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Do you remember when the Balloons Came to Fenelon Falls?

December 1, 2021

Balloons over Colborne Street


In July 1987 Fenelon Falls Reeve Barclay Taylor and the Chamber of Commerce arranged a Hot Air Balloon Show because it was a great way to bring people to town. Few who were in attendance will forget seeing them float gracefully over the village, and visitors could even go for a brief ride. The event featured midway rides, a bikini contest, sunshine boy contest, a musical performance by Brian Switzer and a pancake breakfast at the Fenelon Falls Legion.

Original Stories from the Fenelon Falls Gazette, July 15, 1987

With Photographs by George Jackett

Close Calls, But No Pilot Prizes were Won

By Joanne Faraday

Months of planning and waiting in anticipation… and now it’s all over except the memories we have of the gracefulness and beauty of those ballons that completed in the World’s Richest Balloon Competition, The Kawartha Challenge. Described by organizer and Reeve of Fenelon Falls, Barclay Taylor, as “successful,” the Challenge, she said, was visited by approximately 18,000 people from near and far.

Weather over the weekend did pose some problems and delays with takeoffs, but many spectators were thrilled with the spectacular show the Kawartha Challenge brought. A total of 22 pilots competed in the event including local resident pilot, John Adams. Each balloonist was sponsored by a local business and the prize of either a spa or a pool was awarded to the sponsor of the top balloonist. Byrnell Golf and Ski Club of Fenelon Falls sponsored balloonist Owen Keown of California who placed first, winning Byrnell the sponsorship prize.

Major pilot prizes for the winning this year included a Jaguar replica, a Confederation Log Home, a Jeep, a motorcycle, a boat, but unfortunately, except for a few close calls, these prizes were not won by the balloonists. At press time, there was a remaining competition but details on whether the prize was won or not were unavailable.

A prize of a free champagne balloon flight to be taken during the Sunday evening competition was available to all by draw to all ticket holders of the weekend pass. The ticket holder had to be present at the Lions Club’s Sunshine Festival on Sunday afternoon in order to win the prize. After four numbers were drawn and unclaimed, a fifth number was drawn and awarded to the person present with the nearest number. Number 0614 was drawn and John Williamson won with his number, 0628.

There were mixed feelings about the about the success of this first year of the competition. As an exhibitor at the 50/50 draw booth held in connection with the Fenelon Fire Department, Fred Elder commented, “I think the concept was an excellent idea and I think the locals enjoyed seeing the balloons, but I think the organizers are a bit disappointed by the turnout.” He added, “It is the first time and the weather was hot, though.” Crew member, Ron Rendell of Lindsay felt quite the opposite as he stated, “It was an excellent time! I’m thinking of quitting my job and becoming a balloonist!” When asked if they feel the competition should be an annual event, Mr. Elder stated he felt it shouldn’t be annual for Fenelon Falls, but rather “it should be held somewhere else in Victoria County each year.”

One thing for sure is that the event drew people from all locations. Gord Swinerd came from Peterborough to see the competition. He stated, “I saw the balloons flying over Peterborough last week practicing. I think they are really graceful.” Though seeing the balloons close up was one reason, Mr. Swinerd and his family came to Fenelon Falls, he stated his main reason was “to win the prize of a free ride!”

For those who didn’t win a free ride, tethered balloon rides were available on the fairgrounds. Although the balloon only rises a certain distance, it still gives the sensation of what it is like being in a balloon.  

With an expected large crowd to be in attendance, extra OPP patrol, both in car and on foot, were on duty throughout the village and fairgrounds. According to Corporal Kerpell of the Coboconk OPP detachment, there were a few minor incidents involving liquor being consumed in unlawful places and there was a few parking violations where vehicles were parked in front of residents’ driveways, but in general, the Kawartha Challenge created no major problems.

Challenge was a Break-Even Event for Exhibitors

By Sherrie LeMasurier

The attendance at Kawartha Challenge ’87 turned what many hoped to be a financial success into a break-even event for many businesses. Exhibitors in particular planned for the forecast of 50,000 people by ordering sufficient supplies. In many cases, however, exhibitors ended up with waste. “I don’t think we’ve made any money, even with all the food donations,” said Irene Liscombe of the Fenelon Falls Curling Club booth. The Club was selling sandwiches, muffins, chips, coffee, etc. “We had to throw out approximately fifty sandwiches on Saturday,” she added.

The Fenelon Falls Agricultural Fair Board was selling beef on a bun. They ordered a total of 380 lbs of roast beef and 100 dozen buns and cases of pop. “We’ve sold a lot of pop, however, the beef sales have been rather slow,” says Orville Beggs. A lot of the board’s supplies can be frozen and kept until the Fair on August 7th, 8th and 9th.

A total of 48 Kawartha Challenge guest homes in the Fenelon Falls area, plus 15 in the surrounding Kawartha District, remained vacant all weekend. “Nobody wanted to stay in private homes,” says Chamber of Commerce secretary Dorothy Tindale. “In fact, we didn’t have as many accommodation inquiries that we have on a regular weekend.

The Fenelon Falls Lions Club ordered 1,000 hamburger patties, hot dogs and buns, plus 20 cases of fries and 275 cases of pop. They have managed to sell approximately half of everything they purchased. The remainder of their supplies will be kept until their Antique Car Show in August. “If we knew the crowd, we could have ordered accordingly. The amount we expected created a lot of extra work,” says Lion Doug McCallum.

The booth entitled “Just Cold Drinks” had 400 cases of pop for the event and still have a good number of cases left over. According to Shelley Givens of the booth, “we were steady, but not what you would call busy. We were anticipating 50,000 people.” If they had a variety of exhibitions and things to do we would consider coming back next year. As it is, there is nothing to keep people here through the day, she added.

The Rotary Club had approximately 2,500 hamburger patties left over Sunday evening. “It’s been dead, we closed from 10-2:30 pm on Saturday because of the lack of customers,” said Rotarian Ian Macnab. The Rotary had to throw out a lot of French fries because the demand just wasn’t there. “Ten minutes after the balloons leave the grounds we might as well close down, there’s no reason to be here,” says Rotarian Garth Nicholls.

The only place that seemed to benefit from the heat and the number in attendance was the Molson Beer tent. “We did the best business during the Sunshine Festival,” says Paul Barker. “Friday and Saturday was really steady, the heat really helped to boost sales,” added Paul.

Overall, most of the exhibitors inside and outside of the building were disappointed in the turnout. The exhibitors found business to be too slow during the hours the balloons were not on the grounds.”

Spectators Cheered for Sunshine Festival

The unusually hot weather didn’t deter hundreds of people who crowded to the Fenelon Fairgrounds for a bit of fun at the Lions Club’s annual Sunshine Festival on Sunday. Spectators cheered and whistled for their favourite participants in the bum, full bathing suit, sunshine boy, Dolly Parton look alike contests and of course, the real favourite, the bikini contest. Winners of the different contests are as follows:

Bum Contest: 1st Reneye Budd of Fenelon Falls, 2nd Kim McCrea of Buckhorn and 3rd Karen Abbott of Fenelon Falls.

Dolly Parton Contest: 1st Terry Embiley of Orono, 2nd Donna Ferguson of Fenelon Falls, 3rd Anne Louise McHale of Lindsay.

Sunshine Boy Contest: 1st Brian Beukeboom of Lindsay, 2nd David McDonald of Lindsay, 3rd Norm Wilson of Toronto.

Full Bathing Suit: 1st Cathy Beal of Mississauga, 2nd Karen Abbott, 3rd Kim McCrea

Bikini Contest: 1st Karen Abott, 2nd Colleen Jenkinson of Toronto and 3rd Kim McCrea

This year’s festival was held in conjunction with the Kawartha Challenge ’87. Money raised will go towards the Lions Club community projects.

Volunteers Kept the Challenge Airborne

Without the volunteerism of the Kawartha District residents, Kawartha Challenge ’87 would not have got off the ground. It is the people behind a spectacular colourfest who really make the event successful. A warm thank you is expressed by organizers, participants and viewers to all volunteers who make themselves part of what we hope will be an annual Kawartha Challenge.

Twenty-four safety patrol boats were on Cameron and Sturgeon Lake, housing at least two volunteers per boat. The task of the water safety patrol was to ensure that the pilots had no difficulty travelling across the lakes. Each balloon was equipped with 150 feet of drop line in case they needed to be towed ashore. The main concern of the water safety crews was that the balloons may run out of fuel while passing over the lakes. The volunteer water crew aided the two OPP patrol boats on the lakes. Marine Ban and CB frequencies were used to communicate with one another in case of emergency.

A total of 70 people volunteered to be part of the ground and chase crews. Brenda O’Connor from Lindsay volunteered to crew for Owen Keown from California flying his Byrnell Golf and Country Club sponsored balloon. “If they do it next year, I’ll be right in line to help out again.

Saturday morning Brenda had the opportunity to fly with Owen. Brenda said, “It was really great, other than when the burners were on it was so peaceful…. It was everything I expected and more.”

Another 50 people volunteered their time to put up signs, man the gates, etc. Throughout the village of Fenelon Falls there was increased OPP coverage that included pedestrian patrol teams who strolled through the village for the four-day event. An extra by-law officer was hired to keep the traffic flowing and ticket those ignoring the no-parking zone signs.

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