Today I’m going to travel two hundred years forward in time to the 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen’s death July 17th 2017.There will be celebrations in many parts of England but the little town of Port Alberni, B.C. situated in the middle of Vancouver Island, Canada, is having its own. Each Tuesday I drive forty minutes past a lake nestled in pristine forests and over the hairpin curves of a mountain highway to attend their English country dance classes.
The Centennial Belles of Port Alberni are not just putting on a festival. They want to break the Guinness Book of World Records set for the most people dressed in Regency costume at one gathering. Bath, England, holds that record with a count of 409. Last year Port Alberni, managed a head count of 265. Everyone is expected to return this year – and bring a friend. The dress code is quite specific but coming up with the perfect costume is a lot of fun.
Last year a good friend of mine sewed my costume, an empire waist gown which I wore with long gloves, shawl and carried a fan. I let my hair grow out for the event and suffered the back-combing and stabbing of at least six hundred hair pins needed to put up my hair. I felt like a true Regency lady with an elegant chignon – but this year I’m going to use a hair piece.
The citizens of Port Alberni are very warm and friendly. They try to make it easy for you to acquire a costume. There are hat-making workshops, thrift shop adjustments, children’s and gentlemen’s easy-fix solutions. The Festival includes readings by authors, myself included, and scenes performed from Jane Austen’s Emma and Persuasion. There are also afternoon teas, Jane Austen style murder mysteries, a family dance, a Masquerade Ball and a picnic – in full costume.
I encourage you to come out, enjoy the beautiful scenery and take part in Port Alberni’s Jane Austen Festival. When you do, come to my table at the readings. I’d love to meet you and you could buy a paperback copy of ‘an Orchid for Penelope’. If you do not live in this area I would encourage you to hunt up a branch of JASNA, the Jane Austen Society of North America and see what they have planned for this July. I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised.