Port Alberni’s Jane Austen Festival came close, but they did not break a world record for the most people gathered in one place dressed in Regency costume.
“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye,” the town crier exclaimed to everyone seated in the ADSS Theatre at Alberni District Secondary School on Saturday, July 7.
“Ladies and gentleman, our number count for the Guinness Book of Records is 349. Unfortunately, we have not broken the record this year. We certainly made a gallant attempt.”
At first, the crowd groaned, then quickly began cheering.
“This is amazing,” said Tricia Knight, one of the organizers of the festival.
This was the third year in a row that Port Alberni Janeites attempted to break the record of 550, set in 2014 in Bath, England—a popular setting in author Jane Austen’s classic novels.
The count was one part of the annual Jane Austen Festival: Chamber Opera Tours of Chicago performed two shows of Jane Austen’s Persuasion: A Musical Drama to large crowds at the ADSS Theatre on Thursday and Friday. Following the count, participants were invited to promenade on Centennial Pier on Port Alberni’s waterfront. An afternoon tea was held, followed by a Regency ball.
Events were bolstered by the Chicago tour members, 80 in number, all dressed in Regency costume. The event drew people from all over Vancouver Island as well further afield.
“This is such a special occasion to have everybody come together and enjoy this festival,” said Lorelle Skellie, who came from Bremerton, Wash. with her mother, Patty Skellie, to attend the festival. They are friends of Nancy Blair from Port Alberni, who also took part in this year’s festival.
Lorelle Skellie said the festival was a great opportunity for Jane Austen fans “to come together and express our unity and joy.”
This was Skellie’s first visit to the Alberni Valley, and first time participating in a Jane Austen festival. She said it won’t be her last: “I’ve been a Jane Austen fan since college,” she said, adding that she studied Jane Austen in Bath, England during a five-week intensive class.
Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan echoed Skellie’s thoughts on what the festival meant to Jane Austen fans.
“Everybody coming today, everybody getting dressed…this is what Port Alberni is about, this is what Vancouver Island is about,” Ruttan said.
“At the end of the day, the count is immaterial. What’s important is we came together.”