Last Ticket to Ride

Letting go of the Centreville carousel.

Winter, 2017–2018 / No. 40
Photo by Conan Tobias
Conan Tobias

In mid-September, as southern Ontario began to experience an unusually late stretch of warm summer weather, Ann Elliott made the one-hour drive from her home, in Ajax, Ontario, to the Toronto Islands ferry dock, accompanied by her daughter, Janet, and granddaughter, LeeAnn. Elliott, who turned eighty-eight at the end of the month, wanted to take a final ride on the Centreville Amusement Park carousel, before it was disassembled and shipped to its new owners, in Carmel, Indiana. The line to ride wasn’t especially long, and Elliott soon swung herself onto a horse, with only minor assistance from LeeAnn. Janet stood outside the fence and took photos as her mother smiled and laughed for the ride’s three-minute duration. “Mum took me maybe once a year, maybe more, to the islands,” Elliott said. “I can’t remember any ride but the merry-go-round.”

Toronto’s islands and mainland waterfront have a long history of amusement, dating back to the nineteenth century, including parks at Sunnyside and Hanlan’s Point. The park at Centre Island is the only one remaining. Centreville’s carousel was built in 1907, by the G. A. Dentzel Carousel Company, of Philadelphia, and purchased by Centreville in 1966. It features an eclectic mix of fifty-two hand-carved animal mounts, including ostriches, house cats, and, of course, horses. Only a hundred and fifty carousels like it remain in the world.

Severe flooding on the islands this summer forced Centreville to remain closed for most of the season. Representatives of William Beasley Enterprises, the company that runs the park, said selling off assets such as the carousel became necessary to make up the six million dollars in damages and eight million dollars in lost revenue Centreville suffered. As a result, officials from Carmel agreed to purchase the carousel for three million dollars, but, in late September, that city’s finance committee voted down the purchase, and the deal was cancelled. Beasley said it planned to look for another buyer.

Elliott, who grew up in Toronto, has made riding the city’s carousels a family tradition. In the nineteen-sixties, “I took my daughter, Janet, and her older brother, Bruce, frequently. Then I remember going with my two grandchildren.” This was her first visit in nearly two decades. “I’m really sad to see it go,” she said. “I have two snapshots, dated ‘1940, Centre Island,’ of my best friend and her mother, and Mum and me and another girlfriend. Just water behind us. I am sure we would have ridden the merry-go-round that day.”