Thousands will gather at Westfield Heritage Village in September for one of the hottest family literary festivals in Canada, says Susan Jasper, a former publishing company senior manager.

"When I was working at McClelland and Stewart [Publishers], I knew that our authors needed their own festival just for children. It was a gap . . .  and we needed something outside of Toronto."

Jasper conceived the idea of the Telling Tales Festival seven years ago; and the cooperative spirit and the residents’ love for their city made Hamilton the perfect venue.

Its mission?

To build a national festival that promotes children’s stories and a love of reading, while raising awareness and support for literacy in Hamilton.

The first Telling Tales Festival in 2009 happened with the help of Westfield Heritage Village, Hamilton Public Library and Rotary International.

"Telling Tales is a response to the work of the Poverty Roundtable . . . [which] Rotary believes is one of the cornerstones in tackling poverty impacting literacy, Jasper explained.

"When children experience stories they learn compassion, empathy, the world around them and open doors to them all their life."

Aware of these challenges in Hamilton, the festival’s publicist Jonathan Schmidt said, "an anchor of the Festival is the inclusion of inner city families who travel in on free buses provided through support from Arcelor Mittal Dofasco."

Jasper believes any person in downtown Hamilton can access wonderful libraries and community centres but Telling Tales Festival is different.

"It is the ultimate field trip to take you into the country — when you get to this village, you are stepping back into a simpler time. This is just a chance for all of us to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life."

Telling Tales is described as "a day when we leave our technology behind and stories and history come alive." When asked if she thinks technology has an impact on literacy, Jasper chuckles and says, "I think youth today text at an incredible rate".

She stresses the need to kick start reading and excite the whole family.

"Whether you’re from a low income or high income family, there are so many distractions in the world . . . you really can discover the joy of reading."

In just four years the festival has garnered success and won the 2010 Award of Excellence from Hamilton Tourism, the 2011 — Rotary International Zone Award for "Building Community and Bridging Continents", and recognized in 2012 as one of Ontario's Top 100 Festivals by Festivals and Events Ontario.

It has experienced steady growth of about 1,000 participants a year.

So what does Susan Jasper and the Telling Tales committee hope people walk away with from this festival?

"We want the kids to see the volunteerism and the feeling that the community is very proud to do this for them it’s a gift. There’s a story from every part of the world."

Festival-goers can look forward to meeting an author. Getting an autographed book. Going on the Literary Scavenger Hunt. Being mesmerized by the Native drumming circle.  Discovering that Richard Scrimger is hilarious. Being intrigued by Deborah Ellis and her book set in Afghanistan or by Rita Cox, the Caribbean storyteller. And more.

"Maybe they’ll go to the library and discover stories. Maybe they’ll be inspired to write their own story because everyone does have a tale, and story telling at so many levels is important."

With generations, Jasper wants Telling Tales to become a family event, where people who have been to the first festival will come back later with their children.

"We hope this will be an annual tradition where people will come back and say, ‘Ahh, I was here when Dennis Lee was here."


The Telling Tales Festival will take place on Sunday, Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Westfield Heritage Village. For more information, check out CBC Hamilton's 'Things to Do' or the festival's website .