It’s Carnival day in my parents’ small village. The downtown core, consisting of one street, is crammed with people who have come from afar to experience the “Snowball”. We all trudge around in our winter coats and heavy boots, checking out the events that haven’t changed in twenty-two years!
There are horse-and-wagon rides, with beautiful big Clydesdales pulling a wagon piled with staw-bale seats on a route through town.
At the maple syrup exhibit, you can drizzle syrup on clean snow till it freezes and then eat the taffy. There are snowshoe races, even three-legged ones, and minnow races and an amazing sledding hill. Kids line up to ride the gas-powered mini snowmobiles, or to sing karaoke, or stuff themselves with hot, deep-fried moose tongues (also known as beaver tails in other areas of the province).
There’s the “Shantyman’s Tools” – an exhibit of antique crosscut saws, old ice picks, awls, and borers. A man carves sculptures out of logs with a chainsaw. Another entertains us with his “junkyard symphony.”
I’ve been coming for years. This was the highlight of my winter as a small child. One year, though, it wasn’t – the time I got volunteered by my parents to be a snowball. Yes, you might be wondering how one manages to become a snowball, but I was bundled up in an awkward white puff ball of a costume and told to march behind Mr. and Mrs. Snowball in the parade. I was mortified. At least my sister had to endure the same indignity as I. (She’s the snowball in front on the left, purple coat and white hat.)
Some things do go out of style, as was the case with the magic fishing experience. Kids would stand out on the frozen lake and lower their fishing lines into a hole in the ice. After a few seconds, there was a tug and up came a brightly coloured plastic toy, attached to the hook. Unbeknownst to us children, there were divers hovering in the dark depths below the ice, creating this mystery that delighted us to no end.
My younger brothers have continued the tradition since I moved away, continuing to enjoy everything the carnival has to offer. One year they both came home with first-place ribbons from the snowshoe race. My parents were suspicious; my brothers hate snowshoeing. The truth was eventually revealed that they had rigged the entire race. Setting themselves up on the far left of the line of competitors, at the go signal, the older brother ran straight ahead while the younger ran to the right, straight across the line of snowshoeing kids, who promptly fell flat on their faces while the older one raced to victory. My mom was furious and ordered them to return their prizes. They logically pointed out that their antics were not condemned by the referee, so everything was legitimate!
This carnival has a magnetic effect on the residents of this town. People come together to pull it off – business rivals, feuding family members, church congregations and more, who temporarily renounce whatever differences they may have in order to make it a success. It draws hundreds of visitors from the local area, as well as cottagers from the city who use it as an excuse to come up mid-winter. It’s the town’s major fundraiser by charging $3 admission and collecting donations from businesses; the Lions Club sells chili and burgers at exorbitant prices. Even the one main store puts all its clothing on half-price to encourage participation. The total revenue gets announced in the church the next morning for everyone to celebrate!
This year I’ve returned with my own family. My two-year-old wanders around in a delighted daze, overwhelmed by the activities that he can’t participate in because he’s not big enough. While trying to keep him out of trouble, I say hi to friends from elementary school and catch up on everything new in their lives. It’s rare nowadays to be able to enjoy a whole town reunion on an annual basis! Come and join the Dorset Snowball Carnival next year!