"At last Montreal is to have a Coney Island," asserted the Montreal Star in its May 17, 1906, edition. Indeed, one of the great summertime city attractions for Edwardian children was Dominion Park, "the finest of its kind on the continent."
Officially opened in the spring of 1906, Dominion Park was in the east end at Longue Pointe along the shore of the St. Lawrence River. The embankment was skirted by a broad promenade from which there was a beautiful vista of the mountains on the South Shore. The locality covered 15 acres in all, and was the precursor to later recreational areas such as Belmont Park and La Ronde.
Every pavilion on the extensive grounds was painted white and all of the site was illuminated electrically - quite an innovation for the period.
The arrival of electricity in the day-to-day lives of the general public was, in fact, one of the principal attractions of the park. Indeed, the most eye-catching structure on the site was a 125-foot electrical tower, replete with 7,000 light bulbs and a revolving searchlight. The spire was near an artificial lake that received the boats from the various water rides.
The park's most popular attraction was Scenic Railway. This state-of-theart roller coaster ended its three-minute run with a spectacular descent into tunnel known as Dante's Inferno. The exhilarating ride, well over a kilometre in length, terminated at a high elevation overlooking the St. Lawrence River. Time and again, the Russian Mountain (as it was also known) proved the most popular enticement at the park.
Of course, there were other diversions as well - the Old Mill, Aladdin's Palace and the Myth City Building, one room of which included "moving pictures," also quite a novelty for the time.
There were two most unusual representations at Dominion Park that year. The first was of the Johnstown Disaster of 1889 (the result of the bursting of a dam in Pennsylvania) in which more than 2,200 people were killed. The second was of the notorious San Francisco earthquake that had occurred only a month or so earlier, in the spring of 1906, killing over 3,000 people.
It cost more than $350,000 to build the park - an astronomical sum for the time - and when it opened, it was billed as the "Greatest Amusement Park in All Canada." Admission was 10 cents for adults and five cents for children, and by the middle of that first summer, the park was attracting tens of thousands of people every day, especially in the early evenings when the cool riverside breezes offered a welcome break from the sultry city.
Apart from the rides, the park featured performers from all over the world. For instance, in July 1906, the Tokio (sic) Royal Japanese Troupe brought its juggling, high-rope-walking and other acrobatic feats. However, a few people objected to the risks taken by the acrobats. In a letter to the editor of the Montreal Star in 1906, a J. P. Reddy of Ottawa asked: "Cannot the public seek amusement otherwise than that by which the performance is of such danger to life and limb?"
Those complaints aside, however, Dominion Park was certainly doing something right. By the time its first season ended, more than one million people had visited the park, with 30,000 attending on the last day alone. So successful was the season considered to be that H.A. Dorsey, the president and manager of the company, promised many improvements for the following year.
Alas, after an equally successful second season, a fire destroyed Dominion Park in November 1907, necessitating its complete reconstruction of the entertainment centre for the summer of 1908.
Robert N. Wilkins is a local historian and freelance writer.Have Fun and Remember Verdun.......................Cheers ! -Les