Jen Henderson is a journalist breaking news in the capital region. She is a staff reporter at the St. Albert Gazette and  covers provincial and federal politics, crime and court. 

Steampunk sport makes a stop in St. Albert

Steampunk sport makes a stop in St. Albert

Katsume had a difficult childhood but has managed to make the most of it.

She was adopted by a Japanese family after her English missionary parents traveled to Japan and met their untimely deaths. She learned the art of parasoru ketto while in Japan and has since won the 2015 world championship in the compulsory figure event.

By 2016 Katsume had transformed herself into Captain Cynthia, the owner of The Ravenswood Emporium, which sells “fine collectables, rare and antiques and unusual artifacts.” She travels around the world in her airship collecting items for her customers with her trusty navigator and in 2016 she won the parasol duelling world championship in the street duelling category.

And in the mornings, Captain Cynthia transforms back into Cindy Bedford, a 57-year-old team lead for a multinational IT company planted firmly in Edmonton’s muggle world.

Bedford is a steampunk enthusiast and competes in the sport of parasol duelling. Steampunk society exists in a world suspended in the Victorian era and industrial revolution and sprinkled with extraordinary amounts of imagination. Members of the society create characters with original stories and artistic outfits and attend teas, balls and friendly competitions like parasol duelling.

“It’s an imagined history so we have an imagined sport,” Bedford said. “It’s a game of skill, speed and tactic. And totally non-contact, so there is no risk to ladies.”

She brought the sport of parasol duelling to St. Albert for a demonstration and lesson given to a dozen or so eager young women at the St. Albert Inn.

“My weapons of choice are the Japanese ones,” 16-year-old Samantha Pedersen said after her first face-off with fellow rookie, 18-year-old Heather McKenzie.“ I can move faster and it’s easier. I have two parasols at home and maybe once my little sister is older I will teach her.”

Parasol duelling is a competition that has sprung up from Calgary’s steampunk art and science society. It was invented in 2014 and is built around a parasol, which is an umbrella shaped instrument traditionally used by Victorian women to shade themselves from the sunlight.

The league is officially titled Madame Saffron Hemlock's Parasol Duelling League for Steampunk Ladies, and was named after the persona of one of the league’s creators Jayne Barnard.

The competitions feature two women facing off and striking one of three poses in a rock-paper-scissors style competition. The women have five seconds to strike as many diversion poses as possible, and when the time runs out, they must have executed their final official pose.

The umpires, known as doctors preside over the competitions and determine the winners of each round. A twirl beats a snub, a snub beats a plant, and a plant beats a twirl. Competitors are given points for things like grace, originality and completion of poses to help determine the overall champion.

“My very first competition was the world championships and I actually won one of the divisions,” Bedford said. “It completely blew me away. It was my very first duel ever with another person. And I was just hooked.”

Before the competition, she had bought the rulebook and was practicing the different poses in front of a mirror.

Although the competitions are exciting, much of the fun is creating the costumes and personas. Bedford brought along fellow steampunk fan Char-Min Wade-Creller a.k.a. Virgo Vermeil, who has been participating in the subgenre for five years and is now a steampunk stylist. She specializes in outfitting steampunk enthusiasts and helps incorporate “steamy” elements into wardrobes.

“I find it terribly therapeutic,” Wade-Creller said. “I help people find their personas as Virgo Vermeil, a steampunk stylist. It’s very helpful to sort out any anxiety you have in the muggle world where everything is not magical and not steamy at all. Once you have a persona, anything you like would fit in.”

Bedford’s first persona Katsume is a character that was inspired by a katana handle. She saw the small prop and decided to build her costume and persona around the sparkly grip. She created her own costume, including borrowed kimono from her mother and a pink paper parasol.

Bedford is slowly learning how to sew some of her own clothes, but in the meantime thrifts a lot of the other pieces she wears. She currently decorates her own accessories and enhances and embellishes her own parasols. Wade-Creller hosts her own sewing classes to help enthusiasts learn how to make their own costumes.

“We’ve even seen everything from the most adorable steampunk babies from soon to be steampunk great-grandmas,” Bedford said.

And that great grandma is Bedford’s mother. Bedford practices steampunk with her 75-year-old mother and 27-year-old daughter. Wade-Creller participates with her son and her partner, who works for The Nutman in St. Albert region and makes his deliveries dressed in steampunk outfits.

“We are a steampunk family,” Wade-Creller said.

Bedford’s daughter was the one who got her interested in the subgenre. Five years ago she took her daughter to the Calgary comic convention as a fun mother-daughter bonding experience and she left enchanted with the subgenre.

“I loved the steampunk aesthetic,” Bedford said. “The combination of Victorian and science fiction, two of my favourite genres in literature and it just spoke to me.”

After that convention her interest snowballed. She joined the Edmonton steampunk society and began attending events in the city. Soon she joined the parasol duelling league and now owns 12 full sized competition umbrellas and 6 minis.

“There is a lot of freedom,” Bedford said. “You can be someone you’ve always wanted to be or someone you’ve never imagined yourself as. There is just this freedom to be someone different or a different version of yourself.”

For more information steampunk or parasol duelling you can check out the Madame Saffron Hemlock's Parasol Duelling League for Steampunk Ladies Facebook page, which currently has 386 members.

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