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HomeNewsMemories Of The Fenelon Falls Old Fashioned Winter Games, 1995-2004

Memories Of The Fenelon Falls Old Fashioned Winter Games, 1995-2004

With Tim McAlpine, Judi Adamson, Scott Dickie, Peter Shennett and Anne McCuaig (AKA Feneguin) This story is part of our partnership with Maryboro Lodge, The Fenelon Falls Museum and was written by Glenn Walker.

KAWARTHA LAKES-February can be a tough month of the year for a lot of people, especially for those who do not particularly enjoy winter. “Carl Quaranto was talking to Vera and Dr. Martin Young about what they could do to perk it up,” Anne recounts. “He was very altruistic about wanting to do things for the community.” And what could be a better way to beat the February blahs than a community festival?

Carl Quaranto, Dr Paul Dickson and Dr Martin Young, Chili Cook Off, Seniors Centre, FF Winter Games, Feb 16, 1995

Fenelon Falls had hosted a Winter Carnival back in the 1970s. There were events throughout the community, like ice floe racing in the gorge, the annual Christmas Tree Burning (Lloyd Kelly will long be remembered for gathering Christmas Trees throughout the village, which made one great pyre at the Beach Park), church services, a community dinner at the arena, bingo, hockey games, concerts, dances, bowling, sleigh rides, and snowmobile safaris. Some activities, like pairs skating on 2x4s would no longer be considered safe, while others like the broomball game were just as loved twenty years later.

It did not take long for a committee to form that would reinvent the community’s winter carnival. Just as the 1970s Carnival was built upon many volunteers bringing together organizations throughout the community, the Fenelon Falls Old Fashioned Winter Games provided an opportunity for just about everybody to take part—whether by co-ordinating an activity, or competing in one of the many events Many individuals and community groups volunteered, contributing countless hours of work, year-round behind the scenes.

 The committee wanted to make sure that everyone had a chance to participate and win a medal. Judi explains: “When I was standing in J’n B’s every day, a lot of people would come in and ask, ‘How am I going to win a medal?’ So medals were available for participation and attending certain events.” Before long, the word was out on the street, that you could eat your way to a medal! A lot of people thought that it was hilarious, and were eager to participate. In practice, participants needed to collect tickets from participating in five activities to win a bronze medal. But, with numerous church dinners and a chili cook off, it seemed like everyone remembered it as, ‘you can eat your way to a medal.’

With gold, silver and bronze medals for many specific events, plus all the medals that were just for participating, the committee would go through a lot of hardware. “There were hundreds of them,” Anne remembers. “We got a deal on buying a number of medals. There was no year stamped on them, so they could be used for multiple years. Carl was famous for that sort of thing. The surplus lived in his basement at the trailer park.” Carl owned the Fenelon Falls Trailer Park for many years.

 Carl was eager to do everything that he could to make the games a success. “Carl would call every person he knew who would possibly give money,” Anne observes. “He was always on the phone. Even when part of the work had been divided up, I would phone the next morning and he already had it done.”  For generations, community events have happened in Fenelon Falls because of the generosity of businesses and community organizations, as they volunteered to make things better for their friends and neighbours. In the case of the Old Fashioned Winter Games, Carl succeeded in securing sponsorships from large national or multinational corporations. So many other events survived on the generosity of the same few local businesses supporting just about everything in town. 

The Old Fashioned Winter Games would need a logo, so they talked to Ellie Arscott, then a recent Fenelon Falls Secondary School graduate, and she came up with an eye-catching logo. With the technology of the day, more colours would increase the cost of printing, so her design used just four hues, and reminded many people of the Olympics. The committee wanted to have a mascot, and Pengu was a popular kids’ TV personality at the time. After deciding on a penguin, they held a contest to name it, and Erick Watson won with his suggestion of “Feneguin.”


Anne became Feneguin, complete with a costume made by Mary Jane Brennan. She had experience being a mascot as a beaver for Parks Canada and Farley the Falcon at the local secondary school. “At first, Feneguin did not have a full head covering, it was just a hat and glasses. Then I made a head out of chicken wire and foam. “Being Feneguin was fun and terrifying. I did not realize that I needed a companion, but there were people threatening to kick me or do nasty things to me. As a mascot, you are not supposed to talk. In my first year in the Santa Claus parade, I walked the whole route keeping up antics and walking like a penguin. Then we made an igloo, so I could follow the trailer, and then the next year I could sit on the trailer, but also stand up and act the part.” When Anne could not play Feneguin, other volunteers stepped forward to be the mascot.

Broomball at the Fenelon Falls Winter Games, 1995 – She’s Got More Movements than a Swiss Watch

The committee tried to think of all the people in the community who had unique contributions that they could make to the event. Rick Hughes and Belinda Wilson wrote a song about the winter games, that they performed. The village’s churches were happy to host dinners—each with their own theme. Then participants could actually eat their way to a medal. 

Local accountant Peter Shennett had once carried the Olympic Torch, and the organizers thought it would be a great way to open the event. “I grew up around Lancaster/Alexandria on Highway 2 between Montreal and Kingston. When Montreal hosted the Olympics in 1976, I was a student at Trent University, and enjoyed athletics. I went to as many events as I could afford to attend, and carrying the torch was a way to be a small part of the Olympics.”

“Some of the events like sailing took place in Kingston, and they brought the Olympic Torch there for those competitions. There were minimal qualifications to be a carrier of the flame, and other people took it via canoe or on horseback. For those who were running, they did expect you to be able to cover a mile in five minutes, and I had no sense of pace. So I had a friend run with me to make sure that I could do it. During the event, I was running beside a police officer on a motor cycle, and I remember asking him if I was going fast enough, he said it didn’t really matter, I would just hand off the torch to the next person.”

“It was not like what you see on TV at all—carrying the torch through cheering crowds. I was running on a quiet part of Highway 2 at 5:45 in the morning, with no one there cheering me on except for my two sisters and their kids. When we were done, we would light the next flame and we were allowed to keep the torch.”

“Someone thought it would be great to have a real Olympic torch as part of the winter games. They asked me if they could alter it, so they could put an oil soaked wad in the head that would burn for 20 minutes. I agreed, why not? It had just been sitting on my wall doing nothing. I wasn’t keen on being featured carrying the torch, but I remember seeing a picture in the newspaper of a child carrying it, and that gave me a lot of pleasure.” 

The flame for the Fenelon Falls Old Fashioned Winter Games was located on the east side of Colborne Street, on the island, in the park near the falls. “For the first couple of years we had trouble keeping it lit for the entire week, but Superior Propane brought in a giant propane tank.” On the night the first event opened, Fenelon Falls Secondary School hosted a dance, while there was Karaoke at both the Legion and Taggart’s Landing. The next day the broomball tournament began in the parking lot behind J’n B’s, which proved to be one of the most popular attractions. “I remember going to the hardware store with Bob Adamson, getting brooms and he cut them down and taped them for the broomball games,” Anne says.

Bed Races in front of St Andrews Presbyterian Church

For those who were feeling a little more adventurous, Colborne Street was closed for bed races, which took off near the Baptist Church, and descended hill towards the stoplight. Each team consisted of four runners, and one person on the bed. “It was hilarious to watch,” Tim explains. Initially participants supplied their own beds, “and some of them didn’t make it five feet. Some of them fell apart, but no one got hurt.” Judi continues, “if anyone had been hurt we would have cancelled the event.” To finish the event, all five participants had to cross the finish line. “Some people added 2x4s to the bed to make it easier to push,” Scott observes. “But if there was too much weight, then it was hard to push. Most were going at a pretty good jog, and you had to try to keep up with the bed as it went down the hill.” Because some of the early entrants did not make it to the finish line, “it got to the point where we provided bed frames, but I don’t remember there being any spectacular wipe outs.” The beds ran down the street two at a time, and then there were run-offs to decide who the ultimate winner would be. 

When the event was founded, police were not required to close the main street of town, and “Feneguin was at the foot of Colborne Street, near Francis Street, with barriers marking the street as closed,” Anne narrates. “During one of the races, a driver came around the corner even though it was closed. There was not much that Feneguin could do.” Though it created a spectacle, no one was hurt. 

Al Finney, centre helping to pull the Fenelon Truck (a 1942 originally from Al Graham) during the Winter Games

Tug-A-Truck was a memorable new event that Scotty McGhee organized for 1997. Participants would work together in teams to tow Fenelon Falls’ antique fire truck southwards on May Street, towards a finish line. “Most of the teams had a big person or two to help get it going. It took a lot to get the truck moving and there was lots of straining on their faces.” Vera Young hosted a historical walk of the village, that visited each church, among other sites. “Rhonda Watson was at the Anglican Church, and Marlyn McGee at the Presbyterian Church,” Judi explains. “She recalled sitting beside the wood fire downstairs at the Presbyterian Church when she was three years old.”

In addition to all of the church suppers, the event also included the Celebrity Chili Cook Off, where individuals and community organizations tested their culinary skills, allowing anyone in the community to have a taste. Fenelon Falls’ ministers enjoyed working together to create Hellfire and Brimstone Chili, while it was the village’s doctors with Brand X, who won the gold medal in the first year of competition.

The 1995 event ran for 10 days, and on the Saturday of the closing weekend, the Lions Club hosted the Lumberjack Olympics at the fairgrounds. There participants could try their hand at a Swede or 2-man crosscut saw, and also at log rolling. That night, Taggart’s Landing (now the Fenelon Inn) hosted the Penguin Ball (in subsequent years, dances were also held at FFSS, the Legion and the Seniors’ Centre). Alcohol was allowed “and a few crazy things might have happened there,” Tim recounts, but no one got drunk and disorderly. Then on the Sunday, the event closed with ceremonies and a concert at Fenelon Falls Secondary School. Over the course of the event, many organizations had contributed to a great variety of activities, including curling, a co-ed hockey tournament, table hockey, bingo, cards, darts, the FFSS Café Theatre, a 5K run, and casino night at the Legion. Many attendees loved the Dessert Café at Fenelon Falls Baptist Church. 

It was not long until the committee was hard at work planning how to make the event better for next year. In the summer of 1995, they hosted a Luau as a fundraiser, as the revellers enjoyed dressing up in Hawaiian attire. Over the years, new activities would include snow volleyball, bowling, shuffleboard bingo, sleigh rides, golf, a birdfeeder competition, badminton, the loonie Olympics, a wine and cheese party at Wine Not? and a silent auction. The committee started to sell Winter Games themed clothing. Though some volunteers and activities came and went, year after year the Fenelon Falls Old Fashioned Winter Games continued to attract a good crowd. 

Though the event was still a popular event, “many of the committee members had been there since the beginning, and people were starting to get tired,” Judi explains. Scott continues: “Every single one of us had other things going on. We were all leading clubs, sports or community groups.” The event had generated revenues and they wanted to leave something behind as a memory of the winter games. There was talk about building a gazebo on the Island, but that concept did not prove viable. “Carl wanted the leftover money to be given away, so the event would be wrapped up. We came up with the idea of giving out scholarships at Langton Public School and Fenelon Falls Secondary School to reward volunteerism and community service. We are still giving out the awards to this day.”

Twenty years have now passed since Fenelon Falls hosted the Old Fashioned Winter Games, and the world has certainly changed. Much as some activities that the community had loved in the 1970s were no longer socially acceptable by the 1990s—like the Christmas Tree Burning event and putting a car on the ice to guess which day it would plunge through—it is hard to imagine the activities of the winter games today. Would there be any chance of getting approval to close Colborne Street for a bed race? What would the health unit think about people preparing chili in their uninspected kitchens and bringing it to a chili cook off? Could you even just play broomball in a public parking lot? “Today, it is really hard to get insurance for events,” Judi Adamson observes. Scott continues, “The kinds of activities we had might not fly today, because people might find it too hokey.” 

The Fenelon Falls Old Fashioned Winter Games were a lot of community-made fun, and no one really got hurt doing any of the ‘crazy’ things that would never be allowed today. The one unfortunate accident happened in a routine play during the 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the high school. As Anne was going up to make a shot, a snap echoed through the gym. “Dr. Young was there and he knew right away I had torn my Achilles tendon. Judi was there to drive me to the hospital.”

“The thing that made the Winter Games special was how the community came together,” Anne explains. Tim continues, “After all the planning we did, it was very rewarding to see it actually happen, to see so many people in downtown Fenelon Falls, enjoying themselves and laughing.” Scott concludes: “I really appreciated that it was intergenerational—a lot of families came out. I was new to the community, we had only moved here in 1990, and it allowed me to meet a lot of people.” He was certainly not the only one who came to better know and appreciate the village at Fenelon Falls’ Old Fashioned Winter Games. 

This story is a memory and nobody’s memory is perfect. Sometimes details get a little mixed up, things get forgotten or overlooked, and the perspective is inevitably subjective. If you notice something that not right, have something you would like to tell us, or a memory to share the museum would be happy to hear from you: [email protected]


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