For the past 50 years, the Greely Winter Carnival has been a snowy staple for residents of Ottawa’s rural south communities. The carnival was introduced to the town in 1972 to bring the community together.
Described as a little something for everybody, the carnival “is an activity that the community undertakes every year to get people to participate with organizations in the area and is a cool way to get to know your neighbours,” said Isabelle Skalski, president of the Greely Community Association.
Especially popular in the 1970s and ’80s, the carnival has been coming back every year, despite the neighbourhood’s dramatic evolution. Greely has been described by the Osgoode Township Museum as a rapidly growing bedroom community.
In spite of the cold weather, dozens of families gathered at the Greely Community Centre from Thursday, Jan. 26 to Sunday, Jan. 29 to celebrate the milestone anniversary. With snow piled high in the park next to the building, young children were seen jumping from hill to hill, their happy shrieks echoing in the frigid air.
Just behind the hills is an expansive park and a community outdoor skating rink. Circling around the rink was a long line of families awaiting their turn for a ride on a horse-drawn wagon.
The horse-powered tour of the area has been a feature of the carnival since the 1970s and was offered by Gary Sharfe, owner of Hollybrooke Farm.
The Greely Winter Carnival is still generating new stories and adding to the lives of families in the community.
And Greely has its own backstory. It was named after an American Arctic explorer and military general, Adolphus Washington Greely, who explored Canada’s polar region in the 1880s and led a failed expedition that, sadly, resulted in the deaths of most of his men.
Greely is also known as one of the former villages of Osgoode Township. The township — now a rural ward in the amalgamated City of Ottawa — consists of several small towns forming tight-knit communities that foster their identities with annual fairs, festivals and carnivals.
As the decades have gone by, more people have moved to the city’s rural towns, and the carnivals have lost some popularity in recent years. Looking back, the Greely Winter Carnival was once a week-long festival, but now the activities fit into just four days.
The carnival saw many people come and go, including Ottawa 67’s hockey players, the Ottawa Senators mascot, and Montreal Canadiens hockey great Larry Robinson, who grew up in nearby Winchester.
Despite the constantly changing community, many locals still bring out their families to enjoy the events hosted by fellow community members. The Greely Fire Station has been offering carnival goers a pancake breakfast for decades and is a mainstay of the festival.
Greely is seeing an influx of young families moving to the area, so the Greely Community Association has adjusted the carnival to fit their needs, said Skalski. Instead of hosting the regular teen dance, this year the event was open to a wider range of ages.
As the first year back since the start of the pandemic, the carnival program looked different than in previous years. This year’s activities featured a BeaverTails stand in the parking lot, line dance lessons, skating and a Nerf gun fight. Inside the community centre was a display table with items documenting the history of the carnival.
In the past, a key moment at the carnival came with selection of a carnival queen, typically a young woman in her teens or early 20s. Described by Skalski as passé, this feature has been phased out. Fifty years ago, the carnival queen competition was enormously popular and similar events were held in surrounding towns.
The results of the queen competitions were recorded in articles and photographs in the now closed newspaper, The Winchester Press. The Greely Winter Carnival made headlines in the paper for decades, alongside the carnivals in the neighbouring towns of Metcalfe and Osgoode.
As every new year brought more changes to Greely, one thing has stayed the same. While the Greely Winter Carnival may not be identical to what it was like when it started, the carnival still thrives.
“Every year,” said Skalski, “it’s its own story and it’s neat to see how it evolved based on the times.”
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