Money, Dance Marathons, and Living in Lion Cages—The Ups and Downs of Luna Park

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Money, Dance Marathons, and Living in Lion Cages—The Ups and Downs of Luna Park

I began to write this piece as a tribute to Victoria Day and some how the more I read about Luna Park that was once located on the Aylmer Road the more obsessed I got. It upset me that something that was so creative and wonderful disappeared after years of upheavals and the memories are now just part of  the pages of Lost Ottawa“.

Chances are if you were lucky, mom and dad might bring you on a traditional Victorian Day picnic as this was the norm in days gone by. There was no shopping for flowers to plant in the garden– it was a family day– and you probably celebrated together whether you liked it or not.

If Dad wanted to do something special he might drive the family for an outing at Britannia on the Bay just outside of Ottawa. Travelling at 20 miles an hour would take you a couple of hours to get there mind you–but it’s not like you had social media to keep up with. (Weekend Driving- Smiths Falls Franktown and Carleton Place 1925)

 

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 Postcard from Lost Ottawa featuring a fine Sunday Outing to Britannia on the Bay circa 1900-05.Shared by Laura Stewart. I added the Ottawa Journal clipping.

While the flappers danced to rambunctious jazz music in the 1920s and the Ziegfield Follies were a hit with your ancestors, something so amazing was created for the Ottawa Hull region.  Luna Park opened in Val Tetreau in 1925 and was the brainchild of H.F. Blackwell of Lowell, Mass. who created the park with an investment of $500,000. He installed many symbols of the new free thinking decade and one feature was a giant wooden roller coaster.

There was much interest in roller coasters in those days and some estimates state that between 1,500 and 2,000 coasters existed during this time period, an astounding figure even by today’s standards. The roller coaster built specifically for Luna Park was called The Deep Dip.  It was designed and built by Keenan, Addison, & Pearce, but sadly they took down the remains and used the wood for civic repairs in 1937.

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Photo-Lost Ottawa 

Many attribute the spread of “the amusement park” in North America at that time to Frederick Ingersoll and his family as he opened Luna Park in Pittsburgh. It was the first amusement park to use one of the names made famous by the amusement park in Coney Island. All of a sudden there was a surge of “electric parks” that opened in the United States and Canada and Luna Park was about to open in Aylmer.

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The newspapers said the management “left nothing undone” and Luna Park opened May 22, 1925. It was one of the most  ambitious amusement parks ever constructed–but the parks financial dilemmas began quickly. It was said that H.F. had a world of experience in the amusement park business, 18 years to be exact, and had also been one of the organizer and manager of Parc Belmont in Montreal. But, like the roller coaster, it was all up and down with finances and the city of Hull.

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There was the world class swimming pool with a sand beach on each side with parasols, palm trees, and probably a great place to scope out the local beautiful women. A membership to the swimming pool was only one dollar for 9 weeks, and after that time frame you had free entry to Luna Park and its aquatic marvels and attractions.

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Blackwell’s financial problems probably began with his costs of opening Bellevue Park in Trois Rivieres. That particular park lasted only one season in 1926 and the overhead was astronomical.There was no way Blackwell could stay afloat with his losses.

One theory is that Blackwell made the mistake of holding the grand opening of Bellevue Park on a sacred Sunday seemingly mocking the faith of that time. In the 50s there were still few drive in theatres in Quebec as the priests deemed them ‘dens of sins’, so you can imagine Blackwell opening on a Sunday in the 1920s was considered a threat to common decency.

At the Municipal Council, Proceedings of the Municipal Council of Trois-Rivières, June 7, 1897: Citizens complain that young people gather between 8:00 and 10:00 in the evening and “engage in serious excesses”.  (Municipal Archives of Trois-Rivières)

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal02 Oct 1925, FriPage 9

The pious folk began a public smear campaign against Blackwell and he was forced to close the Bellevue Park barely a year after it opened.  In Le Nouvelliste (June 28, 1928) it said: “As a result of pressure from the clergy, the management of Bellevue Park decided to close the dance floor and turn it into a roller skating rink.” The article ends by saying: “Those who will visit Bellevue Park in the future can be assured of enjoyable and enjoyable amusements.


Even after a quick August move to another location, Bellevue Park closed and never reopened. Like an aftershock the Aylmer Luna Park too fell into tough times and Blackwell walked away after just three years of its operation.

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal13 May 1927, FriPage 19

 

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal06 Sep 1928, ThuPage 1

 

In 1929 William Conboy took over the defunct park after managing Erie Beach (which was right across from Buffalo) for 18 years. For 12 more years Luna Park was alive thanks to the city of Hull who had taken it over and added a zoo because of Conboy’s fascination with animals. He had weekly spots on local radio discussing the behaviour of wild animals and Billboard wrote that for five more years Conboy made a heroic struggle to keep Luna Park going.

 

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal16 May 1929, ThuPage 3

 

A bizarre and little-known fad emerged across the land and it was called: dance marathons. Beginning in 1923 as light-hearted competitions of endurance, dance marathons eventually transformed into something rather dark and exploitative. Contestants, who were often in dire financial straits, were given shelter and meals as long as they kept dancing, with a substantial cash award for the last couple standing.

Rules varied from event to event, but many competitions allowed each dancer to take brief naps and bathroom breaks as long as their partner continued dancing. This allowed the marathons to stretch on for days, weeks and even months — as exhausted dancers vied for prize money while event promoters charged gawkers an entrance fee to watch.

Many cities, aghast at the humiliation of marathon dancers and concerned for their safety, passed statutes outlawing dance marathons.-– (with files from Mashable)

Luna Park was no different, and on many occasions the dance marathons brought in the local police.  Conboy even had “an in” with local RCMP Inspector Charon and on October 6, 1933 over 200 students protested the dance marathons and were met with the local police forces and their hoses.

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal13 Apr 1938, WedPage 2

Luna Park had varied historical notations after its prime years that few know about. In the late 1930s it became a local sanctuary.  After a fire at Notre Dame de Lorette in Val Tetreau in 1938 temporary housing for school children was found at the old roller skating rink and dance hall of Luna Park which was now fully owned by the city.

What is ironic is temporary masses were also held at Luna Park,  but not before Archbishop Forbes blessed the site and gave permission for masses to be held there. Maybe if the priests had blessed the site when it opened it would not have had such an unlucky history.

After serving their country for the long, horrible years of WWII former soldiers wanted only to re-establish their civilian lives and set up households with their families. The return of more than a million Canadians to peacetime life created a housing demand that the private sector could not meet. Wartime housing in the 1940s was in dire straights in the Hull area and the former lions cage in Conboy’s zoo in the park became home to families in need. (Heritage Minutes)

 

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal16 Dec 1944, SatPage 22

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Luna Park finally became known as Moussette Park officially in 1939 named after the Hull Mayor Alphonse Moussette. The mayor had always supported local parks but it was said that his fascination with the past of Luna Park was another reason. But, it was an amusement park no more, and through the years everything disappeared one by one leaving only the roller skating rink and a playground.

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal25 May 1942, MonPage 3

 

Even in the best of times, amusement parks are chaotic, occasionally ugly, and full of danger. But when they are abandoned, or lost in time, their history becomes tragic. The iconic name “Luna Park” is still used by dozens of amusement parks around the globe and Parc Mousette is still located in the Hull sector of Gatineau on the Ottawa River. While the amusement park is gone there are numerous outdoor activities available, such as tennis, basketball, baseball, volleyball and swimming for all ages.

This was not exactly the vision H. F. Blackwell had– but I’d like to think the memories from days gone by are still buried in the sand. They say that behind every amusement park are the fans, and now I too have become hooked on the past of Luna Park. After researching and writing this piece I realize that history moves pretty fast if you are not paying attention. If we don’t stop and look back we are going to miss so much of what once was. To the memory of Luna Park!

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H.F. Blackwell-Bellevue Park(1926 – 1926)–Click here
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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal25 Jun 1927, SatPage 15

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal06 Oct 1933, FriPage 13

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal21 May 1931, ThuPage 23

 

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Clipped from The Ottawa Journal18 Jul 1938, MonPage 20

 

 

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Names Names Names — who do you know?
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Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.

Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun and Screamin’ Mamas (USA)

 

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Weekend Driving- Smiths Falls Franktown and Carleton Place 1925

The Steamboat Picnics on Pretty Island

What Justin Bieber is Missing by Not Coming to Carleton Place

Architecture Stories: The Hotel that Stompin’ Tom Connors Saved

The Country Fairs 1879

Architecture Stories: The Voodoo Madam – Mary Ellen Pleasant

Architecture Stories: ‘Once Upon a Time’ -Home of the Kool Aid Acid Test & Other Time Travel Stories

Architecture Stories: Day of the Dead at Ghostly Atherton House

Hocus Pocus –Necromancy at Fitch Bay

The Witch of Plum Hollow – Carleton Place Grandmother

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About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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