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Harvest Noir hits Ottawa

IT WAS A secret that 700 people could keep. Last Saturday saw hundreds of people attend a picnic near the Museum of Civilization. Oragnized by the Mysterious Event Company, Harvest Noir was no ordinary picnic, mirroringsimilar international pop-up picnics, featuring circus performances, a fashion show, and immaculately dressed participants.

“Harvest Noir is a fusion of the harvest ball tradition from England and pop-up picnics that originated from Paris 23 years ago,” explains Greg Searle, the event organizer.

While the idea of the Harvest Noir originates in the Parisian Dîner en Blanc, the Ottawa event took most of its inspiration from its Montreal counterpart.

“We saw the event in Montreal. Over 3,000 people [attended] a pop-up picnic in white [at] the Place du Canada in Montreal [this past] August,” says Searle.

Not all fun and games, Ottawa’s Harvest Noir required participants to dress up and adhere to a strict dress code.

“[People] dressed up in elegant retro black clothing. The women wore fascinators, fancy hats, and participated in an impromptu fashion show,” says Searle.

They were also expected to bring their own utensils and food. As well, attendees were told to try and keep the food local to honour the harvest season—hence the name.

“People brought their own dinnerware, their own place settings, and decorations for their tables. There was also a competition and a prize awarded for the best decorated table. People really got into it and they brought their own local food, so they prepared food as much as possible that was grown in the region.”

Tickets to the event were $37. You might be wondering why the tickets cost so much if the picnic-goers were expected to bring their own food, costumes, and utensils.

“[The money] purchased one of the finest venues both inside and outside, as well as all of the things that go with [putting on an event like this]. As well [there were] professional circus perform[ers who did hoop performances … a parade band, [and] there were three DJs,” says Searle.

Although there’s nothing spontaneous about it, Harvest Noir was advertized as a flash-mob experience. It’s a meticulously organized event that happens around the same time every year, but Searle would argue the event was similar to flash-mob-style picnics.

“I think there are aspects that are related to the flash mob. I think it’s kind of a performance art, but it’s a very elegant event that takes a lot of planning,” he explains.

According to Searle, these pop-up picnics have been emerging all over the world because people are interested in being a part of a performance—and because the secrecy element adds to the thrill.

“I think we probably had a lot of surprises when we were kids growing [up]and as adults we get almost none. I think people are actually excited to participate in something where they don’t have all the control or all the details. It’s very exciting to take a risk,” explains Searle.

“We got a lot of our entertainment kind of spoon-fed to us, and the idea where you’re one of the actors in the event is really appealing to people,” he adds.

For those who missed out on Harvest Noir last weekend, you won’t have to wait another whole year for a similar event to take place. There’s going to be a winter event of a similar nature.
“Well, the next event won’t be Harvest Noir. The next event will be an elegant, flash-mob-inspired, destination-unknown event,” says Searle.

—Sofia Hashi