Potter fans thrilled by downtown event

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Aspiring witches and wizards got their fill of magic on the streets of downtown this weekend.

From the market at Hogsmeade to quidditch matches, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the Ministry of Magic, residents and visitors were transported into Harry Potter’s world during the first-ever Wizarding World of Okotoks event.

Event organizer Katie Fournell, of the Okotoks Arts Council, said the event was a resounding success. The arts council had hoped to see between 6,000 and 10,000 people attend on Oct. 28, and though the official numbers aren’t in yet, she estimated attendance was near the top end of that goal.

“We were expecting a big crowd, because we know how important Harry Potter is to people,” said Fournell.

She said Okotoks’ event saw smaller numbers than a similar one held in Calgary’s Kensington area the past two years, but was still very successful.

The Wizarding World of Okotoks was a fundraiser for the Okotoks Arts Council. She estimated about $2,500 was collected through bail fees posted by prisoners sent to Azkaban prison in Triangle Park.

She said she was pleased to see the number of businesses that participated in the event. With 35 stops downtown, there was a lot for people to take in, she said.

“The nice thing was there didn’t seem to be a favourite,” said Fournell. “There were line-ups everywhere at some point through the day and people really seemed to love what everyone had to offer.”

That was the case for Okotoks resident Samantha Austin, a self-proclaimed Harry Potter fanatic, who was excited to see her favourite characters and landmarks come to life.

“I’ve especially enjoyed Hogsmeade,” said Austin outside Elks Hall, which stood in for the village in the films. “All the vendors in there were so cool and everybody’s so excited and into it, it’s great.”

She picked up two necklaces – one a snitch and one a time-turner – in the market, as well as an assortment of treats from other locations in Okotoks. The necklaces add to her already-complete Harry Potter costume and collection of DVDs housed in Snape’s Potion Box, she said.

She wasn’t the only one decked out in Hogwarts wear.

“I’ve seen some great costumes, which is fantastic,” said Austin. “I love how everyone’s getting into it. Everyone’s got themed everything – I got sorted by a cupcake today.”

The cupcake came from 94 Take the Cake on Elma Street, where Sherry Lindenback was offering an assortment of Harry-Potter-themed treats including sorting hat house cupcakes, blue unicorn cookies and cupcakes, cake pops, butter beer, as well as butter beer cupcakes and cookies.

There was a line out the door at the bakery for most of the day.

“It was a huge success, a huge success for us,” said Lindenback. “But we were also very prepared. I was kind of really aggressive in my preparations for the event, which made a huge difference because we did not run out until the very end of the day.”

She said Take the Cake ran 600 purchases through its till, which estimated translates to between 2,000 to 3,000 people through the shop, since most people arrived in groups of four or five. Lindenback said she wouldn’t hesitate to participate again in future events.

“I think the arts council and everybody did such a great job organizing and promoting the event,” she said. “I was really impressed.”

Coun. Tanya Thorn was equally impressed. She spent much of the day at council chambers, which was transformed into the Ministry of Magic for the day. Inside, councillors took shifts running sentencing hearings – mostly children accused of unsafe conduct while on their broomsticks.

“We had line-ups all day at council chambers as we doled out punishments to our naughty wizards,” said Thorn. “I thought it was a great event.”

What struck her the most was the diversity of people coming through the Ministry of Magic, she said. Ministers asked each child where they were from before their sentencing.

“We had people from Airdrie, there were people who drove all the way up from Medicine Hat for the day just specifically to take in the event,” said Thorn. “For every one person from Okotoks I think we saw two or three from outside of town.”

It was great for the town and for the businesses participating in the Wizarding World event, bringing a huge tourism boost, she said.

She’d like to see more groups take on large-scale events in the future, she said.

“This is what I’d like to see more of in town, is private groups taking ownership of downtown events, putting them on and running them and managing them, and making them great,” said Thorn. “The Okotoks Arts Council did a fabulous job of that.”

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