One-year-old Elliot Koski reached up from his stroller to tug on the Predator’s dreadlocks and pet his face while the alien creature scowled into the camera and looked generally intimidating.
“Nice Predator,” said Elliot’s dad, Cory Koski, with a laugh.
It was Elliot’s first time at ThunderCon, the local pop-culture convention that took over The Valhalla Inn this weekend and hosted characters of all kinds.
“I love how it’s improved over the years, there’s just more,” said Cory. “This is a really good draw and there’s a lot of people really participating. There’s a lot to look at and people dress in great costumes, I also like bumping into people I know that are all dressed up.”
The event, which is in its third year, seemed to attract a lot of families.
“It gives families the opportunity to come out and express themselves as the inner nerds that they are and I love seeing the kids dress up in their costumes,” said Crystal Koski, Elliot’s mom.
Cory agreed that he loved seeing all the little kids getting into the fun of the day, dressing up and meeting some of their favourite characters.
“I grew up as a geek and this culture was despised by most people except the subculture,” said Cory. “Now geekdom is everywhere and everyone loves it.”
Deciding to make ThunderCon weekend an event, Thunder Bay resident Noah Daniels and his son Callum, 8, stayed at the hotel so they could attend both days.
“It’s a staycation,” said Noah. “We wanted to make a weekend of it. It’s nice to see it getting bigger every time.”
“It’s really fun,” said Callum. “I just like all of it, I like seeing R2-D2.”
The Luc family has attended ThunderCon every year, said mom Danielle who was dressed like Poison Ivy from Batman.
“We usually choose a theme and all dress up like that,” she said. “We let (the kids) pick what they want and then we decide from there what we will be.”
The family of Batman villains featured son Malcolm dressed like The Joker and daughter Shailyn as Harley Quinn. As part of her costume, Shailyn carried a huge mallet, but when she saw the Predator coming she turned and walked quickly in the opposite direction.
Inside the Predator costume, David Biscardi said what he loves about events like ThunderCon is the creativity it inspires.
“It’s an outlet to see what you can do,” said Biscardi, who spent a-year-and-a-half accumulating all the parts for his Predator costume. The legs and torso, he said, were just a latex skin that needed to be painted after he got them.
“The mask was made by a Thunder Bay artist, the hands were made by a Thunder Bay artist,” said Biscardi. “I sourced them from all different people who have different talents and it all gets put together.”
A lot of the details Biscardi added himself, including designing the animatronics and sound system for the cannon on his shoulder.
“It was a lot of late nights,” he said. “But you build it and get the response. When people say ‘oh wow!’ that puts a smile on my face.”
Another pair of aliens who were turning heads this weekend were Klingons Peter Hutchison and Pierre Ouellette, both from Timmins. The were invited to attend the convention as part of the Klingon Assault Group, an international cosplay club focused around the Klingon empire and Star Trek fandom.
“We’re trying to build a community of Star Trek cosplayers here in Thunder Bay,” said Hutchison. “We’ve got a number of people who have expressed interest. There’s a new ship that’s been founded here called the Imperial Klingon Vessel Shadow Lord, so Klingons are going to be a regular presence here in Thunder Bay from now on.”
The Klingon Assault Group, said Hutchison, is based on the principle of having fun. There are very few rules and everyone is welcome.
“We do accept other races,” said Ouellette. “As long as they’re not human, and they pledge allegiance to the Klingon Empire.”
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THUNDER BAY - From its less than humble beginning three years ago, the little convention that was meant to gather fans of sci-fi, comics, games, and everything geek together in a fun and inclusive way, has grown like a colossus and is taking the city by storm.
ThunderCon wrapped up on Sunday and organizers say the turnout and reception this year has far exceeded expectations.
“We were setting the bar rather high this year,” said ThunderCon executive chair, Robert Kilgour. “I think we have been rewarded with a little bit of success. We have set a higher level for bringing new and interesting ideas for our con to the people of Thunder Bay and I think everyone has responded well.”
Kilgour said when ThunderCon first started three years ago as a one day event, more than 1,000 people attended. It grew in its second year when it expanded to two days, but this year, he is expects attendance to be more than 4,000 people.
“I think we all had dreams of that, but we never expected it to grow quite this quickly,” he said. “The uptake on it was huge.”
This year included several special guests such as Robert Picardo of Star Trek, voice actor Chuck Huber, video game writer, Ann Lemay, actor Kevin Porter, author Jayne Barnard, and cosplayer MNC Props, or Vincent Grenier.
ThunderCon offers something for everyone, from board and video games, to comics and collectibles, or cosplay and live action roleplaying, whatever your fandom is, you can be sure to find it. And that is what makes the convention so special, according to Gary Kemp, a vendor who has participated in ThunderCon since it began.
“It’s so inclusive,” he said. “There’s no exclusion. When you walk in the door, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you wear, your orientation, colour, creed, anything. It’s such a wide reaching event and it speaks to the creativity of the people here.”
Creativity was certainly on display, as people dressed up as their favourite characters from movies and comics and video games.
Karen Hutchinson, a cosplayer from Timmins, Ont. made the drive to Thunder Bay with her fellow Klingons and she said her experience at ThunderCon has been amazing.
“I really enjoy these fan run, smaller conventions,” she said. “It allows you to spend more time getting to know people, people are really friendly up here, and we’re having a lot of fun.”
Hutchinson has been involved in cosplay since she was a child, and because her parents were costumers, and her father owned an upholstery shop, it always meant her Halloween costumes were extra special.
“I just grew up into it,” she said. “We were a Star Trek family. I grew up on Star Trek and other sci-fi and learning how to make costumes as I went.”
But what’s next for ThunderCon? Kemp has seen it grow substantially in only three years, but he believes too much growth, too fast, may hurt the convention.
“I believe it can keep growing, but I think the danger is to grow it too quickly without thought to what that growth is,” he said. “You want quality not necessarily just quantity.”
Which is something organizers are very conscious of as they start thinking about what ThunderCon will look like in 2018 and just how big it will get.
“There are so many different individual and fandoms within Thunder Bay and I think they see an opportunity here to share their love for their fandom together,” Kilgour said. “But I also think word has gotten out not only in the city, but into the district and northern U.S. and as far as Winnipeg and Timmins.”
“We will always keep an eye to growth, but I think what we really want to do is look at what we have and make it as good as possible,” Kilgour continued.
THUNDER BAY, Ont. – Hundreds of geeks, nerds and fans attending this weekend’s ThunderCon event at the Valhalla Inn will be coming from outside of city.
This year ThunderCon organizers put significant effort into attracting internationally recognized keynote guests, including Robert Picardo (Star Trek Voyager; Stargate), along with making other event improvements. These efforts may pay off, as nearly half of the online pre-registered attendees are coming from outside the city.
“Going into the third year we knew we had to take the risk and go big, or become a stagnant event that inevitably dulls over time,” said Rob Kilgour, Chair of ThunderCon Executive. “With the help of City Tourism Manager Paul Pepe and the City of Thunder Bay, ThunderCon has garnered so much attention beyond our borders. It’s pretty darn exciting when you have Klingons from Minnesota coming to your Con!”
Kilgour adds the event’s improvements couldn’t have been possible without the Northern Ontario Heritage Corporation, which generously contributed a $12,300 grant.
“I’m thrilled that through the NOHFC, our government is able to support thriving independent events like
ThunderCon that help bolster tourism here in the Northwest and provide unique opportunities forNortherners that would otherwise be unavailable,” said Michael Gravelle, Minister of Northern Development and Mines and Chair of the NOHFC.
“Congratulations to the organizers of Thundercon on their third annual event,” said Bill Mauro, MPP for Thunder Bay Atikokan. “It continues to grow and exceed the expectations of the organizers themselves. It’s events like this that help build community and strengthen our local economy. I’m pleased that our government was able to provide a Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation grant to support this great weekend.”
ThunderCon takes place this SATURDAY Sept. 23 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and SUNDAY Sept. 24 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Valhalla Inn.
For additional information, or to arrange interviews during ThunderCon please contact:
Media coordinator, 807-630-8366.
ATTENTION ASSIGNMENT EDITORS
Media passes for your organization will be set aside for your reporting staff. Please instruct staff covering the event to check in at the front desk at anytime Saturday or Sunday to retrieve a weekend pass.