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History of Carnival

The first Winter Carnival was held over 80 years ago and it has changed dramatically over the years. The carnival has grown, retracted and been reimagined many times. However, its purpose has always remained the same, to celebrate winter. As a Toronto Daily Star reporter said in 1974 “(Winter) is like a cabin fever that slowly builds up pressure until it finally erupts, in this case in a joyful festive.”

The first documented Cochrane winter celebration took place in 1934. Unlike the week and a half long carnival we have become accustomed to it was only a one-day event. It brought in people from neighbouring communities with an enticing “one cent per mile” bargain on railway fare. This first inception of Carnival featured dog sledding, snow shoeing, and cross country ski races. The prizes during this year included a box of cigars, a ham, and $1 in milk tickets. That evening the first Carnival Dance was held, the Cochrane Band played for a “fancy dress and moccasin dance”.

This version of the Winter Carnival continued in slightly smaller iterations until it faded out around 1940.

The Annual Winter Carnival finally relaunched in 1963. This time there was a Princess Pageant, a Fishing Derby, and a Polar Bear Dip – all events that are a part of carnival today. Many other events that started during this time also continue to be a part of Winter Carnival in some form. Events like the parade, hockey games, the torch light parade, the curling bonspiel and the variety show all continue and have evolved over the years to become a cohesive part of the carnival.

The carnival revival in the 1960s also saw the beginning of Snowmobiles becoming a part of the Winter Carnival. The 1965 carnival presented a “skidoo daredevil show” and in 1974 a snowmobile obstacle course was created for the public to sign up for.

The symbol of the Winter Carnival was originally Chief Commando. The Chief was an aboriginal man who donned a Plains Cree headdress and was named after Cochrane’s central lake. The Polar Bear (or Chimo; as we know him today) was introduced in 1969.

By 1973, the annual event was officially name “Chimo”, which is an Inuktitut greeting. It became Cochrane’s mascot’s official name shortly after.

Themes developed and became a key part of the carnival and its identity. Themes have been used to help guide parade floats and events during carnival. The themes of the Winter Carnival have often reflected historical and current events. For example; in 1967 Carnival celebrated Canada’s Centennial Year with the rest of the country, in 1970 it was Cochrane’s Diamond Jubilee and also the theme of the carnival, in 1988 the Olympics were held in Calgary, Alberta and it became the theme of Carnival.

Over the years the event has grown in length. It began as a one-day event in the 1930s and in the 1960s it took place over an extended weekend, totaling four days. By the 1970s, it had expanded to six days, opening on a Tuesday and running to Sunday. Finally, in 1993, it was further extended to cover two weekends, as the town councillors believed that there were too many events to be condensed into one maid weekend.

The Winter Carnival has also grown in popularity since its creation. In 1967, five years after the revival of the carnival, a local newspaper reported that; “One local businessman figures his liquor business just about triples at carnival time”. Carnival has also attracted many Canadian celebrities over the years including, TVOntario’s Polkaroo and Robin Lee Ouzunoff and 1990’s Miss Canada. The Winter Carnival has become so popular that a branch of the Ministry of Industry and Tourism called it the north’s “best-known celebration of old man winter,” bringing about 10,000 people to the town throughout the duration of the event.

Today and as each Winter Carnival develops and comes to be, we as a committee are excited to be a part of the town and building memories for those who live in Cochrane and come to Cochrane specifically for the carnival. Our continued hope is that the Cochrane Winter Carnival continues to grow and thrive and celebrate the beauty of winter here in the North.

Past Themes for Carnival

2023 -  Television through the decades (61st Annual)

2022 -  Nature (60th Annual)

2021  -  Unofficial Carnival - no official theme - Community Led

2020  -  Holiday Rush

2019  -  Hollywood

2018  -  Carnival Rewind

2017  -  Canada 150 (55th Annual) 
2016  -  Rock n Roll
2015  -  Superhero2014  -  1980’s 
2013  -  Winter Wonderland
2012  -  True North Strong and Free (50th Annual) 
2010  -  Centennial 
2009  -  The Olympics (47th annual) 
2007  -  Disney 
2006  -  Gone Country 
2003  -  Let’s Soak Up The Sun
2002  -  Stars 
1997  -  35 years of carnival (blast from the past) 
1996  -  TVO (as it was TVOntario’s 25th anniversary and they sent Polkaroo!) (34th annual) 
1995  -  Jurassic Park 
1994  -  Polarfest 94
1993  -  Polarfest 93
1992  -  Polarfest 92
1991  -  Polarfest 91
1990  -  Polarfest
1989  -  CHIMO 89
1988  -  Olympics
1987  -  Silver Anniversary (25 years) 
1986  -  CHIMO 86
1985  -  Pioneer Days
1984  -  Carebears
1982  -  Smurfs
1980  -  Star Wars

1976  -  CHIMO 76
1974  -  Chief Commando 
1972  -  CHIMO X (tenth annual) 
1971  -  Snow Carnival 
1970  -  Diamond Jubilee (1910 – 1970 for Cochrane)

The first year of the carnival technically started was February 24, 1934, and was called the Annual Winter Sports Carnival. It however, did have a break in between and come back to life in the 1960s. Carnival experienced highs and lows and multiple identity changes. 
In 1963 Chief Commando became the first symbol of carnival, and is still identified with, but in 1969 Chimo became the official symbol that is still used today. Political incorrectness was cited for this change in the history of Carnival.


Source: Cochrane Public Library Archives. Cochrane Public Library

A special thanks to Ardis Proulx-Chedore with the Cochrane Public Library, who helped gather information from the archives for this page.

Historical Photos

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