‘A Great Event:’ The Lindsay winter carnival of 1912-1917

By Ian McKechnie

'A Great Event:' The Lindsay winter carnival of 1912-1917
Entrants line up for a cutter race in downtown Lindsay. Photo courtesy of Kawartha Lakes Public Library.

It’s the middle of winter in Lindsay, circa 1912. A fresh blanket of snow covers the ground, glistening like freshly-ground glass whenever the sun avails itself of an opportunity to peek through the clouds. A few cutters drift by, the jingling bells on the horses bringing some much-needed merriment to the cold, bleak surroundings. A distinguished-looking gentleman mutters an audible oath as he takes a spill on some black ice — leaving his new coat covered in dirt and snow, and leaving a passing group of churchgoing women aghast at his equally filthy choice of language.

Up at the Collegiate Institute, a group of upper-year students is gathered in the cloakroom following an equally dreary day of study. “Can’t say that I’m too interested in reading Latin at this time of year,” remarks one lad. “I wish we could go somewhere warm. Too cold ’round about these parts for me.”

His friends look up at him in astonishment. “What on earth has gotten into your head, Art?” one of them asks. “You’ve been living in Victoria County for all of your 17 years. You’ll survive.”

The others in the group solemnly nod their heads in agreement. “Sheer snobbery, if you ask me,” chimes in a third voice. “You should be glad to have a furnace at your place. My uncle George lives around the corner from a family who can barely afford to heat their house.”

Art shrugs indifferently. “Our house might be warm, but winter in Lindsay is no fun. Same old games of shinny, same old hills for tobogganing, same old chores, same old Latin lessons, same old school principal.”

A cross expression appears on the face of the third boy. “Nonsense,” he states. “There’s plenty to do. There’s a theatre to patronize, a rink to skate on, and plenty of action over yonder at the Grand Trunk yards,” he says. “Can’t complain about there being nothin’ to do in Lindsay.”

“I’m just not a winter person,” Art sighs.

The conversation turns to other topics as the group finishes bundling up. The young men head outside and walk down Kent Street, throwing a few snowballs at unsuspecting targets en route. “Say, look at this!” Art exclaims, reaching down into the snow and retrieving a slightly soggy piece of paper. It’s a large poster. “What does it say?” one boy asks.

Art carefully unfolds it. “A GREAT EVENT: THE LINDSAY WINTER CARNIVAL,” he reads. “Under the Auspices of the ‘Lindsay Advancement Club.’

The other boys crowd about him and scan the poster. “THREE DAYS OF WINTER ENJOYMENT FOR EVERYBODY,” the poster proclaims. “This is something New, Unique, Entertaining and should be Attended by Everyone. PLAN TO COME.”

Art folds up the poster and smiles for the first time that afternoon. “Well, fellows, it looks like we have something to look forward to!”

A week later, Lindsay’s downtown is buzzing with activity. Opening day of the winter carnival sees the executive of the Lindsay Advancement Club — an organization made up of young businessmen — scurrying about, attending to last-minute details. Allan Gillies, the president, is conferring with the gentlemen entrusted to judge the various events scheduled for the three-day extravaganza. Felix Forbert, the secretary, is dashing out of the Town Hall, where merchants and manufacturers have set up a splendid exhibit of locally-made products. George Matthie, treasurer of the club, is spotted walking into a bank, the normally austere-looking temple of finance finally sporting some cheery decor.

Throngs of citizens and visitors are soon making their way down the crowded main street, mingling with the storekeepers who are eagerly looking forward to an upswing in business as the town’s population doubles for a few days. Already, the intersection of Kent and William Streets has been completely blocked with people, excitedly awaiting the arrival of Jake Killcopycott’s “Rube Band” — which will be joined by the Citizens’ Band, and the inevitable pipe band to fill the streets with the sound of music.

There are prizes for the jolliest sleighing party, the handsomest carriage team, and “the man who brings the largest load of people to Lindsay” (and Ralph Clarke, the jovial engineer in charge of the Lindsay-to-Haliburton train, is overheard to say that he should be the recipient). There are dog shows, comic costume contests, and tug-of-war games between teams from all parts of town. Down at the Academy and Wonderland Theatres, both at the bottom of Kent Street, “some of the finest reels ever presented in Lindsay” are going up on the big screen.

“No one can say Lindsay is slow!” gushes a visitor from neighbouring Peterborough as the grand parade passes by. Art and his gang of classmates from the Collegiate Institute unanimously agree. They needn’t leave Lindsay to enjoy warmer climates — the warmth of feeling evident in the faces of citizen and visitor alike is more than enough to compensate.

The Lindsay Winter Carnival will go on to enjoy another five years of resounding success. “You must not leave us with the idea that the people of Lindsay believe in all work and no play,” Mayor Robert Beal tells an audience gathered at the corner of Kent and Lindsay Streets during the 1913 carnival. Nearly 110 years later, winter remains — at least for some — one of the most-anticipated seasons in Kawartha Lakes.

–While the young men were fictional in this story the places, events and timelines were real.

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