Ten Years on, Still Strong

PEI’s Fall Flavours Festival marks a decade of culinary celebrations

From Old Home Week to the Tyne Valley Oyster Festival to community lobster suppers, we Islanders have a long tradition of celebrating food and inviting visitors to join the party. And it’s in that tradition that the Fall Flavours Festival, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, was created. Today it’s one of Canada’s most well-known culinary festivals and an integral part of the Island’s growing reputation as a culinary tourism destination. That’s all fine and well, but just like the tale of a couple celebrating their anniversary, the ‘in the beginning’ part of the story is just as intriguing as the ‘happily ever after’ part, don’t you think?

“Fall Flavours started as an initiative of Tourism Charlottetown [now Discover Charlottetown]. Culinary at that time it was kind of a buzzword, it was the emerging thing that everyone was talking about at the time and I remember Kevin Murphy, who was on our Board of Directors at the time, put the challenge in front of us […] to get on that bandwagon,” Tracey Singleton said, noting that the main motivation for the Festival was to drive visitation to the city during September, a month which had historically been quiet for tourism operators.

Singleton’s been involved in Fall Flavours since its inaugural year. At the time she was Director of Marketing with Tourism Charlottetown, today she’s the president of Versatile Management Group, the private events management company that’s been contracted to organize the Festival for the past six years.

And so it was that Singleton and the team at Tourism Charlottetown dreamed up, developed, and rolled out the first ever Fall Flavours Festival in 2007. The Festival took place over ten days in September. And in the sort of coup organizers can only dream of when launching a new festival, they were able to attract two household names in Canada’s culinary scene.

“Food Network and Chef Michael Smith were there from the get go, so [the Festival] had instant credibility,” Singleton said. “I think that was fundamental […] to be able to take our brand to market with those credible brands behind us was pretty amazing.”

Another key to their early success was recognizing the importance of showcasing the Island’s rural roots. Tourism Charlottetown partnered with Experience PEI to take visitors out to rural Island communities during the day to try their hand at food-focused activities like potato harvesting and oyster tonging.

Farm Day in the City was one of the inaugural events of the Fall Flavours Festival and has grown substantially over the past decade. It continues to be organized by Discover Charlottetown.// Submitted Photo

“People saw how much potential it had so it morphed into a provincial product [in year three…]. A lot of partnerships were created with the different Regional Tourism Associations to get them involved and to get them hosting Signature Events in their communities,” Singleton said, noting that Tourism PEI became heavily involved in a leadership capacity and product development at that time.

In the years that followed this expansion, a heavy focus was put on product development. The number of Signature Events grew substantially, the Festival became a month-long affair, and multiple celebrity chefs were recruited into the fold. By 2012 the Festival had become product of the Culinary Alliance, now known as the Food Island Partnership.

“I feel like we’ve always been gradually growing […] because of that I feel like we’ve really been able to get our stride,“ Singleton said. “These past three years have been really important because we’ve been able to build more culinary resources on PEI […] Seeing the restaurant community and chef community stepping up and taking on more has really allowed us to grow.”

When asked what she thinks the key ingredients to Fall Flavours’ success have been, Singleton points to the quality of the products grown/harvested by local farmers and fishers, the Island’s compact size, and the fact that the events have stayed relatively small. She also notes that the longevity of the Festival, the support of the private sector, and the unique venues that play host to the Festival have been integral.

Savour Victoria offers guests the chance to explore the village of Victoria while sipping beverages and sampling appetizers, then sit down to a multi-course meal at one of three restaurants in the village. Pictured here are happy guests Luke Leunes and Shannon Courtney with chef Vikram Vij in 2015//Submitted Photo

 

“It’s hard to go and produce these scale of events in these remote locations with very limited cooking facilities, so it speaks volumes to the talents of our culinary teams here that they’re able to deliver these things,” Singleton said.

The task ahead for the festival’s organizers is to continue growing this local capacity. This means bringing even more resident chefs into the mix (in 2017 over 30 Island chefs will take part in the Festival), identifying new, unique venues, and ensuring access to the local ingredients the Festival is meant to showcase—from potatoes to seafood and Island beef.

“People are saying September is the new July,” Singleton said in reference to the Festival’s success in achieving its initial goal of driving visitation to the Island. Clearly, the Festival has grown beyond its original purpose and become an impressive example of the Island’s ability to create unforgettable culinary experiences through collaboration, partnership, and a lot of ingenuity. Stay tuned for more of the same as the Festival enters its second decade.

About Shannon Courtney

Shannon oversees all content creation for Salty and may be ‘slightly’ obsessed with proper apostrophe usage. When she’s not writing about food, she’s either cooking, eating, talking, or thinking about it. Her food adventures have included milking a Jersey cow in Australia, almost overdosing on maple syrup in Prince Edward County, and studying local food systems in Vermont as part of her Master’s thesis research. Shannon is also a holistic-nutritionist-in-training and strongly believes you CAN make friends with salad.

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