EDEN MILLS – The recently renovated Rivermead building has reopened as the headquarters of the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival.
People gathered to celebrate Rivermead’s reopening on Nov. 24 with a community gathering and panel discussion about the festival’s impact on Canadian literature.
Rivermead is a former church located at 19 Cedar St. in the village of Eden Mills in Guelph/Eramosa.
The renovations, funded by the Gabriel Foundation and an $85,000 capital grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), involved energy efficiency upgrades and repairs.
Rivermead was donated to the Eden Mills Writers Festival by Kim Lang and the Gabriel Foundation in 2015.
Guests at the grand reopening included Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott, Guelph/Eramosa Mayor Chris White, Guelph Arts Council executive director Damien Weston, and about 30 community members.
Arnott said the renovations included fixing water damage in the 162-year-old building.
Upgrades were also made to the once-crumbling stonework and the entry vestibule.
For more than 150 years, the Rivermead building served the Eden Mills community as a Wesleyan Church.
Now, it will provide space for year-round literature programming and events including author gatherings, meetings, celebrations and fundraisers.
Rivermead is also available for private and community use.
White described the building as “absolutely gorgeous” and said he feels “very proud to have (the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival) in our community.
“This town always has great ideas” and the gumption to follow through with them, too, he added.
Weston said through the writers’ festival “something incredible happens in this village – the audience calls and the artist answers with hope.”
The festival’s impact
Globe and Mail arts editor Judith Pereira led a panel discussion during the grand reopening, with writers Madhur Anand and Nicholas Ruddock.
Anand is a poet and professor of ecology and environmental sciences at the University of Guelph.
Her debut book of prose This Red Line Goes Straight to Your Heart won the Governor General’s Award for Nonfiction, and her collection of poems Parasitic Oscillations was named a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book.
Ruddock is a Guelph physician and author of three novels. Before he began his writing career, Ruddock lived on the outskirts of Eden Mills and attended the festival “many times before trying to get in as an artist.”
“Eden Mills is a very, very special place,” Pereira said, noting writers festivals are where she is most able to connect with new authors.
“Its a magical place,” Ruddock agreed.
“The Eden Mills Writers Festival is truly unique,” Anand said, pointing out how integrated the local community is with the festival.
Pereira said the festival “provides an ecosystem for young authors” to learn and find their “kindred spirits.”
Festival board chair Theresa Ebden said, “We are grateful to the OTF for this grant, which enables us to sustain our non-profit’s vision of building a community connected through literature, as we rebuild our audience post-pandemic amid rising inflation.”
Though recent years have been a “challenging era for the festival,” attendance has not wavered, with over 1,000 attendees at each of the two most recent festivals, Ebden said.
In 2020 and 2021, the festival produced free online programming to the public, something Ebden said “was the right thing to do,” but resulted in an “erosion of our funds.”
That erosion, combined with the impacts of inflation, is why the festival is aiming to raise $50,000 this season – to cover about one-fifth of the charity’s operating budget.
To support the festival or inquire about booking Rivermead, visit emwf.ca.