HALIFAX—Tucked in a corner of the Halifax Public Gardens, a group of travellers meet for a picnic, converging from around the globe and the space-time continuum.
“Today we are gathering some old school chums, some old military chums and some chums. We’re not going shark fishing, just to celebrate the day,” said Jonathan Smythe (or Michael Reid as he’s known the rest of the time) who had travelled from 1893 to attend the picnic.
The Jules Verne Phantastical Society hosted their “8th First Annual Time Traveller’s Picnic” on Sunday afternoon in the gardens, giving people a chance to don clothing from other eras — and as Andrew Aulenback put it, to play with history.
“I love stories and I know that human beings learn through stories,” said Aulenback, who daylights as a school librarian.
“So this is all just showing off a love of stories and if it manages to occasionally lure in people who didn’t realize they love these stories, like say you, who then come over and, ‘Oh! this is really cool, can I play with these stories too?’ Of course you can.”
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The society is a steampunk-themed group started by Marina Smith, along with Wanda and Andrew Aulenback, who both jumped at the chance to create something centred around the popular subculture that incorporates Victorian-era dress and technology with science fiction.
“Steampunk for me is a fun way to just have costuming fun, and you know, get together with other people and doing something interesting. But on top of that it’s about being able to teach people history because in order to play with history you have to know a little bit about it and so people sort of learn through play,” Wanda Aulenback said.
“There’s so many different things you can do, so I just really enjoy the look of everything and the fun idea of dealing with the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what could have beens’ of the Industrial Revolution.”
This is the seventh year of the picnic, which is the group’s biggest event and involves a tour of the Public Gardens, as well as Victorian parlour games. Due to a typo, the seventh run of the event is being called the eighth — but to many travellers time isn’t linear, anyway.
“We’ve advertised this one as the eighth first annual and next year will also be the eighth first annual — and that’s OK because it’s a time travel story,” Andrew Aulenback said.
Smythe said that temporal mechanics can be a little confusing to someone who has never time travelled before.
“It’s actually quite simple, you see. You have a fixed point of reference here, we keep going back to the same one, eight times. We keep coming back to this one, but you have to keep track of which one it is. This is the eighth one,” he said attempting to walk StarMetro through the complicated nuances of time travel.
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According to the Aulenbacks, the group usually meets monthly, although the annual picnic is one of the biggest events of the year.
“Part of our mandate is that we want to have events that are free and open to everyone and visible to the public. So we have, this is one of those big events that we do every year. … It’s open, it’s family-friendly, and there’s no cost to anyone. You just have to bring a picnic,” Wanda Aulenback said.
The society shares an ethos with many other new businesses and groups popping up around Halifax and internationally, such as escape rooms and other costume-centred events: adults want to play.
“We always have people stopping us and going like, ‘Oh, you’re dressed so cool,’ or, ‘Oh, I wish I could do that,’ and the whole point is that you can, anybody can. Anybody can just pick up some vintage clothes, or anybody can just go to a Frenchy’s or anybody can just get together with friends and just go to a park and do something fun, you know,” Wanda Aulenback said of the group.
“So that’s sort of trying to you know make it OK for adults to play again.”
Anybody interested in joining the Jules Verne Phantastical Society can find them on Facebook. Membership is free and officially granted when you show up at a gathering. The group will also be hosting a steampunk workshop at this year’s Hal-Con in October.