By Linda Dillman
The roots of Canal Winchester’s Labor Day Festival run deep, beginning before the turn of the 20th century with a Grange-sponsored Winchester Fair to the event it has become, which draws thousands of people.
This year the streets will not be filled with high-speed attractions, music, contests and smoky aromas filtering through the crowds. On May 21, the non-profit, volunteer-run Labor Day Festival Committee decided to cancel the September show until 2021.
In the May public statement, organizers shared their difficult decision, noting concern for public safety amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Festival Vice President Mike Coolman spoke on behalf of the festival’s board of directors, saying, “This was not an easy decision, but was a responsible and necessary decision. Early last week, the Canal Winchester Labor Day Festival Board of Directors met and made the decision based on the likely strict and difficult guidelines we would have to follow if we were to attempt to host this year’s festival. The health and safety of our community is paramount.”
The committee began working on plans for the 2020 100th Labor Day Festival last fall, so much of the work was already completed in anticipation of the centennial anniversary.
“We want our 100th Labor Day Festival celebration to be huge,” said Coolman. “We were going to pull out all stops on this one this year for our 100th and we still will next year when are able to celebrate.”
According to Coolman, tents, tables, chairs, golf carts, etc. were already reserved. Amusement rides and food vendors were booked and some of the entertainment was scheduled. Once the cancellation was announced, the committee began the process of contacting those already contracted.
“During these strange times, none were surprised of the cancellation and many had said they had been expecting it,” said Coolman.
With a heritage going back to the 1800s, today’s Labor Day festival is a far cry from the first fairs once held in an opera house, skating rink, and buildings along the railroad. According to the book, “Canal Winchester Ohio: The Second Ninety Years,” by Frances Steube and Lillian Carroll, beginning in 1906, the fair moved to a six-acre tract on Columbus and Winchester Pike and later to a ballpark.
No fair was held in 1914 and Carroll and Steube could not locate records of another until 1925 when a Canal Winchester Festival and Community Fair was held in October of that year. Names and locations changed through the years until 1960 when three local men organized the first Labor Day celebration with a chicken barbecue dinner and parade.
“Many people believe the city of Canal Winchester organizes this event each year and that is not accurate,” said Coolman. “The Canal Winchester Labor Day Festival Committee is an independent, non-profit organization run entirely by volunteers who work hard each year to bring this wonderful event to Canal Winchester. The city is one of our biggest sponsors in that they grant us the ability to use their streets, sidewalk and many city workers help with the festival each year. Our committee had been working hard to make this another fantastic event. So much of the work had already been done and a lot of the pieces were already in place. It saddened us to have to make this decision and it was not made lightly, but it was made with the well-being of our community in mind.”