The Canadian Open Old Time Fiddle Championship, or Shelburne Fiddle Contest as it was commonly known, started out as a seed in the mind of Rotary Club members who were looking for a fundraiser to support their charitable work in the local community and beyond. The main debate seemed to be around the fact that at that time in Dufferin County everybody could hear the fiddle played for free at home, so why would they pay to hear someone play at the arena? Despite these doubts, the first contest went ahead and was a resounding success.
The essential elements of the contest have remained unchanged since the first fiddler stepped onto the stage 1951 – there are playdowns and finals, various age classes, and, most importantly, the Championship Class has always been “open” – this means that anyone can enter, there are no prequalifying events. The playdowns now start on Saturday morning with the finals happening Saturday night, interspersed with entertainment. This format of competition combined with entertainment came about as a result of the fact that the CBC broadcast the Saturday night finals live and needed to fill out the half hour broadcast – there were only eight finalists playing on Saturday night that first year. The CBC had a long relationship with the fiddle contest, one that came to an end over a decade ago, meaning that the contest is no longer broadcast on the radio, and the Rotary Club is now responsible for organizing the Saturday night entertainment. In 2018, technology allowed the Rotary Club to again bring the fiddle contest to a wider audience through live streaming of the Saturday night finals and entertainment.
In 2016 the Fiddle Championship underwent a rebirth as the Heritage Music Festival. The variety of entertainment was expanded to appeal to a wider audience, while maintaining the central element of the event, the fiddle competition. A Thursday night concert and a Wednesday night barn dance and jamboree are part of the Festival. Friday night there is a headliner concert, past acts have included Jim Cuddy, Corb Lund, and The Trews. There is a non-denominational church service, a pork BBQ and lots happening at the Fiddle Park, including camping throughout the whole event and Bands & Brews on Saturday afternoon. It seems like if you live in Shelburne, you’re either attending the Heritage Music Festival, or working at one of the related events.