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Latest museum exhibit celebrates North Bay's good times

'It included Indigenous performers, there were lumberman shows, all kinds of dances. Picturing all these things happening in the winter was interesting'

In a year where gathering together got put on hold, the North Bay Museum put together a new exhibit to celebrate all those good times when people could gather called: North Bay Celebrates.

Director/Curator Naomi Hehn says the exhibit is made up of a combination of items they already had in storage plus some community contributions that showcase all the different festivals and events the Gateway City has held over the course of its history.

“We looked at North Bay’s early celebrations,” says Hehn.  “One of those was a giant celebration for Old Home Week, when North Bay was incorporated in 1925 and that’s the earliest example of a huge festival that the city created. We also looked at the Snow Frolic events that used to get put together during the 1940s, which was the earliest incarnation of the winter carnival.”

There are pieces of memorabilia, photos, and some video footage of the Winter Fur Carnivals, Heritage Festivals, and the Ice Follies. But it’s not just defunct celebrations that are on display as Le Carnavals des Compagnons is also featured.

“It is still happening and is a big part of the community,” says Hehn. “But not everyone knows what it is or the history of it, so this exhibit is a nice way to highlight that as well.

Hehn says creating this exhibit was an idea that was started when the city of North Bay made the announcement to cancel all future Summer in the Park events.

“We thought we should look back in our collection to see what kinds of celebrations North Bay has had, how they were received by the community, how they were put together.”

Hehn says while researching the different events, something that stood out to her was the value of community support at the beginning of the events, but that support started to decrease as the years went on.

 “It’s always been a heavy reliance on volunteerism and community support. Some of the events were more well-received than others, but certainly that community support was a common thread,” she says.

“These events never really made money. Even when they were big and successful, there were always people complaining about how it was a money pit, which is funny, because years later we remember them as being amazing events. So that stuck out when I was looking at The Nugget highlights over the last 100 years. They would mention these festivals and then when they got cancelled it was usually for the same reasons, which was that it seemed like they had just run their course and you couldn’t do the same thing forever, but you could look at what happened before and see what worked and then ideas would get re-introduced.”

The exhibit will provide that dose of nostalgia for people of all ages.

“The one I heard the least about before doing some research was the snow frolic, which was held in the 1940s. Just seeing all the streets completely packed with people and all the different elements of the festival too. It included Indigenous performers, there were lumberman shows, all kinds of dances. Picturing all these things happening in the winter was interesting,” says Hehn. “Also, when the winter carnivals were going on, looking at the footage of the dog races that took place during that event really stuck out to me because you’d have these huge crowds watching this really exciting event. We have aerial footage showing the course they were racing on.”

Hehn says the exhibit, open now, is following Covid-19 protocols.

“With the COVID pandemic, it made me think about postponing this exhibit,” says Hehn.  “But then decided, in a way, it was a good time to reflect on these events and past celebrations seeing how we can’t have any actual celebrations in the community right now. This is something you can do in person; you can come to the museum and see what it was like during those events.”

Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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