Port Elgin Pumpkinfest was created when an extensive study of the town business plan encouraged the Town of Port Elgin and the Business Improvement Area to create a "shoulder season" event, or attraction, to extend the tourist season to attract additional tourist dollars.
The first weigh-off, called "The Great Pumpkin Event" was held in 1986 with crowds of 200 and pumpkins weighing up to 250lbs. The one day festival was held at Coulter's Parkette in downtown Port Elgin. In 1987, there wasn't a weigh-off as the Committee began the process of becoming part of the World Pumpkin Confederation (WPC). By 1988 the paperwork was complete and the name "Port Elgin Pumpkinfest" was adopted. Throughout the 1980's the festival moved from downtown to the beach casino and then to the arena. The festival grew in numbers from 200 to 6,000 attendees, and at the end of the decade it remained the only official WPC Weigh-Off site in Ontario.
The 1990's brought many changes for Port Elgin Pumpkinfest. In 1991 the Port Elgin & District Chamber of Commerce became the sponsoring body of the festival and moved it to the Port Elgin Curling Club. 1992 was the first year that the festival became a two day event, hosting the WPC Weigh Off on Saturday and a local Weigh-Off on Sunday. The festival outgrew its home at the Curling Club in 1993 and expanded to the grounds of Saugeen District Secondary School in 1994. That year Port Elgin Pumpkinfest welcomed crowds of 22,000 visitors and had more than 30 events and attractions over the two days. Cinderella's Carriage Classic Car Show was added in 1995 and 120 cars showed up to line the downtown streets of Port Elgin. To help with the rising number of visitors, Port Elgin Pumpkinfest added shuttle buses to the festival in 1996 and celebrated its 10th Anniversary with attendance figures close to 30,000. By the end of the 1990's the crowds continued to grow and the festival began receiving recognition awards from Festival and Events Ontario.
The new millennium brought changes and new things to Port Elgin Pumpkinfest's already established level of excellence. The International Weigh Off became part of the Giant Pumpkin Commonwealth (GPC) in 2001 and continues to be a part of the organization. Sunday was added as a second sanctioned site of the GPC in 2008, which enabled the festival to attract more international growers to extend their stay in Saugeen Shores. The festival continued to follow through on its promise to bring a new event each year and such attractions as elephant rides, a military obstacle course, the Harvest Star Search competition, a Birds of Prey demonstration, the Patch's Pumpkin Patch educational area, and an Entertainment stage have all been successfully added to the festival. The festival has since welcomed crowds of up to 60,000 visitors over the two days, and Cinderella's Carriage Classic Car Show has grown to include over 1,200 vehicles displayed in the downtown core of Port Elgin.
In the 2010's, Port Elgin Pumpkinfest has extended its programming hours by including a Friday night "Pub-Kin Crawl" which incorporates shuttle buses and provides the early arriving festival visitor an opportunity for entertainment at the various licensed establishments throughout Port Elgin and Southampton. In 2011, the Corvette Corral was added to the car show. A Saturday evening dance, complete with live entertainment and a licensed bar, has also been introduced. These additions to the fesitval increased the average visitors' length of stay in Saugeen Shores and have been made possible by partnering with local groups which has further strengthened our community involvement. In 2013, our entertainment offerings grew significantly by retaining the "headlining act" THE TREWS for our Saturday afternoon line-up and plans for 2016 include more "headlining acts" on the entertainment stage, as well as introducing a new Culinary Pavilion and Showcase with an emphasis on local food producers, processors and retailers.
As Port Elgin Pumpkinfest continues to grow, we stay true to our original goal of staging an affordable community-fun festival, which includes more than 200 volunteers and approximately 40 fundraising charitable and non-profit groups.
Port Elgin Pumpkinfest continues to win Provincial awards each year as a member of Festival and Events Ontario and continued to be named one of Ontario's Top 100 Events.