This Place in History: Burlington Winter Carnival

Local News
BURLINGTON, Vt.
 
At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Burlington with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.
 
“Right here at the foot of College Street, we’re right next to Echo, they had some wonderful carnivals back in the 19th Century. We’re going to go warm up and talk to Victoria Hughes from the Vermont Historical Society and learn all about Burlington’s Winter Carnival,” began Perkins.
 
“It was a carnival that took place for two years in 1886 and 1887. It was organized by the Burlington Coasting Club as a way to introduce Vermonters to healthy winter sports. It was inspired by the Montreal Winter Carnival that had thousands and thousands of people that went up to Montreal, starting in 1884. So in Burlington, they decided to copy it in 1886, in part perhaps because the Montreal Carnival was canceled that year due to a small pox epidemic,” explained Hughes.
 
“There was coasting down the hill. There was ice skating; they called it fancy skating. There was tobogganing. There were parades and processions. There were concerts. There was hockey. There was ice yachting and ice boating and trotting races and snowshoe races. The Russian Slide was about 60 feet high and they said the track was about 1000 feet long if you went all the way, sliding on the frozen ice towards the breakwater,” said Hughes.
 
“This was the small one. The big coasting was down Main Street. You started at the top near the University of Vermont and you got on the traverse. You started at the top of the hill and you went down to the bottom of the hill. This picture is at Church Street here. They estimated the sleds got up to about 80 mph, going down the iced road. They intentionally iced the road to make it icier and have people go really fast down a hill,” continued Hughes.
 
“What exactly is a traverse?” asked Perkins.
 
“It is about 15 to 20 feet long and it’s a sled that people sit on. Some of the descriptions said they were upholstered, they had plush fabric or silk on them. It was the wealthier people who had these, but during the Winter Carnival they shared them with the public so anybody could take a ride. People would sit all together and wear their coasting costumes, which seemed to modeled after the costumes they would wear in Montreal.”
 
“So they had red belts and they kept calling them toques and the Burlington newspapers advertised toques for sale. So you could buy your knit caps and wear your bright colorful clothes. In the descriptions of the Carnival, they talk about the reds and the blues and the brightly colored people in their costumes,” said Hughes.
 
“They did it again in 1887. The Carnival happened that year in Montreal again. So the newspaper reported a lot of people came to the Carnival, but they kept talking about how many and it sounded like there weren’t as many as there were supposed to be. And it took a lot of organizing. The Coasting Club had 300 members in 1886, but it seems like it was such an effort that they only did it twice. The next year they said it was in hibernation,” concluded Hughes.
 
At ‘This Place in History’!
 
For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.
 
To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.

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