'The carousel is the centre of this village,' says Barb Foreman, secretary-treasurer of the Roseneath Agricultural Society, which owns, maintains and operates the 1906 C.W. Parker carousel. The colourful handcarved carousel, housed in a 16-sided building on the fairgrounds on County Road 45, features 40 basswood horses and two boats, with a 1934 Wurlitzer 125-band organ, complete with paper rolls, striking up the music as it turns round and round. (Photo courtesy Valerie Lloyd)

A blast from the past in Roseneath:
Village rallies to preserve beloved heritage carousel

There’s nothing like a Sunday ride in the country to evoke happy memories of family outings, lazy summer days at the cottage or afternoons spent hunting for antique treasures. Remember stops at the general store for ice cream? Maybe a sunny day of apple-picking comes to mind, or an anniversary getaway at a quiet inn just when the leaves are starting to turn.  

Don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly pining for a hot chicken sandwich with chips smothered in gravy at your favourite roadside diner. A car trip in the country can do that.  

As one small community in Northumberland County has discovered, nostalgia is powerful stuff. Powerful enough to help drive the local economy.  

Roseneath, a village in the Rice Lake area just off Highway 401 north of Cobourg, has been welcoming visitors by the hundreds each year, some as far away as Australia. They range in age from toddlers to centenarians. And they are all here to see Roseneath’s 1906 C.W. Parker carousel, restored to museum quality thanks to fundraising by a dedicated group of local citizens.  

“The carousel is the centre of this village,” says Barb Foreman, secretary-treasurer of the Roseneath Agricultural Society, which owns, maintains and operates the carousel. “It brings tourists in and sends them to our local merchants, as well as those in the surrounding villages.”  

The colourful carousel, housed in a 16-sided building on the fairgrounds on County Road 45, features 40 basswood horses and two boats, with a 1934 Wurlitzer 125-band organ, complete with paper rolls, striking up the music as it turns round and round.  

While it truly is a beautiful thing, this heritage carousel isn’t just for admiring. Step right up folks ... these ponies are made for riding!  

A gem in Northumberland County

Once you’ve saddled up, look up in the centre of the carousel, where panels with scenes from around Northumberland County decorate the ring gear. You’ll recognize many locales, including the gazebo in nearby Gores Landing, home of the century-old Victoria Inn overlooking Rice Lake. The original 10 by 12 Roseneath Carousel paintings on which the gear panels are based were sold as a collection as a fundraiser and grace the walls of a Toronto law firm.  

Foreman calls the Roseneath Carousel “priceless,” and can’t imagine the community without it. While visitors treasure the antique carousel, so do locals and those who hail from the surrounding area. The carousel is open to the public for rides on Sundays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Victoria Day weekend to Thanksgiving weekend, but groups can rent the carousel for special events. The carousel has even been rented for a wedding: while the bride and groom were away getting their photos taken before the reception, guests were sent off to the fairgrounds to ride the ponies.  

Mankind’s love affair with the carousel dates back to about AD 500 — a bas-relief from that time depicts riders in baskets suspended from a central pole. By 1745, carousels were catching on in Europe, with wagon-maker Michael Dentzel converting his transportation business in what is now southern Germany to a carousel-making enterprise. By the early 19th century, England, along with Germany, France and Italy, were creating their own unique carousel-making traditions, with the merry-go-rounds, as they were known in Britain, turning in a clockwise direction.  

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, when German and British carousel-makers arrived in America, that the rides reached their full development, and started turning counter-clockwise. Many expert woodcarvers and painters, classically trained in their European homeland, worked for the early American companies founded by immigrants such as Gustav Dentzel. The Dentzels became known for their beautiful horses and lavish use of menagerie animals on their carousels.  

The first carousel to be seen in the U.S. was created in Ohio in the1840s by Franz Wiesenhoffer. Several styles later emerged with the growing carousel industry: there was the Dentzel Philadelphia style, the Coney Island style (the first carousel at Coney Island, the first major amusement park in the U.S., was built in 1876 by Charles I. D. Looff, a Danish woodcarver), and the country fair style, the latter of which describes the carousels produced by C.W. Parker’s company in Kansas.  

A bargain at $675

Owning one of the few antique carousels that still operate in Canada is a major coup for the Roseneath Agricultural Society, which acquired the ride for $675 in 1932. Built in 1906 in Abilene, Kansas, by C.W. Parker, before he built a bigger factory in Leavenworth, the carousel eventually made its way to Mohawk Park in Brantford, where the agricultural society picked it up from storage.  

According to the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth, only 16 of Parker’s carousels are known to be in operation today. Two of them are at the Kansas museum, including a ride circa 1850-60, which is the oldest known operating wooden carousel in the United States.  

It appears the Roseneath Agricultural Society had a nose for bargains. According to the story behind the C.W. Parker carousel operating in Burnaby, B.C., that ride, built in Kansas in 1912 — six years after the Roseneath carousel came to life — was sold a year later for $5,886!  

Unfortunately, keeping a hand-carved, wooden carousel in pristine condition is an expensive proposition.  

Once the agricultural society officials brought their newly purchased carousel to Roseneath, the ride became a beloved fixture at the annual fall fair until 1986, when the ponies were shut down for safety reasons. A committee of Roseneath volunteers brought the carousel back to life in 1993, thanks to a $400,000 restoration fundraising project that included a new building to protect the prized ride.  

While the carousel was brought in from the elements, Foreman says the building is without heat or air-conditioning, which means that paint is once again chipping off the horses. “It’s the humidity,” she tells “There’s no climate control. We installed a fan in the ceiling, but that can’t stop the humidity. We’ve had to repair eight of the horses since the carousel was brought back in 1993.”   And so the fundraising continues.  

Foreman estimates that about $200,000 is needed to improve the building to protect the carousel. So far, there’s $125,000 in the pot, with a separate $40,000 trust fund set up for gear repairs.

Take a ride, support the building fund

The agricultural society counts on money from the carousel rides to raise the cash needed for a climate-controlled building and for ongoing costs such as maintenance and insurance. But at $3 a ride — or two rides for $5 — it will take a while yet before the citizens of Roseneath, which swells to about 1,200 during tourist season, can complete their second major fundraiser. “The economy right now is not what we would like it to be,” Foreman says. “With the price of gas ... we don’t know what this season will bring in terms of visitors.”  

More than once, Foreman has had a visitor from Port Dalhousie, now part of St. Catharines, point out that a carousel ride in their village is only five cents. Foreman is quick to add that the 1903 Port Dalhousie Looff menagerie carousel in Lakeside Park was donated to the municipality in 1970 with the stipulation that rides remain five cents, the same price charged in the carousel’s heyday. However, donations for maintenance are accepted and some of the animals are in need of painting and repair, a task a group of volunteers has agreed to take on.

“The money we raise goes straight back into the building fund,” Foreman says, adding that people can also contribute to the donation jar at the door and by purchasing carousel souvenirs — everything from bookmarks to pens to posters celebrating the 1906 ponies.

Why not help keep the Roseneath Carousel operating by taking a drive to the fairgrounds with the family on Sundays from Victoria Day weekend to Thanksgiving weekend. You can also ride carousel during the annual Show N’Shine event on July 24, and again Oct. 1-2 during the Roseneath Fall Fair.

If you spot a friendly face riding the ponies while signing cheques, please stop to say hello. That will be the 60-something Barb Foreman, whose role as secretary-treasurer of the Roseneath Agricultural Society since 1988 has put her front-and-centre on the all-volunteer carousel restoration team.

While you’re out creating new memories, why not drop by nearby Bewdley on the waterfront for a hot chicken sandwich with chips and gravy? — May 2011