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The year we broke Hal-Con

One of Hal-con's more lavishly dressed patrons (Photo by Bryn Karcha)
One of Hal-con’s more lavishly dressed patrons (Photo by Bryn Karcha)

There had to be food somewhere. I was scanning the third floor of the World Trade and Convention Center, Hal-Con 2013’s central hub. Costumed attendees milled about all around me, stopping to oblige photo requests or discuss costumes with other cosplayers. People always heading somewhere. Maybe the lecture on My Little Pony and “brony” culture on the second floor, or the Warhammer tournament preliminaries, or maybe they were off to get a picture taken with Billy D. Williams of Star Wars fame. I just wanted to eat. After a long day of shopping, indulging in nerdgasm after nerdgasm and rubbing elbows with a few celebrities, I needed some grub.

At the far end of the third floor, my companion and I—respectively dressed as Navi and Link Link and Navi from the Legend of Zelda franchise—found the small cafeteria area. It had been set up just outside the third floor atrium, with the atrium area being reserved for diners who would like to look down on the other floors of the con, or look out onto the street.

I grabbed a questionably priced roast beef and veggie wrap and headed through the doors to the atrium in search of seating.

I found a spot near the corner, where the floor-to-ceiling windows allowed me a wonderful view of the city. I was feeling pretty good. I had an autographed vintage Japanese Star Wars poster in my satchel, along with an edition of My Little Pony Monopoly (don’t judge me), and a camera loaded with pictures of some incredible cosplayers. My con experience wasn’t even halfway over and I was thrilled with my day.

But then I looked outside and was reminded that I was a member of the lucky few who could make such statements.

Outside, in the Parade Square, several hundred of my nerdy compatriots stood in the cold being pelted by a cruel mixture of snow and hail. They were waiting for refunds.

Shortly after noon on Saturday, Nov. 9, the Halifax Fire Department was forced to declare the World Trade and Convention Centre “at capacity.” This meant nobody else was getting in, no matter if they had bought a day pass, just shown up hoping to purchase one at the door, or paid through the nose months in advance for the deluxe weekend “Warp Speed Pass.”

One woman, dressed as a Starfleet science officer, whispered to a friend she’d heard the building was already 1000 people past capacity. Her friend said she’d heard from one of the volunteers it would be six hours to get into the main convention hall if you weren’t already in.

She wasn’t wrong. At 10:54 am, Hal-Con tweeted, “There is a current 6 hour wait.  There are volunteers outside for those of you who need to access coat check to be escorted.”

I found out later that evening that my fairy companion and I ended up being the last two people to get our coats checked that day.

It was a chilling contrast. While the cold, cloudy day claimed victim after victim as people gave up on getting into the convention, inside, nerds of all shapes and sizes rejoiced in nerdvana. With all-star guests the likes of which this city has never seen at a comic convention, interactive events ranging from model painting lessons to “Learn to Write Vulcan” sessions, question and answer panels, podcasts and an incredible amount of shopping it was no surprise that Hal-Con had drawn record numbers of attendees.

Everyone inside was having fun, but when attendees realized leaving the upper floors would mean almost certainly never returning, instead of going downstairs for some shopping in the free access area, they remained upstairs, not wanting to miss a single event they’d waited so long to attend. Not even shop vendors could leave the building, forgoing food and rest so they could keep their stands open and not be forced to leave.

Upon returning on Sunday the lines were shorter, the atmosphere less tense. But there was an air of exhaustion about. Most notably affected were the vendors, completely spent. One artist I visited Friday, who had engaged me discussing her hilarious comic book Everyone’s a Centaur was now quiet, absent minded, and almost dismissive. Who could blame her after toughing out over 12 hours without a proper meal the day before?

Hal-Con was, by many regards, an immense success. I had an incredible time, vendors were selling out of their wares and attendance was way up from previous years. Those who attended posted rave reviews all over the Hal-Con official Facebook page. However, all rave reviews were spouted from those who were able to attend. Many were left out in the cold this year. Some spent the whole year preparing their costumes, some traveled from out of province, some saved up to afford the hotel room for the weekend and despite their best efforts, were forced to go home empty handed and disappointed.

Maybe next year a larger venue will be chosen, maybe tickets will be handled in a more efficient and organized manner; it’s impossible to say what one thing caused what has been called by some “Hal-Con’s Red Wedding.”

This Hal-Con will forever change future conventions in this city. Halifax has, this year, proven that its nerd culture is rapidly expanding and maybe it’s time to move on to bigger things. Whatever comes to pass, one thing is certain: nobody will be forgetting the year we broke Hal-Con.

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