Returning for its seventh year, the Calgary Makers Faire was once again one of the biggest show-and-tell expositions in the province.
The Calgary event, one of hundreds of international gatherings held under the Maker Faire brand, took place on Saturday and Sunday. The Calgary edition launched in 2012, with the original starting in San Francisco in 2006.
Visitors had the chance to meet local makers and businesses showcasing an incredible diversity of pop, geek, science and tech culture. Whether it’s being part of the Starship Enterprise deck crew, competing for the longest distance for handmade planes, learning how to chase storms, launch rockets, and even write your own novel.
Plus, watch the robots battle it out in the plexiglass arena.
“We’ve had so many people come to us, young and old, fascinated by looking at things,” said Sean Smith, a local maker and owner of Aardnor Minatures.
The event was organized by the nonprofit Roots 2 STEM, with funds from the fair going to the Rotary Club of Calgary Chinook’s programs for underserved youth.
It’s cool to be a geek now
Smith launched Aardnor Minatures after spending 23 years as a creative director for a digital company. He said it was a great job, but he needed a break from the hectic and stressful environment.
“So I quit right before the pandemic, not knowing the pandemic was coming and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said.
He found he was able to combine his love for Dungeons and Dragons, a game he’s been playing for 40 years, with the joy of building miniatures. Throughout the pandemic, he was able to build a thriving business that shipped miniatures to many countries around the world and connected him with some of the biggest names in D&D and Hollywood.
“It’s actually the first time I really felt like an artist, creating, building, selling things,” he said.
Currently he is working on a massive commission for Joe Manganiello. This happened after someone posted one of his creations on Instagram, which caught Manganiello’s attention.
“So on a daily basis I spoke to Joe Manganiello, which just blows my mind because he’s one of the greatest guys in D&D. It’s an extremely weird world, and it’s such a universe welcoming and encompassing. It’s so amazing.
OK to talk about people’s passions now
He said that Dungeons and Dragons, like maker and geek culture, is just something nobody talked about in the 1980s. But now it’s completely flipped.
“We grew up in a time when you didn’t tell people you played Dungeons and Dragons, because you didn’t want to deal with the headache that came with it from the bad associations with satanic panic in the years 80,” Smith says.
Now, web shows like Critical Role, the prominence of D&D in massively popular shows like Stranger Things, and the overall cultural acceptance of gaming as a fun pastime means businesses like Smith’s can start and thrive.
“We always joked in the 50s, you’d see the old men there, playing cards with the big cigars, and it was guys’ night,” he said.
“That’s kind of what D&D is, and to me it’s not just the game, it’s those people – tonight I’ll be playing with friends from 40 years ago who still get together, and it’s a special place in my heart that I still see them.
Make maker culture more accessible
Smith credits Adam Savage, former Mythbuster and owner of Tested.com, with making maker and geek culture popular.
“Amazing work that brings the community together to do these things, and you just walk around the Maker Faire here and you can just see all of this creativity – it’s all so amazing.”
Richa Srivastva is a member of the Intimitrons of AREA 51, the first all-female team in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Teams build robots from the ground up to take on different challenges each year, from shooting a ball into a goal, navigating rocky terrain, to spinning color wheels.
“Every year the challenge changes, and every year different teams like to make the robot match that specific challenge, but they want to do it,” she said.
Srivastva was at the Maker Faire on Saturday to help young children, especially young girls, learn and get excited about taking part in engineering challenges.
“I feel like when you hear about different careers, it’s always like I want to be a doctor, I want to be a teacher, but nobody really says I want to be like an engineer,” he said. she declared.
“I want to make it known especially to young girls, because I feel like women are very underrepresented in STEM communities. And it’s a bit difficult for young girls to enter this world because it’s really intimidating to join a team that only has boys, which is the case for a lot of FRC teams.
Inspired to participate
The Intimitrons were formed in 2012. The team gives young women the opportunity to improve their engineering abilities, learning practical skills such as welding, machining, computer-aided design and software programming . They also teach practical skills such as project management, teamwork, and business skills such as public speaking, marketing, and networking.
“So I hope a lot of young girls can hear this and know that it’s really fun. It was really engaging, and they don’t have to be robotics experts. You’re here to learn, and everyone is here to learn, and it’s been a really fun experience overall,” Srivastva said.
Slade Chase was one of the participants in the Maker Faire robot combat competition over the weekend, hosted by the Calgary Combat Robotics Club.
The first contestant was inspired to build his own robot to compete in Kilobots XLVI after watching Battle Bots on TV.
“I got into combat robots so of course why not get my own even if it was quite expensive,” he said.
Chase competed with his bot Foxtrot in the antweight division.
“It’s a relief to see it working, my bot didn’t work last game so I was hoping in this one I could finally get that relief.”
The robot fight was one of the highlights of the Makers Faire. Boys and girls, young and old, if there’s one thing everyone has in common, it’s that watching robots crash in the arena makes for a great time.
Citizen science in action too
The Prairie Thunder Storm Chasers were on hand to share their experience by documenting and sharing the experience of extreme weather conditions in Alberta to please visitors.
Neville Johnson explained that storm chasing was an activity that combined all the different disciplines that make up the maker culture.
“We are here at the fair, which is based on science, technology, education, math and the arts, and storm chasing incorporates all of that,” he said.
He said his team, made up of family members, regularly do all of these things during a chase. Scientific aspects like meteorology, the use of technologies like radar, public education, the mathematics used to sufficiently plan the use of fuel in remote areas of the province and, of course, the art of photography the storms.
Ruth Anne Johnson is the lead photographer and posted her stunning images of some of the wildest weather in the province. She said she leaves the photos largely as she took them, preferring the reality of the storms.
“I leave them raw because I feel like people color them too much, and that’s not the world,” she said.
The Prairie Thunder Storm Chasers regularly report their findings to Environment Canada, helping to better inform and protect Albertans through citizen science. One of the many items they had displayed to the public at the fair was scales and calipers, which they use to accurately measure the size and weight of hail.
“The average person sending in a photo of a hailstorm next to a crazy person or a dollar is great, but we’re doing the little more scientific thing to make it a little more accurate,” said he declared.