Residents of coastal California have long been worried about “The Big One,” referring to the fears that a major earthquake will eventually cause catastrophic damage to the population there. In the small Minnesota town of Canton, residents are preparing for a different type of “big one.”
Every August, Canton holds their annual “Day Off” celebration, and every fifth year, an especially large celebration is held, known locally as “the Big One.” Five years ago, in 2014, was the most recent Big One, and 2019 is again such a year. Recently, five Canton residents sat down to explain the history behind Canton’s Day Off.
In most small towns, a relatively small group of people is responsible for much of the work in keeping traditions going, and that is true in Canton. Brenda Wilder, Linda Snyder, Cindy Duckett, Cindy Shanks, and Jackie Ward comprise the core of the Canton Community Association. The group puts on Bingo every Tuesday, as a fundraiser to generate money to put on the Day Off celebration.
Originally, Canton Day Off began in 1903, and was an annual event through 1955, but then was dropped. Eight years ago, the event was revived, and it’s been evolving and growing since. Jackie Ward explained, “We plan Canton Day Off, we do Trunk or Treat and the Santa Day, the lighted parade. And, we attend parades all summer long. We do bar Bingo every Tuesday, and that’s what raises our money.”
Ward added regarding the Bingo, “We have a very loyal following of players, and if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be having Canton Day Off.” She estimated 35 to 40 people usually show up for Bingo, Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at the ZZ Tap. Players regularly show up from several surrounding communities, including Ossian, Harmony, Spring Grove, Ridgeway and Cresco. Occasionally, a special session of Bingo is held, such as New Year’s Day, which saw around 60 players. The original Bingo caller was Marc Prestby, but Carl Ernst has now taken over the regular weekly Bingo caller duties.
Every year, Day Off includes a dance featuring live music, Bingo, BBQ cookoff and bean bag toss tournament. Every fifth year, the event also includes a Bloody Mary contest, Poker Run, fireworks and kids activities, all-school reunion, and a 5k run/walk.
Linda Snyder pointed out that, “There’s the activities, which are awesome, but the Association also donated to the Veterans Memorial, the Historical Society, helped with the playground and gazebo, so the money gets fed back into the community.”
Brenda Wilder added, “We started Bingo so we could make money to get a really good band… and my dream was to get fireworks.” She went on to share that in 2014, “We hired the band Cherry Gun, and they absolutely loved Canton, and they’re from the Cities… We put them up in Harmony in the hotel. And they were hungry, so we fed them.” She explained that this evolved into a yearly event in which a breakfast feed is held, and is now a part of the annual event.
Canton Day Off continues to spread, mostly by word of mouth, but also via local newspapers, their website, and their Facebook page. The Big One draws an estimated 2,000 attendees, and this year expects to be bigger and better than ever. This year’s 5K will raise funds to help fight Rett Syndrome. Also, the Association pointed out that because Cherry Gun is no longer playing together as a band, Canton will be looking for another band to book for the event, which will be held August 16-18. The planning group welcomes everyone to mark their calendars and show up in Canton that weekend for a lot of fun, and to see if they can survive “The Big One.”