Diner en Blanc

1400 brave rain for Diner en Blanc in Toronto

For the first time in the 24-year, 20-city history of Diner en Blanc, it rained. Billed as an elegant flash feast, this was Toronto's first official foray into the realm of pop-up picnicking en masse (last year's 400-guest dinner in the Distillery was a mere test run). Diner en Blanc, which literally translates to "dinner in white", began in Paris in 1978 and originally set the dress code as a way to help old friends reunite in a busy park – an elegant solution to planning meet-ups in a pre-smartphone era. And, it's effective too.

Even before the evening begins, I can knowingly identify fellow diners from across the street – sparkling accessories and clear plastic ponchos create luminous halos on an unfortunately gloomy day. As I round the corner at the Thompson Hotel (one of several meeting spots around the city) my field of vision goes white and I almost need to put my sunglasses on.

Diner en Blanc

There is already a huge crowd huddled into small groups, complementing each others outfits and mid summer tans. Pearls, lace, bow ties, crowns of white flowers, and even clear umbrellas contribute to the spectacle. "Finally, an excuse to order a hat from Lilliput!" exclaims one guest.

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Eighteen coach buses and 500 participants on foot snake through the city only to discover the secret location upon arrival. As revelers flood into the grounds of Historic Fort York and begin to set up their tables and unpack their picnics the green space is transformed into a sea of white. The start of dinner is signaled just before 8 as guests wave cloth napkins overhead.

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Diners have brought along an assortment of homemade and prepared meals or pickup a pre-ordered basket filled with things like little baguettes, charcuterie boards, cheese plates and little mason jars of potted duck confit. Almost 700 bottles of wine are shared and there is plenty of sampling across tables with old friends and new ones, met just this night.

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Of course half the guests are separated by a limited number of social connections. Invitations are sent out to friends first, then via word of mouth to friends of friends. Only the last half of the guest list is offered to the waiting list of interested parties and even in spite of the rain, almost everyone on the 1,400 person guestlist showed. This year's event attracted a waiting list that surpassed 3,500 and is only expected to grow. The latest Paris picnic hosted 10,000 diners.

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By 9 o'clock the rain has cleared and shortly after, ponchos come off and umbrellas close just in time to light sparklers and dance into the cool evening. By 11:30 the night is over and guest pack-up their tables and chairs, collect their empty bottles and disperse into the night as if it all never happened.

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Photos by Stephani Buchman

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