Cranbrook Sweethearts: Carnival Queens

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Cranbrook Playground Carnival Ad
Cranbrook Playground Carnival Ad

Historical Context

"Princess Vimy" Carnival Queen : Miss Gracie Higgins

In 1924 the Rotary Club of Cranbrook was newly formed and searching for a meaningful project. The fact that the city had no organized playground or park for children came quickly to their attention. It was a large undertaking, but after a short discussion the young men of Rotary decided to assume responsibility. What we have today downtown as Rotary Park is the outcome of that labour.

A lot of planning was involved. There were competing interests for the site, ranging from a swimming pool to an auto campground to a library. Everyone was agreed, however, that a place for children to play in the growing town was first and foremost.

The Rotarians planned a 4-day carnival with the funds realized going to site development and playground equipment. It was a huge undertaking. Twenty booths were constructed on the carnival site, as was a dance pavilion 80x100 feet in size. Exhibitors were contacted and special lighting effects were planned. A dance was scheduled for each night of the Carnival. A boxing contest was staged between Young Gilker of Gold Creek and Boxer Broley of Fernie. A mixed band concert combining the Cranbrook and Kimberley bands was scheduled.

"Princess Cheerio" Carnival Queen : Miss Norma Wallinger.

In the end suppliers shipped in three CPR carloads of goods for the event. This ranged from a ton of coal to toy balloons and included rubberoid roofing, candies, hair nets, barn lanterns, Kewpie dolls and bathing suits. Also on exhibit were shaving sets, chewing gum, brooms, bucksaws, corsets and horse collars and a whole lot more.

From the beginning the public face of this event was assumed by the Carnival Queen contestants, four in number. They were all young women, local to the area and interested in furthering the development of the community and the advantages of the children. The fact that the Carnival Queen would receive $150 in gold, and the runner-ups $20 each in gold, did not serve to detract from their commitment.

It was a simple contest. The winning contestant would be the one with the greatest number of votes sold on her behalf. The Official Votes were issued in books of 50 and each vote sold for 10 cents. The contest would run from 1 p.m. July 22nd, 1924, to 1 p.m. August 15th of that same year. Every Thursday the vote totals were to be posted and the contestant leading the count would receive an additional 25 bonus votes.

Miss Loretta Armstrong was a contestant, nominated by the B.P.O.E. (Elks). She was nominated at Rotary Club Tuesday meeting by Steve Clark, an esteemed knight of the B.P.O.E. She was officially to be known as “Princess Hello Bill” and P.W. Willis was named by the Elks as her campaign manager. She was described as one hundred per cent Canadian and one hundred per cent girl. The Rotarians described her as “a mighty fine young woman well worth any man’s vote. Get behind her and boost - she will do you credit...”

"Princess Royal" Carnival Queen : Miss Judy Drummond

Miss Norma Wallinger was sponsored by the newly-formed Gyro Club of Cranbrook. The fact that the Gyros took over the leadership and governance of the Carnival Queen contest did not seem to cause any concern. Miss Wallinger was officially known as “Princess Cheerio of St. Eugene” and was nominated by R.J. Collins of the Gyro Club, with Gyro Stew Black as her campaign manager. The Gyros urged everyone to “get out and support Cranbrook’s own popular daughter.”

Miss Judy Drummond was sponsored by Western Grocers, Limited, being nominated by her campaign manager, Archie Leitch. She was officially known as “Princess Royal”. Born and raised in Cranbrook, Miss Drummond was presented as the champion of the town’s school children. “... she has no lodge or service organization boosting her, but is receiving the almost united support of the school children of the city who know that she has their interests at heart in this contest.”

Last to enter the contest, but certainly not least in commitment, was Miss Gracie Higgins. Employed on staff at the government office, “Princess Vimy” was nominated by H.B. Hicks as the Veterans’ candidate. Bill Johnson was her campaign manager and the G.W.V.A. (Great War Veterans’ Association) was her sponsor. The Vets enthusiastically supported her, sponsoring a dance in the Auditorium with Robinsons’s orchestra in attendance. The candidate pleased the crowd with a song and dance routine and sold a bundle of tickets at her coming out party.

"Princess Hello Bill" Carnival Queen : Miss Loretta Armstrong

All of the Queen contestants were informed that “enthusiasm and aggressiveness are the keynotes of success in an undertaking of this nature.” “Princess Vimy” went over the top with the support of the Vets, eventually posting 20,025 votes. “Princess Royal” brought in 13,900, “Princess Hello Bill” another 5,925 and “Princess Cheerio” 5,125 - for a total of 44,975 or $4,497.50. The young ladies were so successful that the Queen was awarded a purse of $250 in gold and each of the maids in waiting $100.

These willing contestants and the amazing community spirit that they evoked might very well be considered the fore-runner of the later Sweethearts Of Sam Steele contests. The goal was to promote the community and establish a lasting treasure in Rotary Park. The fact that young women were able to sell 45,000 tickets in a community that barely contained 2,500 people speaks volumes about their selfless giving and their ability to be publicly outstanding at a time when women had yet to be liberated to any degree.