the Painted Ponies
the romance of Ontarios 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
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 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 begins...you 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. Its 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 Canadas 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 Canadas 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 Canadas 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 doesnt matter if your four
or 94, says Barb Foreman of the Roseneath Carousel.
Everyone enjoys a carousel!
A basic guide to carousel lingo
Lead or king horsethe
most ornate horse carving on the carousel ride, typically
where the operator begins loading passengers onto the
Standera carousel horse or figure with
at least three of its feet on the ground
Prancera carousel horse or figure with
its back feet on the ground and front feet in the air.
Jumpera carousel horse or figure with all
four legs bent, allowing the rider to move up and down.
Romance side of the carouselthe 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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