By Ted Simpson –
Elaina Martin is best known as the driving force behind Westfest, the summer street party that has been helping to define Westboro’s identity since the days when Richmond Road hosted more used car lots than condos. Martin has been busy this year, more so than normal, and she’s taken some time to let us in on what she’s been up to.
“This is actually ramping up into my busy period, now ‘til June,” says Martin. “I usually take my down time during the summer, but I didn’t this year.”
Martin’s summer project was a major redesign to the Westfest layout. It’s a change in direction that brings the festival closer to its roots, with the aim of being more inclusive and open to everyone.
The Main Stage is going back on to Richmond Road, where it was for the first eight years of Westfest. No more parking lot, no more fences, and no more bag checks. The stage will be placed in front of the Clocktower Pub, facing East. The party starts on the street at 9 a.m and it will stay on the street right through until 11 p.m. with everyone free to come and go and wander as they like.
Martin laments the original move that put the music portion of the event behind gates. “We had to try something, we almost had to close the festival because we are free and prices keep going up while people are spending less money,” says Martin. “We tried licensing the whole space and selling more alcohol – it didn’t work. People were seeing that fence as a barrier, we saw less people coming out.”
So now that we know the latest news on our summer festival, let’s take some time to get to know Elaina a little better, because there is much more to her life than just Westfest.
1) She’s come from a hard background.
Growing up as a Métis woman comes with a certain set of stigma; being openly gay, in addition, opens up a world of prejudice that often leads to violence and abuse. “I have spent a lot of my life overcoming serious abuse at the hands of sexual violence and homophobia,” says Martin. She may have lost her teeth in one of those fights, but she certainly never lost her will. A difficult past has only fuelled Martin’s drive for a better future.
2) Her first job in Ottawa: lounge singer.
Martin moved to Ottawa in 1997 with nothing but a suitcase and a couch to sleep on. She spent the first three years as a jazz singer at Centretown Pub’s Silhouette Lounge, with gigs every Thursday to Saturday night. That job eventually gave way to a full band, Elaina and The Chain, who shared the stage with artists like Tegan and Sara, Jan Arden and Indigo Girls. “That experience on stage makes me a better producer back stage,” says Martin.
3) Westfest isn’t the only show she produces.
“Most people think Westfest is all I do,” says Martin, and most people would be dead wrong. She is a producer on a number of indigenous programs and ceremonies, including the Aboriginal Achievement Awards, a national televised awards program and theatre show that happens every spring. “I produce a lot of big indigenous shows all year long,” says Martin. “Basically once a month I’m flying to a Canadian city and producing a show, and everywhere I go I am telling people about my baby back home that is Westfest.”
4) She used to be a correctional officer.
During her time in Sudbury, Martin worked as a Correctional Officer at a young offender facility for boys. Her first work placement out of school was at Montieth Correctional Facility, a medium security men’s prison. “I’m a pussy cat now, back then, at 19, I was a big, mean, rough, tough… so it worked,” she says. That training still plays a role in how she deals with people in life, anyone who knows Martin knows she is direct to the point and does not put up with any bull from anyone.
5) She’s left the city life behind.
Elaina and her partner have had a cottage in L’Ange-Gardien, Quebec for a few years and they have recently decided to call it home. That means Martin has been spending most of her free time in her canoe. “A year ago I decided to sell my house in Vanier and turn the cottage into a full time residence,” she says. “It’s as close to balance as I have ever found: working really hard, playing really well, and experiencing and loving life.”