By Aidan Hamelin
It’s 1 p.m. on Sunday and I’m standing in front of Medieval Times, Toronto’s most noble tourist attraction of feast and battle.
As my photographer Jake Scott and I hand our tickets to the nice man in battle dress, I get the sense Medieval Times is a well-oiled machine.
It runs on the contempt and labour of graduate students. It’s an immersive world that has dealt with dissastified parents, screaming children and poor Yelp reviews.
But maybe we’re different; we are two lone adults surrounded by the usual crowd of families, after all.
We’re paper-crowned and pulled to the side to take a photo with the princess – a perky brunette who has likely faked a smile through creepier encounters. And yet, “get[ting] in close” takes strategizing.
Jake props his right arm on her shoulder all cheeky and clever; I panic and throw my arm around her like she’s Grandma.
But the main hall is our first true taste of what a royal chain establishment offers. My eight-year-old self basks in the grandeur of a wooden throne fit for a king. At the same time, my adult self gawks at the massive bar in the centre of the room with just as much awe and wonder.
I have roughly 20 seconds to get lost in childhood nostalgia before I realize my memory is failing me, or everything is less impressive four feet higher off the ground.
The decor is equal parts history and Harry Potter, glazing over the dark hell of the Middle Ages to keep it light and fun.
I hear a child behind me say, “We should go in the museum of torture, mom,” in what is the first of many moments spent wondering why kids love this urban fortress.
A man shouts from the balcony above the throne to gather and listen to ye olde rules and regulations.
The room full of parents, toddlers and two 20-somethings are told they must “please smoke outside the castle” multiple times.
Finally seated in the yellow knight’s section, our server introduces himself as Tiago the “serf,” a title that makes me uncomfortable for the duration of the afternoon.
Our “wench” Christine tells us that beer is $8 a pint. It’s more expensive than the flags we bought, but it’s the only thing I consider a necessity.
The stands are mostly empty, candles outnumbering patrons five to one. The stadium buzzes with the energy of a strip club on a Tuesday afternoon.
We’re encouraged to cheer and boo the other sections, forcing us to take the expectation to its natural extreme. Jake’s cigarette-aided guttural screams drown out any families’ efforts.
I’ve heard Medieval Times is lauded for its food, but if your diet consists of canned soup, small amounts of dry poultry and a toaster strudel, you’re going to be a little peeved paying $65 for the show. But it’s served timely by people who hate their jobs.
The story arc is fairly irrelevant, but I gather that a man of The North tried to bring two kingdoms together through marriage – and that the princess’ father was so not down he needed six long-haired men on horseback to compete to the death.
About halfway through the spectacle, Jake takes it upon himself to show the yellow knight how much we appreciate his sacrifice of mind and body for entertainment.
“Finish him” we yell, right before the green knight guts him in the stomach, leaving him to grovel in the dirt before his biggest fan.
In the end, the green knight won, triumphing over the other knights in an impressive display of fantasy swordsmanship and battle wit. The princess’ honor was preserved and the evil northern man was chased from the stadium with whips in the afternoon’s most impressive display of xenophobia.