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The Roseneath Carousel.Riding
the Painted Ponies

Rediscovering the romance of Ontario’s antique carousels

by Kerry Ramsay

Photo courtesy the Roseneath Carousel.

Few summer attractions inspire the same awe and enchantment as the antique carousel. With its majestic wooden stallions, brightly painted saddles and whimsical menagerie of fairy-tale creatures, the carousel is the perfect fantasy ride for both the young and young-at-heart.

Although there were once as many as 4,000 traditional carousels across North America, today there remain fewer than three hundred. Fortunately for Ontario dwellers and visitors alike, several antique carousels can still be found across the province, offering riders of all ages the chance to hum along to the lilting chant of the band organ, and enjoy the dream-like quality of this old-fashioned ride.

Residents of St. Catharines, Ontario, have come to be attached to their very own vintage carousel located at Lakeside Park. There, the authentic Coney Island-style merry-go-round built by famous carousel carver Charles Looff features an assortment of 68 wooden animals, including horses, giraffes, goats, camels and lions. The lion carving is one of five existing Looff lions in North America, and is the only one that has its head turned to watch onlookers as it circles by.

“The smiles and the laughter which the carousel inspires is a century-old tradition,” notes Jennifer Green, Recreation Supervisor for the St. Catharines Recreation and Community Services Department, which operates the carousel.

“The carousel has a way of bringing out the inner child in all of us, regardless of our age. The Lakeside Park Carousel transports us back to an earlier time when life was simpler. For seniors and adults, the carousel reminds us of happy childhood memories. For children, it is a special place which always brings a smile. There is a magic moment when you are sitting on your animal of choice, the band organ starts, and the ride must experience it to understand it.”

Built sometime between 1896 and 1905, the Lakeside Park Carousel has been entertaining visitors to St. Catharines since 1921. These days, the ride is open to the public from Victoria Day until the Labour Day weekend.

At Roseneath, Ontario, southeast of Peterborough, the Roseneath Carousel (circa 1906) was constructed by the Herschell-Spillman Company, one of the most successful creators of country fair carousels in the world. The wooden figures for the carousel, which include 40 horses and two boats, were produced by the famous C.W. Parker Company of Abilene, Kansas.

Complete with its own Wurlitzer 125 Band Organ, the Roseneath Carousel is a central focus of the annual autumn Roseneath Fair, drawing enthusiastic riders from across Canada, the United States and even Europe.

“People around here are nostalgic about the carousel,” shares Roseneath resident Barb Foreman, who relishes her role as Secretary-Treasurer for the local carousel. “It’s been here since 1932, and has been a part of this village ever since.”

However, the years had taken their toll, and disrepair caused the ride to be shut down in 1985. Eight years later, the ride reopened to the public, thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Carousel Restoration Committee, which raised more than $400,000 to see the project through to completion.

“We are very proud that a community of less than 1,000 people, with the help of the entire county, has restored this relic to its original condition for everyone to enjoy a ride on, hear the music or just stand and admire the master workmanship of a bygone era,” says Barb.

The Roseneath Carousel is now open to the public each May to September.

Another antique Ontario carousel, the Riverside Park Carousel makes its home in Guelph, Ontario. Constructed by Allan Hershcell, the carousel was restored in 1980, and features a number of jumping stallions, chariots and other figures. The Riverside Park Carousel welcomes visitors from Victoria Day until mid-September, weather permitting.

Further north, the Chippewa Park Carousel of Thunder Bay, Ontario, is an original C.W. Parker creation produced between 1918 and 1920, with 28 jumpers and two chariots. The ride is open from June 1st until the September long weekend.

Two more antique carousels can be found near the city of Toronto, one on Centreville Island and the other at Canada’s Wonderland in Vaughan, Ontario.

The Centreville Carousel, built sometime between 1900 and 1910, features two chariots, 18 jumpers, 13 standers, and an assortment of other animal figures. The merry-go-round is open from May 1st until September 30th each year, and offers great fun for the whole family.

At Canada’s Wonderland, the Vaughan Carousel is open daily from mid-May until Labour Day from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and from the end of April to mid-May and mid-September to mid-October on weekends only from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Originally constructed in 1928 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC), this vintage merry-go-round features four rows of 42 jumpers, 24 standers and two chariots.

At one time, the Vaughan Carousel hosted riders at Happyland Hastings Park in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1934, the carousel moved to Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, where it remained until 1945 when it was moved to Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. The carousel was eventually moved to Canada’s Wonderland where it remains to this day.

Wherever the music of the carousel fills the air, you can be sure to discover a past world of amusement for a whole new generation.

“It doesn’t matter if your four or 94,” says Barb Foreman of the Roseneath Carousel. “Everyone enjoys a carousel!”

Making Merry

A basic guide to carousel lingo

Lead or king horse—the most ornate horse carving on the carousel ride, typically where the operator begins loading passengers onto the ride.
Stander—a carousel horse or figure with at least three of its feet on the ground
Prancer—a carousel horse or figure with its back feet on the ground and front feet in the air.
Jumper—a carousel horse or figure with all four legs bent, allowing the rider to move up and down.
Romance side of the carousel—the side of the carousel facing outward, since it features the best most elaborate carving on the horse.

This is an original story, first published in The Country Connection Magazine, Issue 49, Spring 2005. Copyright Kerry Ramsay.



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