Around Town: Festive theme for Habitat fundraiser

Even if you weren’t aware going into Parkside Hotel and Spa what the theme of this town’s ninth annual Gingerbread Showcase was, a quick scan of its Urban Ballroom would have made it clear.

Nothing says Canada like candy-coloured Mounties, a hockey-playing beaver wearing a Roots toque, Nanaimo bars, Hudson’s Bay Company blankets, Tim Hortons coffee and other iconic Canuck symbols.

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They amusingly and creatively reflected this year’s Celebrating Canada! theme that challenged more than two dozen amateur and professional bakers to concoct gingerbread creations for charity.

Funds raised will assist Habitat for Humanity Victoria in its ongoing mission to help families in need achieve strength, peace of mind and independence by building them a safe, affordable place to live.

If history repeats itself, an estimated 20,000 visitors will have shown up to vote for their favourite Canuck confections in exchange for a donation by the time the yuletide tradition that began Saturday ends on Jan. 2, 2018.

“This is great for us because it raises awareness of what we do in the community, and gingerbread [creations] are houses traditionally,” said Kelly King, procurement officer for Habitat for Humanity Victoria’s ReStore.

“It makes people think about what we do, so it’s a good fit,” says King, who procures donations for the home-improvement outlet that resells quality new and used building materials and other household items.

“We are very fortunate that we got a lot of support from local retailers, hotels and the construction industry. About half our donations come from the business community. If we have it, we will sell it.”

There were some familiar faces besides Times Colonist reporter Jeff Bell on the judging panel, including two local women who have created their own gingerbread magic for the showcase in the past.

“I consider myself an amateur, but I know how hard it is to make a piece,” said judge Lulu Sanchez, whose 2013 entry was an elaborate Mexican village inhabited by 52 cats that dwelled on roofs, in trees and elsewhere.

Anne-Marie Fortier, a mother of three who moved here from Montreal six years ago, was also back for her second year as a judge after wowing past visitors with her whimsical creations.

During her first year, Fortier created Where the Wild Things Are, which featured a boy with a gingerbread house coming out of his head, releasing an assortment of literary characters from a fairy to the Big Bad Wolf.

Her other past eye-catcher was The Rainbow Connection, featuring a Muppet Show car. It incorporated Kermit driving a station wagon and Miss Piggy standing on the side of the road with her suitcases.

Then, as now, the rules were clear: Creations must be made with 100 per cent edible ingredients on a 61-centimetre square base, and be at least 46 centimetres high.

Fortier, who taught sculpture at the Université de Montreal, first learned about the Gingerbread Showcase when it was presented at its former home, the Inn at Laurel Point, where her husband was working.

“I had stopped teaching but I wanted to keep practising, so I started making cakes for my children,” said Fortier, who started judging after she stopped participating. “It’s because it is really a good cause.”

She said having risen to the challenge of crafting such creations herself gave her an appreciation for it that she hopes makes her a good and reasonable judge.

“I understand the process of it, and the difficulty and how long it takes,” she said, clipboard in hand as she studied a particularly colourful and elaborate piece.

Trina White, general manager of the Parkside Hotel and Spa, described being able to showcase “this wonderful organization” in this way as “a huge honour” for the hotel’s staff.

“It ties in really well with our core values, because we are very social and a green building,” she said. “We do a lot of work behind the scenes with Habitat for Humanity and Our Place, but we usually do it under the radar.”

Public viewing is available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily in the all-suite boutique hotel’s atrium. The Gingerbread Showcase has raised more than $178,000 for Habitat for Humanity Victoria over the past eight years.

Founded in 1990, the not-for-profit organization has built 22 homes locally and assisted 26 families through affordable home ownership.

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