving through a maze can make one feel somewhat rat-like, so the time had come to say farewell. The journey to the exit was highlighted by a stop at the beef jerky booth where we loaded up on edible souvenirs for the metro ride home.