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Hundreds of picnickers take spot at world's longest picnic table

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

Peter Penner (left) of CJDL Consulting Engineers in Tilsonburg runs a measuring tape along connected picnic table on Saturday at Backus Heritage Conservation Area near Port Rowan.  A new world record was set during Picnic Day in Norfolk County for the longest picnic table with a length of 1,061.94 feet, beating a previous record in France by three feet. Brian Thompson/Postmedia Network

Peter Penner (left) of CJDL Consulting Engineers in Tilsonburg runs a measuring tape along connected picnic table on Saturday at Backus Heritage Conservation Area near Port Rowan. A new world record was set during Picnic Day in Norfolk County for the longest picnic table with a length of 1,061.94 feet, beating a previous record in France by three feet. Brian Thompson/Postmedia Network

PORT ROWAN - 

1,061.94 feet.

That was enough continuous seating to break the world record for the longest picnic table on Saturday at Backus Heritage Conservation Area.

And about 1,000 picnickers, eager to make history, brought wicker baskets, coolers, Tupperware and bags stuffed with enough food to make it an outdoor feast they were unlikely to forget.

“I did the math,” declared Norfolk Mayor Charlie Luke at the end of it all. “We broke the record by three feet.”

That now-shattered record for world’s longest picnic table event was held by a group in France.

The spectacle was the brainchild of Paul Smith, president of the Port Rowan/South Walsingham Heritage Association. He wanted to do something in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. When he heard that Norfolk County council had officially declared July 9 Picnic Day, he knew what to do.

“Everybody was supposed to have a picnic,” said Smith. “So, I thought why not collect everybody and bring them here?”

With a core committee of about eight and dozens of other helpers, Smith said posters were slapped up all over town advertising the challenge and social media helped spread the message far and wide.

“It seems like people really wanted to get together and do something like this,” said Smith.

That it did, with an enormous ring of more than 160 picnic tables – joined together by stapled strips of thin wood – winding its way from Cherry Valley School, along the conservation area road to Forbes Barn.

“It’s a brilliant way to celebrate Canada 150,” said Sheila Johnson, curator at Backus. “It was a wonderful community partnership.”

Carrying off the feat required a bit of a picnic table rodeo, with Chuck Brady, assistant supervisor at Backus, scrambling to round up all the tables at Backus and corral the others from parks within the Long Point Region Conservation Authority.

“It took a lot of effort to set it up but the reward is tremendous,” said Brady.

“We’re really looking forward to the tear down,” he joked, estimating that task would take a couple of days.

Sean and Trish Fitzgerald of Port Ryerse, along with their children, Sam and Ben, and nieces, Allison and Maygan Coholan, were among the hundreds of picnickers enjoying Saturday’s full sunshine and warm temperature.

They brought salad, watermelon, veggies, and homemade Rice Krispie squares, topping up the meal with ice cream and cheesecake being sold at the community hall.

Trish’s mom, Helen Maenhaut of Vittoria, asked her family to be there.

“It’s a big celebration,” said Maenhaut, who used to bring her young family camping at the conservation area more than 30 years ago. “And I wanted my grandchildren to see that there is someplace so close to home where they can come and spend the day.”

Richelle and Bill Mahoney and their children Noah, Gavin and Brooklyn, also have connections to the park. Richelle’s dad has his seasonal trailer set up there.

“I thought this would be a nice chance to be part of history,” Richelle said of the world record attempt.

Peter Penner, an engineer at CJDL Consulting in Tillsonburg, served as the official measurer of the tables because his mom, Marie Penner, a member of the heritage association, recruited him.

Acting as official verifiers were Mayor Luke, Haldimand-Norfolk MP Diane Finley, Norfolk Coun. Noel Hadyt, and Pastor Bill Wiebe.

“This proves that really anything can be accomplished in Norfolk County when its citizens work together,” said Wiebe.

The day also included live music, a show by illusionist Lucas Wilson, a vintage baseball game and 1867 children’s games.

Brantford Expositor

mruby@postmedia.com