Updated: May 7
By Michael A. Cone
Although long forgotten, during several summers before the First World War, Luna Park rang with the festive spirits of Nelsonites picnicking and competing in sports events sponsored by various organizations and fraternities. Since those brief few days in the sun, nature and more permanent occupants have inhabited its green fields, making it impossible to pinpoint its original location.
Luna Park’s location indicated by red rectangle. (Map courtesy of RDCK)
Adding to its obscurity has been the use of different names over the years to describe settlements nearby, such as Grohman, Grohman Creek, and Brighton. Located well below Nelson, on the north side of Grohman Narrows, Luna Park was on the second point heading downstream (the first being Ross’ Point) and about a quarter mile upstream from the mouth of Grohman Creek. The vanished grounds would have been a short distance west of the recently constructed wharf built by the community of Grohman Creek.
Luna Park burst onto the scene in July 1911, when it hosted the first annual Bartenders’ Union Local 435 and Brewery Workers’ Local 28 picnic. When The Daily News announced the big event, not only was the park’s location not mentioned, but also the origin of its name, which, like dozens of others, shared its lineage with the renowned amusement park on Coney Island. Nevertheless, over 500 picnic-goers attended.
The big day included a ball game between the Bartenders’ Nine and local barbers, which the Bartenders’ won, plus a full program of other sporting contests, some 60 in all, with prizes awarded to the winners. On the grounds, a dancing pavilion had just been erected along with refreshments booths. Those attending headed to the grounds and returned later that evening in a flotilla of launches, rowboats, and canoes. The fast gasoline launches were supplied by the Nelson Boat & Launch Co.
The sudden popularity of Luna Park continued to glitter through the remainder of the summer. In early August, the Scandinavian Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World held their picnic, with the chief attraction a challenge match between the unbeaten Bartenders’ Nine and the Daily News staff, which saw the Bartenders’ win 17 to 13.
Members of the Nelson Bartenders’ Union are seen at Luna Park on Aug. 24, 1913.
George LaPointe, captain of the Bartenders’ Nine, is seated middle row, right of center. Napoleon Mallette is back row, second from left and third from left is Mr. Gallicano. Back row, eighth from left is William Langlands. Horace LaPointe is probably in there somewhere too. (Michael A. Cone collection)
Advertised as “A Moonlight Excursion and Dance,” attendees could depart Nelson on either Saturday or Sunday afternoon. On both evenings, the day finished with a big dance. Afterwards, picnickers left for Nelson in the same gasoline launches that had brought them there, courtesy of the Elford Boat Co. Return tickets, good for boat trip and admission to the park and pavilion, were 50 cents.
A few weeks later, the grounds were commandeered by the International Association of Machinists for their fourth annual picnic and dance. Although no baseball game was played, there was never a dull moment, with many other competitive events and over $200 in donated prizes awarded to the lucky winners over the two days. Topping the list was a boxing match.
The 1911 season ended with the Scandinavian Aid and Fellowship Society hosting a basket picnic. The highlight was a challenge match between the Scandinavian Icelanders and the undefeated Bartenders’ Nine. The Bartenders’ won by a convincing 11-4, and the triumphant trophy-holders, in hosting their trophy challenged any team in the country to a game. This set the stage for next year’s challenges.
Transportation to and from the park was provided by the Elford Boat Co., with its launches, painted in their distinctive red and yellow colours, leaving the company’s boathouse every half-hour in the afternoon and evenings. Despite a little rain, the crowd’s spirit wasn’t dampened and they were royally entertained by the pleasant sounds of Wilkinson’s Orchestra.
The following August, the local bartenders staged their second annual picnic at Luna Park. It was claimed in the paper that “so great were the numbers” attending the outing that Elford’s fleet of boats was kept busy running three launches back and forth all day long.
The two big draws were a baseball game and a tug-a-war between the Daily News staff and the Bartenders’ Nine, with the latter once again taking the spoils in both challenges. Apparently, the winners had a clear weight advantage over their opponents in the tug-of-war.
Adding to the day’s excitement was a number of races, relays, and broad jumps for all ages. Some of the adult races included the “Fat mens’ race,” the “Fat ladies’ race,” the “thread and needle race,” the “Married ladies race,” and so forth. Music for the enjoyable afternoon and evening was provided by Meyer’s Starland Orchestra.
A few weeks later, the Trades and Labour Council planned a Labour Day parade through the Nelson city streets, followed by a picnic at Luna Park. However, rain forced the organizers to make a last-minute change in the picnic venue, heading instead to the Alice Roller Rink.
The year 1913 saw the Bartenders and Brewery locals return to Luna Park for a third time. Even more extravagant than last year’s picnic, the annual August event drew a record crowd, with the Nelson paper reporting that over “1,000 people were said to have attended” and from early morning until late in the evening “launches left the Nelson Boat & Launch Co. wharf at five and 10-minute intervals,” each filled to capacity.
The Bartenders’ Nine, who by this time had crowned themselves “world’s champs,” took on a hand-picked team from Nelson, and won. As always, there was a superb program of sports and fun galore, with refreshments served throughout and an orchestra playing favourites during the afternoon and into the evening.
But, the carefree and spirited carnival atmosphere that had characterized Luna Park for three years was about to fade into history. Canada’s entry into World War I took men and created labour shortages, while across Canada, prohibition gained traction, drastically cutting jobs for bartenders and closed pubs along the way.
Wilkinson’s Orchestra, seen here on an undated advertising card, provided music for Luna Park excursions. (Courtesy of Ed Mannings)
Other parks up the lake were another factor eroding Luna Park’s popularity. One of the most well liked spots was the Outlet Hotel at Procter; another, closer to Nelson, was Ferndale Park. Opened in 1909, it became a well-established destination, especially for the more sedate Sunday schools and community organizations’ picnic crowds. Located at Four-Mile Point, six kilometres from the Nelson Bridge, the inviting west arm retreat featured all the prerequisites: sandy beaches, tall shade trees and a dance pavilion. Ferndale gained a boost with the installation of the Nelson Cable ferry in 1913, allowing Nelsonites to motor up and back in their buggy-topped automobiles. Luna Park, on the other hand, had always been and remained a destination only accessible by boat.
The highly successful bartender’s and brewery locals’ picnic of 1913 would be their last one held at Luna Park. During the War, only one picnic was booked, and it took place in 1916, with the Hudson’s Bay employees and their friends staging an amusing day of races, games, and other sports on the grounds of the old ballpark.
Following the Great War, Luna Park’s glory days never returned; just three significant events were held there over the next decade. In 1919, about 50 members of the St. Paul’s choir shuttled back and forth to the park in six launches for a delightful afternoon of sports and fun. For that day, the women members of the choir were the guests of the men. A host of games were played in the summer sunshine, and it was tired, but satisfied group who returned to Nelson late that evening.
Three years later, in 1922, the staff at the Daily News met at the park for an enjoyable afternoon of sports. The last noteworthy function held at Luna Park took place in July 1928 when the Scandinavian Club held their annual general meeting and picnic.
In 1920, Luna Park made headlines of a different kind. It was selected as a site for a proposed pulp and paper mill, complete with a hydro-electric plant at Grohman Creek. Surprisingly, within a couple of weeks, two other similar projects were announced. Despite encouraging reports from a developer from Spokane that construction was about to begin, nothing happened, and the plan unravelled as quickly as it had surfaced.
Aside from its dwindling popularity, settlement encroached on Luna Park. At least one farm was identified with the old grounds. Charles Simpson owned a 135-acre ranch in the area and, in 1926, a tenant, Mrs. Herbert Bullock, who was living in the Simpson house along with her three children, narrowly escaped a kitchen fire that destroyed the dwelling.
William Trufit operated a greenhouse in the vicinity from 1919 until his death in 1935. According to an article written in the Nelson Daily News in 1975, the area housed a settlement of seven Hungarian families in the late 1920, early ‘30s. The story included pictures, one of which showed a few dilapidated old log structures, bleached with time, clues of what had once been.
Today, the community of Grohman Creek lies adjacent to the old grounds. In the history of Nelson, Luna Park’s brief day in the sun shimmers with the distant memories of children’s laughter, the jubilant shouts of wood-be athletes, and the popular melodies of another era.