The Midway Carvers

1920 Street, Volunteers

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If you’re down at the park for Christmas Reflections this season, you will see featured in one of the decorated windows a perfectly painted and glistening carved carousel horse. As a volunteer, you’ve likely seen such tremendous craftsmanship before while riding on our beautiful 1920s Carousel or the children’s Bug Ride and Menagerie. We all highly anticipate their next project: a Mangels, or “Swinging Chairs” ride.

The trademark of all of the Carver’s work is the care and passion in every step: carving, sanding, painting. Researching, engineering, and imagining. Our Carvers have given some 100000 hours to create this unique experience for the public. “It’s a wonderful thing to be able to show the visitors the shop,” grins Jean, who has volunteered for nearly a dozen years. She finds visitors are always amazed to discover that the rides really are hand carved, “It’s not until we show them the shop that they start to understand”. Who could blame them? In a world where everything is mass-produced, our Carousel is a very unique example of something created from scratch by the hands of volunteers.

More than their beautiful rides, this group has created a strong community that gives its members a sense of purpose and belonging, honours skill and effort, and welcomes anyone who’s willing to try. “They have to carve a spoon first, of course” Doug reminds, and the group laughs as they recall their own first experience creating spoons, the carving right of passage. Most had little to no experience when they started, but are now the most capable of carvers. Jean recalls her confidence increasing as she learned, “I’ve done a leg, and now I can do a head¦there was no ego in creating the carousel, just strong leadership and a strong team”.

Cesar was more experienced when he joined, having taken to carving as a young child in Chile. He recalls chipping away with his fingernails and teeth until his parents finally relented and gave him tools. He moved to Canada to work on his Masters degree in Sculpture at the University of Alberta and connected with the carvers from there. He felt at home with the group right away, “There is a real pride in our work and sense of high standards, but always an opportunity to find your own strengths and so many generous people willing to teach and share”. This energy is evident just from walking into the shop, as is the sense of fun – just ask Anna to tell you the story about the magpie in the Menagerie cat’s mouth next time you stop by the shop!

Carving has different meanings for each member. For Erin, it’s an outlet for her artistic side. For Bob, it’s relaxing and fun. For Steven, one of the youngest carver at the age of 15, it’s a chance to learn a new skill. For Peter, it’s about remembering. Peter started carving when his girlfriend Lee got excited about the Carousel construction. The two of them shared hundreds of hours together working on the project, “We did everything – painting, sanding, fundraising, carving¦she just loved Carousels”. Lee passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. Now, Peter finds strength in the community they’ve created. “I wouldn’t give up any of it – all the years here. I don’t know what I would do without this”.

As we look forward to the new ride, it is exciting to know that the legacy built by our carvers is one of both beautiful constructions and beautiful people.

Photos courtesy of JAHRice