In honour of the 110th Grey Cup, this week Hamilton’s James Street North is a sea of colourful costumes — and even more colourful characters.
The downtown road is closed from York Boulevard to Barton Street East for a street party ahead of Sunday’s game, complete with live music, local artists, games and food.
The festivities started Thursday, which was warm, and despite cold and damp weather moving in on Friday, locals and tourists were out in force.
Festival organizers told CBC Hamilton thousands of people came through Thursday and Friday.
For Anne-Marie Pango, who was selling crystal jewelry and accessories in a booth along James Street North, this year’s Grey Cup festival feels similar to Supercrawl, the annual Hamilton arts event that closes much of the same area.
“I can’t believe it’s this warm right now and everyone’s out,” Pango said Thursday.
Billie Sheridan came to Hamilton from British Columbia to watch the big game between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Montreal Alouettes, who knocked out the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in a semi-final earlier this month.
“I’ve been to a couple of Grey Cups, and this one so far has been the best one,” Sheridan said. “Hamilton did a really good job.” She’s hoping for a close game Sunday.
Don Anderson and his nine-year-old son Dhenli from Crystal Beach, Ont., were two of many visitors to the John Weir Foote Armoury on James Street North, which was open to the public and featured a flag football games, CFL memorabilia and a Canadian military display.
Dhenli plays flag football and was there to compete in a series of games held at the armoury. A wide receiver and quarterback, he said had a “super fun” day playing with friends and getting “all the touchdowns.”
Stephanie Sutcliffe, Hamiltonian and owner of Basecamp Collective, was at the festival as a vendor selling prints and embroideries she makes. She described the festival as “goofy, fun times.”
“I’ve been seeing so many people walking by with fun outfits. You can tell people are out to enjoy themselves. People are just living in the moment of what’s happening with Grey Cup.”
One example of the Grey Cup get-ups on display is the Fun Police, a group that started in Vancouver and attends Grey Cup events dressed as police officers with CFL team logos or colours. They pretend to arrest other festival goers for “crimes” including cheering for the wrong team or wearing non-CFL apparel.
Although mascots, cheerleaders and plenty of people in team colours attended the festival, it wasn’t just CFL costumes on display.
Ryan Mann and three of his friends took a red-eye from Edmonton for their 10th Grey Cup adventure. They arrived at the festival on Friday morning carting their luggage and all dressed as Ted Lasso, the football-turned-soccer coach from the popular TV show.
“We wanted to do a themed Grey Cup,” Mann said. In addition to checking into their hotel, Mann said he and his friends are looking forward to connecting with other fans.
“We love coming here and just meeting all the people from across Canada.”
A big draw on Friday was the Calgary Grey Cup Committee’s pancake-and-sausage breakfast. A crew of volunteers set up a tent and grills by the stage and cooked for attendees who lined up down the block.
“We bring Western hospitality and Western culture and the spirit of community from the West wherever the Great Cup plays, doesn’t matter which team is in it,” Sandy Dubyk, the group’s spokesperson said.
Dubyk said the team is honouring its 75th anniversary. Back in 1948, he said, a group of Calgary Stampeders fans took a train to the Grey Cup in Toronto. They brought stoves and a horse. Another of the committee’s traditions is checking a horse into a hotel, which they did Thursday, in addition to a school visit and another pancake breakfast — this one at a local legion.
Hamiltonian Cathy Hines said she thinks having a big festival like this shows off Hamilton in a positive way.
Too often, she says, the city is maligned. “Don’t run it down because I’ll go after you. Hamilton’s a good city.”