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09.13 Blackstone Canalfest celebrates the Canal District

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As we swing past Labor Day, the first of the region’s fall festivals is upon us: The eighth annual Blackstone Canalfest, coming Saturday, Sept. 7, to Worcester’s blossoming Canal District.

Canalfest is a street festival, pure and simple, staged by the Canal District Alliance with the aim of celebrating the storied past, active present and promising future of the Canal District. It offers a full day of free, family-oriented fun, with food, music, dance, vendors of all sorts, a kids’ tent, street performers and special activities extraordinaire, including horse-and-wagon tours of the district and kayak demonstrations in the 75-foot replica of the historic canal. This year’s musical headliner will be The Flock, the local rock powerhouse that originates from the Lucky Dog Music Hall in the Canal District.

As an increasing number of people in the city are aware, the Blackstone Canal connected Worcester to Providence in the early part of the 19th century, providing an easy commercial outlet to the sea. While the canal concluded as a business enterprise in 1848, it was responsible for accelerating the industrial invention and output in Worcester and the entire Blackstone Valley to the south, as well as hastening the advent of the railroads. Before the dawn of a new century, the city boasted three railroad terminals and the canal itself had been arched over and forgotten.

Water still runs underneath Harding Street in the former canal bed, according to CDA President John Giangregorio, and the organization still promotes the idea of recreating the historic canal along its original location on Harding Street.

“The canal will be a water feature extraordinaire,” Giangregorio said, painting visions of canal boats and cafes in the air. “People are drawn to water, and the canal will fit right in with the cultural tourism theme that is rejuvenating the entire Blackstone Valley. It’s the best chance the city has of attracting visitors.”

Indeed, longtime residents already point to a resurgence of life in the Canal District over the past 10 years. An active bar and restaurant scene throughout the district and a burgeoning retail cluster at the former Crompton Loom Works on Green Street are evidence that the once-vibrant area is coming back to life.

The purpose of Canalfest is both to celebrate the past and promote the future, according to Giangregorio. Historical exhibitors will paint a picture of the district a century and a half ago, while CDA visionaries sketch a vision of its future. And meanwhile, Canalfest 2013 will bring the streets alive for one day in the present: Music, food, water and fun in the heart of the Canal District ~ on the south end of Harding Street at Kelley Square.

The festival runs from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7. For more information, visit blackstonecanalfest.org.

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