The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.
Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.
The Dominion Day parade, 2013, in Elora, brought out gratifying crowds and the customary wide range of parade participants.
The Elora parade and July 1 activities, in their present format, have now been running for over 20 years, and seem destined to become a local tradition.
Back in the 1990s, as a village councillor, I am pleased to say that I had a role in the organization of those events during the early years. I recalled the old July 1 events in Elora in the 1950s and thought Elora should again do something to mark the anniversary of Confederation.
As part of that initial effort, I decided to revive the name Dominion Day for Elora’s events. By the 1990s the day was almost universally called Canada Day.
The older name harkened back to the earlier festivities, and it gave the Elora events a unique flavour. Several media outlets, including the Globe and Mail and the CBC, gave the day publicity because of the name.
There are still people in Elora and Wellington County who recall the Dominion Day programs of the 1950s. The programs then were the work of the newly-organized Elora Lions Club, and involved weeks of planning and preparation.
The Elora Lions Club of the 1950s included many businessmen and merchants who were optimistic about the economic prospects for the village after almost two decades of depression and war.
Elora’s industries, the J.C. Mundell Company, Elora Furniture, and the Fleury-Bissell Company, were all working at capacity and the stores enjoyed gratifying sales. The membership of the Lions Club was a dynamic one, and included many younger men who were brimming with energy and ambition.
The festivities of the 1950s were all-day events, but the main feature was the parade, scheduled at mid-day. The Lions offered prizes for the best floats and that encouraged much friendly competition among local people, and especially the factories.
In 1950 the Elora Furniture Company captured the top prize with a float carrying a replica of the tooth of time. Claude Mosure, the pattern maker at the plant, designed the float and built much of it, with the assistance of other men at the plant. There was a mock-up of an organ keyboard on it, which employee Bill Weadick pretended to play, while another employee hidden inside operated the real source of the music, a phonograph and loudspeaker. Weadick was a convincing actor. Many spectators claimed that he was actually playing the calliope.
Both Elora Furniture and John C. Mundell staff insisted there was no rivalry between the employees of the two firms, but their actions indicated otherwise.
In 1951 the Mundell employees spent hours working on a replica of an old-fashioned streetcar. Many Elora oldtimers still remember that float. Bill Duncan was responsible for the design work, Lewis Cameron looked after the mechanical components, and a group of other employees fitted and painted the float. Senior employees and office staff, attired in costumes from the 1900 era, sat in the streetcar as it proceeded past the crowds.
Claude Mosure and other employees at Elora Furniture were not to be outdone. They made an early start in 1952 on their entry “The Old Woman in a Shoe.” Dressed as an old woman, Len Whitelaw periodically stuck his head out of the shoe, to the delight of the crowds, and to the approval of the judges, who awarded the effort the first prize.
Most Elora businesses took part in the parade, but only a few went to the effort of constructing floats. Many dressed up their delivery trucks, and others made do with decorated private automobiles.
A notable entry each year was the delivery truck of Burt Brothers Store, decorated entirely with peonies. The flowers came from their father, noted horticulturalist William Brown, whose plantings of peonies topped five acres and were themselves a draw to Elora in the 1950s.
Other notable entries in those parades were Chuck Sturrock’s dream home, which always drew smiles and laughter, and the N.R. Drimmie and Sons float which carried a troupe of light-footed square dancers. None ever fell off.
School children also took part. Some of them spent hours decorating their bicycles and tricycles as they vied for the top prize. There was also a prize for the youngest participant in the parade.
The parade was the culmination of a full morning program that began most years with a bicycle race. A soapbox race followed, down Geddes Street from the David Street corner. Competition in that event grew year by year.
Eventually some of the local businesses began sponsoring individual entries, and funding the purchase of parts required by the youngsters. Organizers eventually set standards for the type of wheel that could be used.
Most years there were signs along the main street, and sometimes totem poles. Those revived the Indian theme that had been a part of Dominion Day celebrations a half century earlier. Local artist Russ Plyley was responsible for much of that work.
Bands were an important part of the parades in the 1950s. Sometimes they also played before and after the parade. The RCAF band from Trenton led the parade in 1951, and serenaded the crowds before and after. In 1952 the parade featured six bands, including one from London and the youth pipe band from Mount Forest.
In the afternoon local dignitaries sometimes offered brief remarks, but began the local Dominion Day tradition that any speeches were short, and preferably absent from the program.
During the afternoon there were activities in Irvine Park, next to the arena. The Lions Club offered various games of chance and operated a refreshment stand, always doing a good business with hot dogs and ice cream.
Some years there were additional attractions. Several times the Six Nations groups demonstrated various native crafts. In 1951 the RCAF put on an air show, and other times the popular stage show put on by radio station CKNX of Wingham entertained the crowds.
The Lions Club discontinued the Dominion Day Jamborees in the late 1950s. The commitment in time and effort was becoming too burdensome for a volunteer group. Instead, the Lions began their Victoria Day fireworks displays, which continued for a half century.
Today people fondly recall those Dominion Days of the 1950s. Recreating them today would be virtually impossible.
Corny humour was a big part of them. Today such humour would send most people scurrying as they held their noses.
There was also a strong local flavour to them. Most of the participants and a large percentage of the onlookers were local people who knew one another.
As well, few employees of local companies would now spend their spare time building a float for a parade.
Both the people and the companies have an outlook that is much less focused locally. The majority of people then worked in Elora and shopped locally as well.
All that has changed with the passage of time.
*This column was originally published in the Wellington Advertiser on July 5, 2013.