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Toronto's Medieval Enclave
The Middle Ages the way it should have been (minus the dysentery, plague, rickets, lack of dentists, and burning at the stake)

It’s the Middle Ages “the way it should have been” (minus the dysentery, plague, rickets, lack of dentists, and burning at the stake).

Over a dozen members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)‘s local chapter gathered last Tuesday for some festive arrow fletching. The SCA began in the late 60’s in Berkeley when a group of people threw a Medieval dress-up party. They did it again the next year and the next. It caught on and migrated east, aided by the popularity of Fantasy and Sci-Fi like the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Now, the SCA is a global phenomenon with over 30,000 members in 19 ‘Kingdoms.’ Hogtown’s chapter of the Society is the aptly named “City of Eoforwic” (the Anglo Saxon translation is “Wild Boar Settlement”).

While some may assume this is just well-organized LARPing, local members insist that it’s much more. They are dedicated to researching and re-creating the skills of pre-17th century Europe – not accosting one another with mythical fireballs. They are more like Civil War re-enactors (without the exacting script). As their website states, “to learn about the clothing of the period, you research it, then sew and wear it yourself. To learn about combat, you put on armor (which you may have built yourself) and learn how to defeat your opponent. To learn brewing, you make (and sample!) your own wines, meads and beers.”

Willmar Grimsdyke (members give themselves their own fantasy names) read a list of upcoming workshops, including leather tooling and “Starting your Fighting Career on a Budget.” Nicolaa (a Project Manager by day) commenced with the arrow fletching lesson. She demonstrated how to glue the feather fletches to the shaft, advised on varnishes and recalled stories of ‘ludicrous archers’ (members of the SCA who were insanely accurate). The group is a friendly and eclectic mix, from kids to business professionals. Several have known each other since high school. Many in the group make the yearly trek to Pennsylvania for the Pennsic War, the largest SCA event in the world. Until then, they meet weekly to share expertise, learn dances and prepare for battle. The Internet has made learning obsolete skills considerably easier. Other information about life ‘back then’ has come out of the Eastern Bloc – and preserved within the corpses of Danish bogs.

While many are initially drawn to the Society for the battles, they can quickly be turned off of that aspect. “It’s sobering,” said a woman named Helena. “Some people just have this reflexive horror when they are thumped with a stick!” Ultimately, its a chance to socialize in a vast historical skill sharing network: martial arts, dance, heraldry, heavy combat, craft, and costume. “It’s a seedbank of manual technologies,” she said.

I wonder if anyone has ever given them a hard time. “Just my parents,” laughs Willmar. As grown adults, It’s fun to dress up and assume a different persona. “And it’s your choice,” said Guenther, a member since 1986. Lucrece admits its quite comical to see people’s reactions when she pumps gas in her Medieval garb. It was particularly funny when her cohorts in costume were spotted by old order Amish in rural Pennsylvania. Admittedly in Toronto – where cosplay is commonplace – there’s more of a live and let live mentality. “I’ve seen what some people wear on the subway,” quips Guenther. “It’s by far not the worst thing we could wear.”

The SCA meets weekly in Toronto – meetings and events are open to the public. Visit here for more info.


Tiffy Thompson is a writer and illustrator for the Toronto Standard.  Follow her on Twitter at @tiffyjthompson. 

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