Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Thrills at the Thrill Park


Coney Island Shoot the Chutes.


I know that Dominion Park is going to be a 'character' in my book. It just has to be. I had never heard of the place before I read the Nicholson letters (posted on http://www.tighsolas.ca/). In my days, Montreal kids seeking fun went to Belmont Park, in Cartierville, which was already dilapidated in the 1960's, and later La Ronde, on Ile Notre Dame which was opened for Expo67. My own sons went to La Ronde and banged their brains into the back of their heads riding the extreme roller coasters over and over and over. La Ronde is still there, owned by Five or is it Six or Seven Flags.


Anyway, in 1907, Herbert Nicholson went to the new Dominion Park, (Notre Dame East) and wrote: "I was down at Dominion Park last night. This is the new one that you have read so much about. Well, there is everything that you have heard of in your life. They take you up and slide you down into a little lake and then you have a railroad that goes up and down and around curves and through all kinds of places so fast that you lose your breath." (Editor:remember, autos only were allowed to go 15 miles an hour in the country.)


So, what had the girls read about: Well, Dominion Park advertised for a full three months before it opened in June 1906, which built up people's expectations. Dominion Park was after all, 'the biggest amusement park Canada has ever known'...(and outside of Coney Island, nothing in the US equals it either)'offering a new series of entertainments to Montrealers.'


Opening attractions include the Duss Band, and the Nohlens, a dazzling act on the double trapeze. The regular attractions, the Shoot the Chutes (what Herb was talking about. La Ronde had La Flume, or something) the Airship Swing, the Scenic Railway, the Old Mill, the Johnstown Flood - and the Infant Incubator Building, featuring real premature infants being cared for and 'fed the way nature designed.' Hmm.. A foreshadowing of the Dionne Debacle.

Well, I have already thought of a scene at the Park. (I've written about it before.) Marion is there on Victoria Day with a proper young man and it is hot and crowded and they are watching a novelty act where a swarthy muscle man fights with snakes in water (a true act) and she, well, has a 'strange' reaction.
(I sort of know how she might have felt: I attended the final day of an exhibit at the National Gallery two weeks ago, one that had graphic porn images and I had to stand there like nothing special beside some total stranger. Whichever way you tilt your head, human genitals are not beautiful, that's for sure. Of course, a lot of great art was created as porn, or, at least, as titilation for rich men. But I digress (borrowing from Monty Python).
This scene all ties into the eugenics movement of the era, where some people insisted light skinned races were superior to dark skinned races, as well as the immigration policy where officials wanted only Northern types to come to Canada.. Swarthy, southern, sexy and animal = disturbing. Something like that.. Irony, Marion would soon marry Hugh Blair, proper Presbyterian from Three Rivers, - with a French Canadian mother and a Cree great grandmother. talk about swarthy. Hmm.
Anyway, they passed the Lord's Day Act in Canada in 1908 (that both the religious types and union types wanted.) But Dominion Park and the Ouimetoscope were given passes (or they could pay the fines) and they stayed open. If you give the masses a day off, you have to give them something to do. Young people, who work hard all week, don't want to spend their Sundays praying.
Yes, stores had to close on Sunday, even Jewish stores. Some people suggested that it wouldn't harm anyone if certain Jewish bakers were allowed to stay open on Sunday to provide bread only for Jews. "Only a few carts would be on the streets."
My next blog, probably, will be about the Jews in 1910 Montreal. But I have a lot of information to digest first. (I would like to have Marion go to Ben's for a smoked meat, but I can't really get her there. She would have been told to avoid these districts. (And there were no Jewish teachers then, but there was a big controversy over letting Jewish women teach. ) Maybe I can have Herb bring her one.