Sometimes you don’t find local epic stories in the newspaper archives. It begins as hearsay, and the more you dig around, the more infuriated you get– until you finally get the story. When I did the stories about the hippies in Carleton Place I kept hearing about a huge fight at Riverside Park in Carleton Place. But, the story only came in drips and drabs, and there was no mention anywhere. Until last week…
At the Town Hall tea celebrating the Queen’s longevity I heard the rumour once again from the St. James table, and Jennifer Fenwick Irwin from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum suggested I ask Duncan Rogers. In the space of 10 minutes of asking I had a copy of a newspaper report in my hands from 1969. Wow Mr. Rogers- wow–is all I can say.
The riot at Riverside Park had nothing to do with the local hippies. It was created by a long running feud between angry local teenagers and a visiting King’s Carnival troupe. Tempers had flared after a town youth had been badly beaten while walking his girlfriend through the park.
Shortly after 1 am on a Sunday night about 150 local Carleton Place youths gathered close to the Carnival at Riverside Park brandishing tire irons and wrenches. The teenagers began to throw rocks and bottles at the carnival workers in their booths The five-man local police force had no choice but to move in quickly. Sergeant Ray McIsaac also summoned the local fire brigade. When things looked like they were getting out of hand he obtained help from 15 men from the Perth division of the OPP to help control the situation.
Mayor James Arnold Julian arrived at 2 am and tried to persuade the teenagers to leave the area. When no one paid attention to his request he threatened to read the *Riot Act. Now my father used to threaten me with the riot act when I misbehaved, but I had no idea that such an act really existed. Whether or not the act was still in place, Julian meant business. Finally, his threats and jets of water from the fire hoses broke the crowd up around 3 a.m. The Carnival decided it was best if they left town, and aided by police protection they quickly left at 6 a.m.
Chief Herb Cornell of Carleton Place said the teenagers had no idea what danger they could have faced. After a week of trouble brewing and tempers flaring, the Carnival people had been ready for them. Some of them carried firearms to protect themselves and would have used them if necessary. The mayor said just one of the carneys could have taken out any 10 local youths and “had them for breakfast”.
“It would have been a slaughter if they had met,” Mayor Julian added.
Only one local youth was arrested with disturbing the peace and three carneys were detained at the county jail and were charged with assault and occasioning bodily harm. So yes Virgina, a riot really happened in Carleton Place
*The Riot Act, which was more formally called ‘An act for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies, and for the more speedy and effectual punishing the rioters’ actually contained this warning:
“Our sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God save the King.”
The punishments for ignoring the Act were severe – penal servitude for not less than three years, or imprisonment with hard labour for up to two years.