Toronto’s steampunk festival uncovers timeless talent

Published On June 20, 2018 | By amychen | Arts, News

Christina Osborne in her steampunk plague doctor costume at the Suburban Steam in Toronto on June 16. (Amy Chen)

Amy Chen

Children danced to live music while cosplayers prepared their performances and steampunk enthusiasts browsed booths of posters, jewelry and food. It was a full day of family and community fun, with an antique bicycle selfie station, a Murdoch Mysteries question-and-answer period and tea dueling.

Suburban Steam, Toronto’s annual steampunk festival at the Zion Schoolhouse, on Finch Avenue East near Leslie Street, showcased the creativity of the science fiction-inspired community on June 16.

The organizers encouraged attendees to fully immerse themselves in the genre, which involves a melding of the Victorian era with sophisticated technology. It could be expanded into many variants of the theme, such as including the Edwardian era and cyberpunk. 

Attendees dressed up in costumes that represented their love for steampunk. Cosplayer John Sproule decked out in full steampunk gear, which was his own creation, and he was a costume contest finalist.

Steampunk is mainly an idea of what would the 19th century be like if there was more technology added to it,” Sproule said. “Think of what happened with War of the Worlds and all the goodies that Martians left to Victorian society.”

John Sproule in his steampunk costume. (Amy Chen)

He has been in love with steampunk for nearly a decade, and doesn’t plan on stopping when it comes to attending events. He first found out about steampunk through the Toronto Steampunk Society, and began attending events with the group about seven years ago.

“It just kept growing from there. You add another item into your wardrobe ever so often, and it kind of grows on you. It’s fun,” he said.

“I remember going to the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exposition. They had Professor Elemental, who’s a chap hop artist, and Abney Park, who’s one of the top steampunk bands playing and it was just so much fun,” Sproule said. Chap hop is music inspired by hip hop and steampunk subculture.

“There were a whole bunch of people who were enjoying it, and all sorts of things on sale, and it just made for a lovely adventure,” he said.

After Suburban Steam, Sproule plans to attend the Coldwater Steampunk Festival, which is one of Ontario’s biggest steampunk festivals, this fall. He will also visit Lincoln, England, in August. It will be for the Asylum Steampunk Festival, where thousands of dressed steampunks enjoy the combination of art, literature, fashion, music and comedy.  

As the first-place winner of the costume contest, cosplayer Christina Osborne also hoped to attend the Coldwater Steampunk Festival this year. She likes steampunk for all of its mechanical parts, and her winning costume took about 40 hours to make.

“It’s based on a steampunk plague doctor,” Osborne said. “The main body part is just worbla (a modeling material used in costumes by cosplayers) to form the support for the chest piece. I put crafting foam on top, used paint, and stuck the pieces on.”


Nerissa Hutchinson and her steampunk jewelry at the Suburban Steam show in North York during the weekend. (Amy Chen)

To Osborne, what makes all her hard work worth it is getting to see kids dress up and parade around events alongside her.

“But some of them don’t like the mask too much,” she said.

Artists at the festival embraced cosplay as well while showcasing their work. Nerissa Hutchinson is the person and designer behind Steamgummi, a business selling steampunk jewelry.

She says she’s been a fan of steampunk style as far back as she could remember.

“My inspiration comes from my everyday imagination,” she said. “I love to create designs, I’ve always had a fascination with the Victorian era.”

Hutchinson has been following the Suburban Steam festival since it first started a few years ago. To her, it has been amazing to watch the event grow and to see more people enjoy it year after year.

Some of the wares being sold by Aiden Locke, a graphic design student, at the Suburban Steam show in North York. (Amy Chen)

“It makes me feel really good. I get to explain about my jewelry, this style, and to know that there’s an event around that is fabulous,” she said. “The costumes and the designs that people come up with, and the amount of work that they put into it is just amazing.”

Her next big event will be the Coldwater Steampunk Festival, and she is excited to see the entire town transformed into a steampunk fantasy.
Another artist at Suburban Steam was Aiden Locke, who is a graphic design student. He got into steampunk through his girlfriend, and has since been influenced by vintage travel posters, the Art Deco style and vintage illustrations. His most popular designs are posters of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

“Being in a design program, there’s a lot of competition all the time, so it’s really cool to have a platform like this to exhibit my art,” Locke said.

Locke’s next goal is to attend the Grand Canadian Steampunk Exposition, at Niagara-on-the-Lake on Sept. 22 to 24. 

It’s really great to have events like this, especially for students to sell their art,” he said.

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