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Duelling with Nerf guns. All photos by Jessica Green.

Gears, gowns, and glueguns: A day in the park with Steampunk Ottawa

By Jessica Green on June 1, 2016

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Having been a lurking member of the Steampunk Ottawa group for a long time on Facebook, I decided to attend the Victoria Day picnic on this past holiday Monday to see what the group was like. I was directed to one of their long-time members, Gailene Green, who very kindly sat with me to explain more about steampunk and the local scene here in Ottawa.

Steampunk Ottawa started in February 2008, well before Steampunk Canada got started in 2011. Lee A. Ferruga began both groups before moving on to other adventures. Gailene was proud to say she was member number 11! They have a very active Facebook group of over 1,400 people, with a dedicated core group that comes out in person to the events. They try to do monthly events, which meant 15 for 2015.

As Gailene pointed out, it’s a very diverse community who attend the events, and people at the picnic ranged from 3 months all the way up to those with many a tale to tell. They enjoy having potlucks and other events where they can mingle and share.

Gailene also said that even though the costumes can look expensive, which may turn some people off from trying out steampunk, there are many ways to get the look without breaking the bank. Some hobbies like war reenacters can have very stringent rules on how members participate along with how their costumes are created, but this is not the case with Steampunk Ottawa.

Creativity is encouraged and there isn’t any “one look” that everyone must have, complete with corsets and waistcoats spangled with cogs. Costumes that mash-up homemade with vintage and modern elements are encouraged. She told me about a workshop from a few years ago where attendees went around town to various thrift shops and looked at different items of clothing that could be used for steampunk, and then were instructed on how to make the alterations.

Although there are some seamstresses in the group, both amateur and professional, Gailene insisted “All you need is a stapler and a glue gun”. She told me that many members gradually add to their look over time, so you don’t have to show up in full Victorian garb to join in the fun.

There were a few photographers around the picnic, so I asked if they had a photo-taking policy when they are out and about. Gailene quipped that they don’t wear their costumes to blend into the crowd. They love it when people take their pictures, but would prefer that photographers ask the members about taking their photos and that they also post their photos to the Facebook group.

When asked why steampunk over other interests, Gailene said that steampunk will mean something different to everyone: it could be a literary genre, visual art, performance art, movies, music, or the costumes. Those involved may love the fashion, the antiques, the creativity, the fact that it’s pseudo-Victorian but with a modern twist, or that there really aren’t any restrictions to what counts as steampunk. But most importantly, she loves the celebration of creativity and the people she meets in the group, which is why she, and I’d say most of the people who attended the picnic, keep coming out to Steampunk Ottawa events.

To keep up with the latest from Steampunk Ottawa, visit their Facebook group.