Delphos Canal Days is celebrating its 59th year as a small town, end-of-the-summer premier festival. The mission for Canal Day is “to plan a fun filled positive family festival for Delphos and the surrounding communities” and with the help of hundreds of community volunteers and sponsors we get that done.
Canals Days originated in the 1950’s as a Dollar Days/ Car Show Festival with a huge parade of old classic cars (1927 and older). Merchants dressed in old fashion pioneer style clothes to lure the customers in to shop for sales. It was great for the business and lots of fun too. Downtown Delphos was booming with retail stores at that time and everyone looked forward to that once-a-year Old Fashioned Bargain Days.
In the first years of the festival, several well-known celebrities were invited to Delphos to sign autographs and to be showcased in the grand parade. As the years went on the name was changed to “Old Fashioned Days.” The numerous downtown merchants still held sidewalk sales and two stages showcased a variety of entertainment during the weekend. Kids rode the amusement rides for free during the 60’s and the big parade still highlighted the antique cars along with many local high school bands.
By 1968 the name went through another change to “Old Fashioned Canal Days.” This was the era that Miami Erie Canal history started to be highlighted for the festival and its preservation begun at the museum. Invited to participate in Canal Days were the mayors of each city along the canal route from Cincinnati to Toledo. Two young boys from the Cincinnati area canoed via the route of the old canal to Delphos and were honored during the festival parade. It was an exciting time for the boys and for Delphos.
The parade was growing in leaps and bounds each year to over 150 entries. The 70’s brought more of the same and the festival grew with added games and activities added each year. Contests were big and about every age bracket could participate. Nail pounding contest, sack races, watermelon eating and pie eating contest were just a few that attract people to the festival. But the big event during this time was the free record hops for the teenagers in the evening. The downtown was booming and area food vendors started their debut and brought along the great taste of greasy fair food to the festival.
Many activities were planned in the canal during the 70’s. They played tug of war over the Miami Erie Canal, had canoe races, and log rolling in the canal behind the businesses. In 1974, a couple of the major attractions were a hot air balloon ascension and Thunder Chicken, whatever that was. They must have thrilled the crowds! The parade route came straight through the downtown area on Main Street with the sidewalks lined full of spectators for the big finale of the festival.
“Old Fashioned Canal Days” was shortened to just “Canal Days” for a while in the early ‘80’s, and the bed races began. (Who would want to push a bed down Main Street while dressed in a costume?) Flea market, quilt show, arts and crafts were sold; band shows, old timers’ softball tournaments were really big, 4 on 4 basketball games, and a Canal Days auction highlighted that Canal Days era. The 5K Run began, the Delphos Historical Museum was opened at the Library and an Old Fashioned Style Show was held at the First United Presbyterian Church.
More community involvement brought new and bigger ideas for ways to entertain people during the festival. And in 1991, “Canal Days” was changed to “Delphos Heritage Festival.” The committee at that time felt this was a more appropriate title for the event and the third weekend in September became the time to reminisce the history and events that brought settlers to this area. Folk fair & music, historical tours, genealogy displays and the “Rendezvous” encampment began to help create a more pioneer style feel to the festival. The Delphos Canal Commission resurrected the Marguerite from the depths of the Miami Erie Canal and a rendition of the Marguerite was highlighted during the mid-90’s Heritage Festival parade.
Back to being called “Old Fashioned Canal Days” in 1997 the festival went through some changes again. Country Music, line dancing, Southern Breeze and the Indoorfins were on the list of nightly entertainment. The tabloid from the Delphos Herald was 20 Pages long with information about Canal Days. One new attraction in 1999 for the guys was the Bud Girls debut under the social tent, and the Queens pageant was in its 30th year of existence. The Jaycees were running the beer tent for the festival and the Keystone Cops came along and arrested you if you didn’t have a beard or mustache. The fines were used to purchase benches for the downtown area. And believe it or not the bed races were back, for a couple of years anyways.
At the start of the new millennium, the “Old Fashioned” was dropped again and “Canal Days” has now become the best little hometown festival in the tri-county area. The Battle of the Businesses was brought back 2007 and has become an extremely popular event for the businesses to compete in. The Queens Pageant has developed into a scholarship pageant for the high school girls of the community, awarding over $2,000 in scholarship funds each year, and a spin-off Little Miss and Junior Miss Canal Days competition was born. There are free children activities under the Children’s Tent, sponsored by the Delphos Area Art Guild and Delphos Public Library, on Saturday afternoon bringing loads of kids to the downtown area along with the Fishing Derby, Pet Parade and Chalk Art Contest.
The two Delphos museums are open during the festival to wander through, car shows, tractor shows, bingo, food vendors and famous Kiwanis chicken dinners all have certain appeal for every age group at our hometown festival. Other events that come and go are corn hole tournaments, pig races, five k runs, quilt show, cheerleading competitions, putt putt golf, water ball contests and basket bingo. There really is something for everyone.
The Toast to the city began in 2007 when Canal Days was celebrating its 50th year. It’s a great way for the business men and women to get together under the social tent for an entertaining evening outside under the stars. It continues to grow in leaps and bounds each year. Wine and hor’ devours from local restaurants are served during the night with a short program to start off. Entertainment is light but friendships are plenty at this annual kick-off for Canal Days.
Being the only hometown festival the community has, the list of businesses that support the festival is just amazing.
Without them there would be no festival. Every year the money raised from the festival goes back into the community. Projects at the park, downtown beautification, disc golf course, museum projects and help with the swimming pool splash pad are just a few of the ventures Canal Days helps with. It’s all about the community and making it a better place for our children to live, work and play.
New events will come and go but overall Canal Days is about celebrating Delphos as “Our Hometown.” And we are proud of our town!