Many iconic images associate themselves with the typical North American fair or carnival. Tents, games of chance, Ferris wheels – and the classic carousel, the motorised merry-go-round sometimes with cars or planes, but most often with horses.
Not many of the original carousels are still around. In Canada there’s only nine intact and operational antique carousels recorded. One of them runs for the public as a centrepiece of Lakeside Park in the Niagara town of St Catharines.
This carousel is over a century old, hand-carved between 1898 and 1905 by Charles I D Looff, one of North America’s first and most iconic motorised carousel designers. After some service in Scarborough, Toronto, the carousel came to St Catharines around 1921 for an amusement park in Port Dalhousie. That amusement park is no more but the carousel hasn’t left the town since. It now sits near the beach along Port Dalhousie and is maintained by a regular crew.
As far as classical carousels go, the Lakeside Park is a great example of the Looff menagerie design. It’s four rows deep and features 68 different mounts, all hand-carved and coming in a variety of animals from horses, giraffes and goats to lions and camels. In fact, the original Looff-carved lion in the carousel is a rarity in North America, in both its good condition and its uncommon outward-looking pose. They were considered works of art when they were new, and the passage of time has only made them more treasured.
The carousel is generally open to rides from May until October during the daytime and early evening. Each ride costs a single nickel, the same price as it’s always been for the carousel’s lifetime of operation. Private rides and photo shoots are also open for arrangement.
As far as modern spectacles and attractions go a carousel, even a classical one such as the model at Lakeside Park, is practically quaint. But for kids it’s a fun ride and for older visitors it just may be a striking piece of nostalgia or a romantic outing. With a century’s experience and a clear imagery of master craftsmanship in every carving, the carousel’s appeal and value is iconic in its own right.