With a fair bit of traveling under my belt, my sense of direction over the years has improved. Yet, even close to home, certain scenarios find ways to prove any breath of hope for my directional challenges to be completely unfounded; case in point, the corn maze just past
Thamesville can disorient anyone’s internal compass. In 2001, Ken and Ingrid Dieleman turned part of their farmland into the Thamesville Maize, cutting a 10-acre maze in the shape of the CN Tower into their cornfields. The site was rebranded in 2013 as iMAZE and the Dielemans have created a different labyrinth every year, along with adding numerous family-friendly attractions. This year marks the unveiling of their sixteenth maze and each one has been completely patriotic, including an emphasis on local history with Chief Tecumseh, the Battle of the Thames, and the War of 1812, as well as farming tributes to 4-H, McGrail Farming Equipment, and Pioneer Seeds. Whether national, provincial, or local, all of the maze layouts are astounding. The photo gallery on their website
www.imaze.ca is proof of the artistry that goes into the designs.
Given the temporary, seasonal nature of the annual mazes, it is only on the website that the lasting impressions of mazes from years past can be seen, including the replicas of the two famous Canadians: astronaut Chris Hadfield in 2014 and comedian Rick Mercer in 2008. There is an entire Rick Mercer Report segment on YouTube of the comedian visiting Thamesville after the Dielemans enticed him with his face in their cornfield. Mercer replied with, “When someone cuts your face into a cornfield, you show up.” Seeing his face from a helicopter above, the comedian is moved to say, “This is the strangest moment of my life. Honestly, I don’t know whether to be flattered or alarmed.”
A few years removed from this brush with fame on Canadian television, the Dielemans partnered with a famous local event, the Chatham-Kent FireFest, by using the outline of a 1927 Stewart fire truck for their 2016 maze. Into its fifth year, FireFest has become the largest show of its kind in Canada, attracting over 100 vintage fire trucks and emergency vehicles; this comes as no surprise with Chatham-Kent holding the title of the Classic Car Capital of Canada. We have been taking our two boys to FireFest for several years, so extending festivities to the Thamesville maze was an easy decision for a fun night out for our family. Several of the FireFest trucks were on display for my boys to climb on before winding our way through the intricate network carved in the cornfield. My oldest son, Ethan, was treating the maze like an adventure; his younger brother, Jonah, approached it with more trepidation, wary of the size of the corn stalks surrounding him.
Before entering the maze, we chose a passport that offers assistance with multiple choice questions when coming to a crossroads. Answering the questions properly sends you in the right direction by providing instructions to turn right or left. There are also Corn Cops throughout the maze to offer guidance to those who feel as if they’ve been going in circles for too long. Not long into the maze, we found ourselves retracing our steps after being stopped in our tracks by our second dead end. “I knew this was a bad idea,” Jonah said. “It’s just too hard to get out of.”
He was mostly unimpressed because it took time away from the other attractions, especially the Jumbo Jumper, a gigantic bouncy pillow that was the true source of fun for him. The fire truck maze is split into two sections and, after twenty minutes, we made it to the end of the first half. Jonah went straight for the Jumbo Jumper. To Jonah’s credit, the iMAZE motto is “Total Fun on the Farm.” The maize on this farm may be all about the maze, but there is plenty to do, like roast s’mores on campfires, play giant board games (chess, billiards, checkers), climb a giant spider web, or shoot corn cobs out of a corn cannon (Rick Mercer took great pleasure in this on his show with an entourage of politicians, including former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as targets).
“Can we do the second half?” Ethan asked. “I really like how challenging it is.” Given howmuch work the Dielemans put into the maze, Ethan had the right idea about seeing the whole thing. They start cutting the maze in June each year, taking up to 80 hours to design and then numerous more hours grooming the paths over the summer before opening in the fall. At the end of their tourist season, the field gets combined down to nothing and, even though all signs of the maze are obliterated, Ingrid says, “After we clean up, we start making plans for the next year. Every maze has memories that go along with it.”
I let Ethan lead the way through the second half with reckless abandon, following his instincts that may or may not be guided by an accurate internal GPS. The second half took Ethan and I a little longer, but he was happy to be lost most of the time, going in circles, doubling back to the lookout platform to survey the sea of fields around us. Getting lost sometimes provides welcome diversions, or unexpected moments, or different scenery. Other than a photo of the maze, we never fully appreciated the fire truck image that can only be seen if you fly over the swathe of land. Tramping through dirt paths, corn stalks towering over you, obscuring your vision and confusing your sense of direction, you never know what pattern you are stuck in other than a web of trails that offer a whole lot of fun while getting lost.