Harvest Noir brings the spirit of Alice in Wonderland to Ottawa on September 30

Photo by byfield~pitman photography.

Greg Searle (@gregorysearle) is Executive Director of BioRegional North America (@BioRegional_US) where he runs @OnePlanetLiving and the ecoConcierge program, and is currently crowdfunding to support a book he is writing on sustainable behaviours and healthy urban living. He is the co-organizer of @HarvestNoir, loves working out of @HubOttawa, and once drove a Peugot with a trunk full of prosciutto ham from Parma, Italy to St. Petersburg, Russia. 

 There’s a reason discounted early bird tickets to Harvest Noir are selling out fast!  LTO called it “a smash success” last year, when 760 adventurous guests dressed in their finest black attire attended the first “chic picnic” in Ottawa’s history at a secret destination (revealed to be the Museum of Civilization).  Apartment613 readers voted it one of Ottawa’s “Sexiest Parties”, and I think I know why: Harvest Noir  combined the best of fashion, gourmet food, wine, dancing and a good social cause with a liberal dose of genteel public mischief.

As the organizers, we were awed by the kind of people who showed up at Harvest Noir, as much as the numbers.  There was enthusiastic audience participation in quirky happenings like the impromptu fashion show.

In the past when I’ve been lucky enough to live abroad in places like Rome and London and Boston, I could never avoid feeling upon my return to Ottawa that the people here had the volume turned down a couple notches. So it was especially touching  to see all these creative, daring, beautiful Ottawa souls letting their inner child loose in public, laughing and dining and dancing together… Harvest Noir was a hit because it gathered so many funky people in our city all under the same (architecturally stunning) roof! 

I can’t count the number of people who told me an event like Harvest Noir would never fly in Ottawa.

But when I saw my first European-inspired chic picnic in Montreal last August, I was certain that the concept was too cool to fail, even here! But something was still missing. What we needed was a real meaningful purpose, a REASON to throw the party of the year, and I found that in Ottawa’s burgeoning local food scene. Why not fuse a chic picnic with a traditional harvest ball? This really isn’t a new idea – a few generations back, people vigorously celebrated the harvest all across Europe in hundreds of culturally interesting ways all throughout the autumn.  In North America, Thanksgiving is the only significant surviving offspring of this lost tradition, but even Thanksgiving has lost its humble farm roots. 

Photo by Glenn Stowe.

>Harvest Noir asks its guests to step away, for just one day, from the usual ultra-convenient, cheap, industrially-farmed foreign produce found in every grocery store, and to eat something fresh and healthy from a farm you could actually visit without a jet. Prepare it themselves, and eat it with the biggest group of their friends they can assemble. If this sounds like some kind of hippie singalong tofu roast, just look at some of the photos from last year’s picnic – those are some well-dressed people eating some very fine food, and they are having a blast. 

 One guest told us that attending Harvest Noir last year was “like stepping into Alice in Wonderland”, and we seized upon her statement as the zeitgeist of planning the 2012 event.
We’ll let Local Tourist readers in on some of the ways we intend to make it bigger, bolder, and more downtown this year:
  • A few days before the event, Harvest Noir attendees will pull on their top hats and fancy fascinators and meet for a mass shopping flashmob at farmer’s markets to buy the ingredients for their picnic feasts. No one but our guests will know where and when this will happen.
  • On September 30, we’ll be partying in one of the busiest, most public places in downtown Ottawa. We are going to surprise a lot of unsuspecting passersby and tourists.
  • A large phalanx of guests in black tie finery will converge on a different secret location before the picnic, and then pedal  in stately procession together to a triumphant late arrival at the picnic grounds where the other guests will be unpacking and setting up. We think this will make quite an impression, and be seriously fun for everyone!
  • Elegantly-dressed dinner guests bring picnic baskets stuffed with delicious local food they’ve prepared and celebrate the harvest with friends old and new. Guests will enjoy the dining experience of the year, accompanied by bottles of wine, refined live music, prizes and surprises, and quirky performers.
  • Starting with 1000+ fiery sparklers, and lead by a funky parade band, the guests will depart the picnic grounds and march in a fantastic Mad Hatter Parade through downtown Ottawa, leaving surprised tourists and jealous passers-by in their wake.
  • This year’s DJ dance party will take place in one of the most important cultural venues in Ottawa, and have more music/dancing choices for guests of all ages.  A participatory fashion show by audience members is back by popular demand!
  • 100 per cent of proceeds at Harvest Noir go towards helping BioRegional North America carry on its nonprofit mission to create model places where genuinely sustainable, healthy lifestyles that promote a 70 per cent+ reduction in carbon footprint are convenient for the ordinary people who live or work there. BioRegional has been pioneering these approaches in places like the UK, California, and Washington State and now has a new focus on bringing innovative lessons back to Ottawa, where the organization’s North American offices are based at Hub Ottawa. BioRegional recently was invited to help steer the formation of the Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict in the downtown core. You can pre-order “ONE PLANET LIFESTYLES: Creating sociable places where sustainable 21st century living is convenient” a new book that BioRegional is working on. A crowd-funding campaign is helping support the book’s extensive research and getting it published.
  • Guests must dress their best in black, head to toe. Avoid white if you can – it’s so anti-noir! Be creative, be bold, with a retro-elegant theme wherever possible. Quirky period hats encouraged! There are some fantastic vintage and thrift boutique shops in Ottawa where you can go to get creative without blowing the budget. I recommend fashionable ladies hats from Chapeaux Madeleine. 


  • A few discounted early bird tickets are still left on sale at harvestnoir.com – but they won’t last very long.
We can’t wait for this Greg! Thanks for the snapshot!