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After a lot of discussion and thought I’ve come to the decision that Petrea Thule’s summer outdoor fight practices will occur at a single venue: Starting on Wednesday June 4th, our fight practices will be every Wednesday at King Edward Park at the corner of Princess and George Streets. The practices will be centred on the picnic shelter at the east end of the park (next to the bocce court) from 6:30 until dark, weather permitting, of course.

As this was a contentious issue for many in the canton, I’d like to explain my reasoning for this change in a public venue.

In past years we’ve tried moving from park to park weekly or every couple of weeks in an effort to increase public awareness of the SCA; while this has garnered some public interest and even brought us some new members, it has not been the success that we’d hoped. During the discussion about this summer’s plans, several people mentioned that they’d had non-SCAdians say they had been interested, but had come out a week or two later to the park where they’d seen us and we hadn’t been there. Further, several experienced fighters from out of town have commented to me that they’d decided against making the drive into Peterborough because they were unsure as to where we’d be practicing that week.

Taking these three points into consideration, I came to the conclusion that the advantages of staying at a single location through the course of the summer would outweigh the loss of a certain amount of public exposure… particularly since moving around has already proven not to have paid the dividends we hoped. Sticking to a single park would at least represent a change from a policy that hasn’t worked out, regardless of how successful that change ultimately turns out to be.

That was the first part of my decision, which then let to the second: choosing which park we would be practicing at.

And that was in many ways the harder call: Throughout this process I found myself wrestling with the very real question of “What’s the purpose of a public fight practice?” Is our practice primarily about fighters having the opportunity to learn to fight, or is it primarily about recruitment? Essentially, should our focus be inward or outward?

It was argued by a couple of our members that we should be focussing entirely on public exposure, that each of these practices was functionally a mini-demo where our group would be on display at all times. Other members told me that the practice should be about the fighters and that everything else was secondary, that the practice should be built around providing a convenient environment for our members and that public exposure should not be the goal of these practices. I felt that a compromise had to be reached between these viewpoints.

In any case, there are really only three city parks that meet our requirements. We need space, we need bathrooms/changerooms, and we need convenient access.

The first choice was the west end of Nichols’ Oval, at the large picnic shelter. We’ve had many practices there over the years, and it has the advantages of lots of room, a covered shelter and tables for non-fighters to relax at, close proximity to parking and it’s always shaded and breezy, even on the hottest summer evenings. The disadvantage is that this site is (quite literally) off the beaten path and does not enjoy the sort of exposure that could be an advantage for recruiting. It is also difficult to get to without a car, particularly as the nearest public transport stop is several hundred metres away across the park.

The second choice is the east end of Roger’s Cove park, near the playground equipment. It’s been our go-to park for a lot of practices, being convenient to parking, having a lot of space, and with moderate exposure, particularly involving the bike path around Little Lake. The disadvantages to this site are that there is no shelter – or even open picnic tables – for the non-fighters to use, and being near the water it gets buggy as hell as the sun goes down. It is also a considerable distance from the downtown, and not as convenient to public transit as it could be.

The third choice is the one I ultimately decided to go with: the east end of King Edward Park just off of George St. It has a moderate amount of room, a covered area with picnic tables, is convenient to the downtown, and there is a transit stop in the immediate vicinity. The major disadvantage of the site is the complete lack of parking; our fighters will be parking on the street and will have to carry their armour a hundred metres or more. However, that I judged that single disadvantage was greatly outweighed by the enormous amount of exposure the site gets, not only from passing traffic but also from the considerable foot traffic in the area, especially as the concert crowds pass by on their way to the Festival of Lights every Wednesday.

I disagree with the notion that exposure should be the primary goal of an armoured combat practice… but I can’t ignore the fact that a public practice is going to be an extremely valuable recruiting tool. And recruitment is something that we do have to consider. Moving to the single-park model from the multiple-park one is a deliberate attempt to make it easier for people – especially new people who are interested in joining – to come out and participate; it would be foolish to undermine that effort by picking a practice site that much of the public won’t see.

On a personal level, I thought that Roger’s Cove would be the best choice, bugs or no. Nichols’ Oval is probably the best site for the sake of the fighters’ convenience, but it just doesn’t get any exposure. I didn’t like King Edward because of the absence of parking… but Roger’s Cove simply isn’t going to get the kind of exposure that King Edward will. Not by a long shot.

King Edward is, in many ways, a compromise between the inward-focussed, fighters-first approach, and the outward-focussed, every-practice-a-demo approach. The park itself is fine, it’s just the parking that’s inconvenient. But I can live with dragging my kit a hundred yards or more if it means that many new people can be made aware that there’s an SCA group locally, and hopefully join.

I understand that there will be people in the canton who might disagree with my decision, and I do respect that: One of the very real challenges of being Seneschal is that it’s impossible to please everybody all of the time. I am, however, extremely grateful for the amount of input I received while building up to this decision; I genuinely feel that I made every effort to accommodate all the viewpoints that were presented.

Ultimately, however, a decision had to be made. It was a tough call, but it was my call to make. And I made it: For June, July and August we’ll be at King Edward Park every Wednesday evening that weather permits.