Christmas markets draw crowds as a social hub, cultural showcase, and economic driverDecember 9, 2023

Story by The Participaper

(Originally published in The Participaper)

The holiday season got underway in fine style this past weekend as Christmas markets across Inverness County drew crowds eager to browse and buy a huge range of crafts, art, fresh produce and delicious treats.

Now in its 16th year, Cranton Cross Road Community Centre’s annual Christmas Bazaar in Margaree Centre was packed on Friday evening and Saturday day. 35+ vendors had set out their stalls and the local talent and creativity was on display in spades.

Miranda Crabtree is a local artist who has recently relocated to Margaree Forks with her dog Jess, from Toronto, ON. This was her first time working at the bazaar. “The Cranton Cross Road market is so bustling and festive. I’m really happy to add my paintings and prints to the mix this year. It’s such a great way to catch up with neighbours, connect with customers, and support other local artisans,” she says.

Photo: Adele LeBlanc

The community centre occupies the building of the former North East Margaree Consolidated School which was constructed in 1958, and the building has a lot of mid-century charm both inside and out. Several years after the school closed in 2000, a group of community-minded volunteers convened a steering committee to transform it into a multipurpose space to enrich the life of the community.

Arlene Ingraham, a member of the community centre board, explained that the Christmas Bazaar has been a fixture in the local calendar since the early days of that transformation and emphasizes that it’s a volunteer-run organization which wouldn’t be possible without dedication and support of community members.

“The Bazaar is certainly growing year on year,” says Arlene. “Its such a fun and friendly event, that people who discover it tend to come back year after year.”

And many who attended said what a joy it is to see big crowds of happy faces at the market, after the tough years of Covid restrictions. “It’s getting back to normal now, I’m pleased to see,” Arlene smiles.

Over in Mabou on Sunday, people came in droves to Dalbrae Academy where the Mabou Farmers’ Market had taken over the gymnasium and cafeteria. Cars were parked down both sides of Route 19 as the parking lot was full to capacity.

Fortunately the school has ample space to accommodate just shy of 70 vendors as well as hundreds of market-goers who stopped in between 11am-3pm

The holiday edition of the Farmers’ Market moves to the school since the ice is down in the market’s summer home in the arena. A lot of holiday cheer was provided in the form of the Inverness County Singers who delighted the crowds with a smorgasbord of Christmas tunes from the traditional to the modern.

“I come to Mabou Christmas Market every year,” said one young woman listening to the carolling of the choir. “It’s wonderful to see how talented people are, from the singers to the amazing crafts that people are producing locally. And there’s just so much! The keyword is ‘abundance’. That’s why I never miss it.”

At both Cranton Cross and Mabou, you can indeed find an abundance of local talent, from homemade preserves and pickles – with ingredients grown right in the maker’s own garden, to fine sculptures made of local woods, clothes and decorations of all kinds crocheted or knit from local wool, and even artistic representations of local scenes expertly composed in colourful felts.

And vendors and market-goers also come from further afield as well. Bart Pennewaert is a baker based in Sydney but originally from Dilbeek, Belgium. He offers delicious, authentic European-style pastries, including vegan options. He says he regularly sells out of the most popular treats, so its worth heading down early! The international vibe continues with artisans offering delicious home-made authentic Indian cuisine from Western and Southern India, either to enjoy while taking a break from shopping, or to take home.

“What I love is the atmosphere,” says Adam MacNeil of Margaree Forks. “You see all sorts of people from the community here, socializing and having a good time. It’s a chance to see people in a more social setting that you might know from work or from seeing them around, and you have the chance to chat and catch up.”

A young father of 3 agreed, saying, “its such a fun and family-friendly event, the kids are having a ball, and everyone is so kind and welcoming. That’s my favourite thing.”

His little daughter chimed in to say, “MY favourite thing is Michelle’s cookies!”

So get ’em while they last!

And the wee’uns were also keeping busy on both sides of the vendors’ tables. The young gentlemen of the Posh Lemonade stand are stalwarts of the Mabou market. At Cranton Cross Road, the Dangerously Good Cotton Candy Co. is the brainchild of sisters Avery, 11 and Audrey, 8, who are already demonstrating a lot of entrepreneurial skill at such a tender age.

“They do get a little help from their parents,” chuckles Barbara Nielson as she spins clouds of colourful sugar strands in flavours like blue raspberry, pink vanilla and chocolate orange.

Barbara goes on to say what she loves about the Cranton Cross Road Christmas Bazaar is that its such a boost to see all the creativity and talent of the artisans.

“Its really inspiring,” she says, “and then you can get all your Christmas shopping done well in advance while catching up with friends and neighbours. Who could ask for more?”

Happy holidays to all, and remember to support local businesses and artisans whenever you can!

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