The First Mudcat Festival
In 1974 the Dunnville Kinsman Club had a small membership of young men. The club, although very active was financially unable to fund any new projects. In those days, the service clubs were required to upkeep and maintain their parks such as Lions and Kinsman in the town. I don’t think the town owned much more than a lawnmower. Our fund raising projects were mostly break even situations at best.
One of our newer members, Rob Gerrie had an idea to host an annual community sporting event which he called Kinsman Kaleidoscope. A small think tank committee was formed. The name, however,did not have a community appeal to it and Kinsman, president, Mel Perrier suggested that because people associate the word Mudcat with Dunnville, it should be named the Mudcat Festival. We could then promote the idea to sports teams, groups, and organizations. Interested people that might want to be involved such as Dave Green were contacted.
It was talked up at the local watering holes, the Vic and the Queens and a rivalry soon ensued, especially to win the bed race as well as who could drink a yard glass of beer the fastest We proposed a parade and a fish fry. A dance at the arena would fund the event and hopefully turn a profit Various contests, including a mudcat fishing contest, greased pole climb,and a hospital bed race. They were real hospital beds, older ones minus wheels that Paul Mailloux got for us that were modified by the various participants including a hospital staff entry.
A dance to be held at the arena was to fund the event and hopefully make a profit. When the idea was proposed to the membership as a whole, it was NOT unanimously approved. Some balked at the idea and tendered their resignations one citing.” Of all the crazy fund raising ideas the club has put forward this is the most ridiculous” Rob Gerrie , who I believe now lives in nearby Cayuga the true originator of the Mudcat Festival , to which we owe a vote of thanks. was full of energy co-ordinating everything and worked at the project day and night showing up at members houses unannounced any time night or day with a new idea.sometimes acting first and seeking membership approval later.
I handled the budget and co-chaired the parade with Rod Hollick, or motor mouth as we called him was another idea man and tireless worker. We proposed a festival budget of $1,500.00 which in today’s terms is more like $30,000.00. Of that money most of it would be paid to marching bands to come such as the Burlington Teen Tour Band and $200.00 was alotted for advertising and promotion.
Here is the story of the first mudcat mascot who led that first parade.I spotted a person wearing a catfish costume on a float at the Niagara Grape and Wine Festival parade which led me into contacting with Martin Myers of Calhoun Creations a company that did tshirt screen printing . He agreed to let us use the costume nicknamed Catfish Calhoun for our parade provided We ordered a minimum of 200 tshirts with a mudcat logo he would design for us. I gambled the 200 bucks and it paid off for the club, selling them all for I believe 3 dollars each. Big money for a tshirt at that time.
We were fortunate that the Dunnville Chronicle, always in need of a story, published everything we submitted. We approached Charlie Lundy, the Mayor to get a reduced rate on renting the arena to no avail but he stated the town might provide a loan to the club of no more than $200.00 should the venture end up a financial loss and the club unable to cover the rental costs. The club’s treasury was batting zero. We needed a big time event or a sponsor.
The idea to get support from a beer company was put forward.. Paul Mailloux, Kin member and administrator at the hospital, and quite an entrepreneur was the main force in convincing Carling Okeefe to take part with the Carlsberg Beer Wagon pulled by the famous Clydesdales as a feature in the parade plus they provided an aircraft aerobatic show over the Grand River.
I don’t know how Paul and his team pulled it off, but Paul indeed was a master in that field and maybe embellished the estimate of the crowds expected as Carling/Okeefe had already booked the beer wagon and the aerobatic team elsewhere for that day and the success of our event was a gamble, not knowing if attendance would be 100 people or 10,000 people.
Member Joe Stephenson grew up with Eddie Shack who at the time was featured in Carlings ads and tried to get him to partipate in the parade but Shack wanted a lot of money for his services. Just as we were about to give up on Carling’s air show at the last minute, they agreed. Carling had no regrets as it was the only beer sold in town that day at the events, plus perfect weather large crowds and a successful dance created a powerful thirst.
In the end, We pulled it off with a small profit and the rest is history. I apologize to members not mentioned here as all active members chaired or co-chaired at least one and usually more events Most of the Kinsmen were involved and names escape me.
Respectfully Submitted by Frank Tabbert
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