Now & Then – Let’s Have a Little Fun

One thing that never changes is our instinct for fun.  We need it.

A version of one very familiar proverb, attributed to Felix Sabates, says that all work and no play is just not good for the soul. Dull?  We are not.  Generations before us knew when to knock off work and fit play into the schedule.   There’s all kinds of local history related to having fun.  MCHS got a chance to share a few stories about some of the local sports played, the special events held, and the games that not just amused, but got people together, at the January Community Care lunch at Kawartha Downs.

On the sports scene, Millbrook and the surrounding area hit the mark early with championship lacrosse teams from 1867 right through to at least the end of the 1920s.  A jersey from the 1929 team hangs today in the Peterborough Sports Hall of Fame.  The curlers of Millbrook also made a name for themselves, winning championships against the Granite Club of Toronto and the Peterborough Club.  Home ice for them was built on King Street in 1890, and abandoned in favour of a new rink on Anne Street in 1918.  In 1930, the Peterborough curlers presented our home team’s John Steele with a gold-headed cane for being the oldest and most enthusiastic curler in district bonspiels.

On a more leisurely note, postcards from the late 19th and early 20th centuries highlight the trout streams, where anyone could try their luck.  A little more exclusive was the golf club on the Mansion Grounds, between the Fairgrounds and what is now Zion Line.  Strolling along the Baxter Creek Trail, it is hard to imagine that this was once a popular spot where Lyle Nattress spent summer days in his youth finding stray golf balls and caddying.  He recalled, in a 1970s interview, the beautiful, well-kept grounds and the clubhouse.  A popular destination for Sunday School picnics and garden parties, the grounds featured walkways, bridges, stairs and paths leading to man-made pools for swimming.

But play isn’t and wasn’t all about sports.  Play has always been about getting together, and there was a lot going on.  Evenings of progressive euchre and crokinole were advertised in the local newspaper, and Millbrook’s Bowling Lanes, on the second floor above McDowell’s Feeds on King Street, was a real magnet for fun.    Entertainments, often on the top floor of the Town Hall, were a huge draw.  Out-of-town speakers, performers and acts were popular but so too were homegrown dramatic presentations and musical evenings.  Beginning in the mid 1920s, movies were screened, like The Scarlet West, billed as a “flaming drama”.  Dances and masquerades filled that upstairs hall with revelers, music provided by bands and small orchestras from the area and beyond.  But the street dance of 1931 surely took the cake.

The Cosmos Club, later the Cosmos Rink Company, formed in 1924, to maintain a rink for local skaters and hockey players, using the rink area for box lacrosse in the off-season.  To raise funds they organized all kinds of community events, but none to match the one held Thursday, August 6, 1931 when 4000 people – or more, according to the Mirror-Reporter – came to dance the night away to the music of the Cornhuskers.  Tiers of seats were built along the sidewalks of downtown King Street in Millbrook.  The dance area was covered with talc that, the report said, “made a splendid surface” for square and round dancing.  The dance “floor” was filled from 9 pm to 1 am.  There were refreshment stands and booths featuring wheels of fortune where you could win chocolate, or a blanket, a cottage ham of a side of bacon.  People came from as far as Toronto in the west, Kingston and Belleville to the east, and all points in between.  The event raised enough funds for there to be talk of a covered rink.  The Cosmos Rink volunteers followed up with a second dance in 1932, not quite on the same scale but successful enough to pay off the bills for a fine new building erected at the rink.

All for the sake of having fun, which then, as now, is good for the soul and makes life far from dull.  Join MCHS on February 22 at Millbrook’s Legion Hall as we celebrate Heritage Week with award-winning author and illustrator Bill Slavin.  He’s a big fan of “now”, he’ll tell us, but so much of “then” informs his work.  ‘See you there’.

Now and Then by Celia Hunter

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