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Memory Lane: Remembering when Sudbury celebrated summer with CKSO

From the 1970s through the early 1980s, CKSO Radio 790 rang in the warm season with a massive festival that drew thousands of people to Bell Park
The Bell Park Amphitheatre is crowded for the 1977 CKSO summer festival.

A grey transistor radio with its antenna angled sharply to the right sits in the cool grass of Bell Park. The hand of a nearby sunbather reaches out, the backlight on the dial comes alive and the hand rotates it forward to AM790. Along the way, ghostly snippets of other stations sound off amongst the static. With a sharp stop, it arrives at its destination. 

A jingle has just finished and the voice from the other end starts in: “CKSO RADIO 790 Brings You … Summer '74 … Join us for one incredible day of fun and frolic in the great outdoors! This Saturday at the Bell Park Amphitheatre from noon to 8 p.m.” 

Just as urgently as those words left the speaker, the commercial transitions to a song designed to capture the feel of the season, the mutton-chopped maestro of the band Mungo Jerry starts:

“In the summertime, 
when the weather is high 
You can stretch right up 
and touch the sky. 
When the weather's fine….”

The year is 1974, 50 years ago, just past the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, a time for welcoming the beginning of the Season of Sunshine. For a number of years, CKSO ushered in the first day of summer with a giant festival at the Bell Park Amphitheatre. Perhaps taking its cue from the Aquarians of the previous year, CKSO began its annual celebration of summertime frolic in 1970.

Thousands cram the Bell Park Amphitheatre in 1976 for CKSO Radio 790’s summer festival. Supplied

Now let’s grab our bathing suits, head on down to the shores of Ramsey Lake and wade into the crowd to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of the beginning of summer as hosted by our good friends at CKSO radio. (Cue the jingle)

Unfortunately, as far as the weather was concerned, the scene 50 years ago on Saturday, June 22, 1974, could be described as nothing more than hit and miss for the throngs of revellers. The occasional hint of sun was enough to draw thousands of people to the Bell Park Amphitheatre. However, the clouds and chill winds strained the audience’s endurance and the amphitheatre was found to be periodically packed and vacated during the entirety of festivities.

According to the CKSO public relations man at the time, Joe Bowen, an estimated 7,500-8,500 people attended the 11-hour event. "I don't know whether all of these people were duplicates, some came and left through-out the day," Bowen said.

The cover of the INCO Triangle in the summer of 1976 features the CKSO Radio summer festival. Supplied

Due to the extensive reach of CKSO across the North and good word of mouth from previous years, not all of the people who showed up at Bell Park were Sudbury residents. One Timmins man who was interviewed at the time said that he'd been to the festival three years in a row. "I missed the beer garden though,” he said. 

The beer garden that was run during the previous years’ iteration of this summer celebration proved to be a lot of trouble for the organizers. One reason for its being discontinued was owed to the fact that the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario (or the LLBO, which ceased operations in 1998) was no longer granting liquor licenses for these types of events. 

But, according to Bowen, another reason the beer garden was not held was that in 1973 it had gotten severely out of hand. Tom Pepin, a groundskeeper, stated at the time, “Beer bottles were given out instead of paper cups and people broke the bottles all over the grounds.” 

Although, Bowen felt a beer garden would have drawn more people, better control is kept without one. "The majority of the crowd was young enough not to be bothered by the lack of it," Bowen said. (I wonder if the gentleman from Timmins ever returned?)

Fun on the water during the 1976 CKSO Radio 790 summer festival. Supplied

Nonetheless, the lack of a beer garden didn't keep people from enjoying themselves that year or in the years to come. A number of empty beer cases were found during cleanup, and according to another groundskeeper, Wayne Wowk, “a lot of young kids between the ages of 15 and 18 were drunk and raising havoc." Luckily, damage to the grounds was minimal. Some flowers were uprooted and part of a hedge was destroyed but the worst damage was to the environment. 

Although garbage cans were scattered extensively throughout the park, the ground was white with paper when the night was through. It took three men six hours to clean everything up. 

All considered, the festival was a continued success. Both Wowk and Pepin agreed that the amphitheatre needed to be utilized more often (the more things change, the more they stay the same, apparently).

Throughout the day, spectators were entertained by seven bands supplied "through the courtesy of the Sudbury Musicians' Union," Bowen said. The music of these bands ranged from straightforward rock to country to modern bubble-gum rock. All of the groups were thoroughly enjoyed by their respective audiences as their music echoed upon the waters of Ramsey Lake. 

"I could have danced all night," said one enthusiastic seven-year-old who was interviewed at the time.

Along with the music, there was also a martial arts demonstration put on by the local tae-kwon-do club. Bob Dalgeleish attemped to surpass a “record” that he had established the previous year when he broke five concrete blocks with his elbow. Unfortunately, this time, he only managed to break four and was left to split the remaining two with his bare foot. 

A flyer for the 1978 CKSO summer festival. Supplied

Exhibits by the Ontario Summer Games, the Sub-Aqua Centre and the Noelville Zoo were also staged and well attended by the masses. The Kinsmen Club of Sudbury was on hand to feed everyone with a booth set up to sell hot dogs and pop for what they termed “pre-inflation prices." A spokesman for the Kinsmen said that, when the day was done, they had sold approximately 2,400 hot dogs. Proceeds from the booth were planned to go to a minor league baseball sports complex.

A number of prizes were also given out throughout the day due to the participation of local merchants. The grand prize was a Charmglow barbeque valued at $200 (or $1,268.25 in 2024). Mystery guests could also be found walking around and children of all ages scrambled to question just about everyone in the park to discover their identity. A transistor radio was awarded to those who uncovered one of those “mystery guests.” After the festival had ended, event emcee Paul Burke, said “I'm pretty sure that all six were found."

When all was said and done, besides the weather, the only other damper on the festival occurred after everything was over. During the early hours of the following morning, the main building at Bell Park was broken into. A number of personal items belonging to the park's staff, the park flags, and a speaker were taken.

The following year, 1975, a name change (and much better weather) was in the offing, as the celebration was now referred to by the amazingly alliterative alias of “Super Summer ’75.” 

An estimated 5,000 spectators took in the festivities during the day with almost 7,000 returning later for the remainder of the stage show that night. Local CKSO personalities in conjunction with the Sudbury Musicians Union put on another amazing stage show for 11 continuous hours, featuring five local groups. 

Included in the list of talent were bands by the name of First Company, Buck Shot, Steel, Midway, and Lakefield. Along with this, there were plenty of contest giveaways and all kinds of interesting exhibits throughout the day.

The majority of the contests were conducted by the CKSO personalities during the breaks in the stage show. These included a guess the song contest emceed by CKSO evening host DJ Warren Woods (“Things swing a little faster after six with Warren”), a Frisbee contest put on by Dick Peplow, the Chris Micheals’ Dance Contest, a pizza eating contest dreamed up by “Sudbury’s favourite drive home man” Ron Smith and a bit of an off-Broadway play directed by Steve Jackson. 

Walking along the shores of Ramsey Lake during the 1980 CKSO summer festival. Supplied

Prizes were donated by retail outlets from across the City of Sudbury and they ranged from gift certificates to records. The exhibits that were located all around the Amphitheatre throughout the day included a rather interesting booth set up by the Sudbury Amateur Radio Club that enabled people to converse with other Ham Radio operators around the world. Pete Shumacher of Cambrian College demonstrated the art of rock jewellery-making to those who were interested. His work included rings, necklaces, earrings and bookends. 

In a spirit of co-operation, other groups used Super Summer ’75 to advertise their own projects that were coming up, such as Spectrum ’75 (a series of 35 arts related events to be held in mid-October), the Northern Lights Festival and the Sudbury Parks and Recreation Department outlining their summer programs for both young and old. 

In all, and unlike the previous year, with the weather man cooperating immensely to bring true summer weather to the city for the first day of summer, everyone who took part were known to have enjoyed themselves immensely at Super Summer ’75. 

Unfortunately by 1977, Mother Nature was refusing to co-operate with CKSO Radio's plans for their celebration, again rebranded, this time known as “Here Comes Summer.” The entire event, concerts, boat race and bikini contest was pushed back by one week with plans to take place the following weekend (on the Sunday) at Bell Park. 

The major highlight of the day was the first Annual CKSO Radio Bathtub race. More than 40 tubs plugged their drains (can’t win if you’re taking on water) and took to the waters of Ramsey Lake that afternoon. Mike Cranston (Cummy Burton was originally expected to join him) manned the CKSO entry, flying the station’s “Watts Up!” Slogan on banners above his head (it could also be found on yellow buttons worn by festival-goers all across Bell Park).

A highlight of the 1980 CKSO summer festival was the first ever bathtub race. More than 40 tubs took to the waters of Ramsey Lake that afternoon. Pictured is CKSO’s Mike Cranston (Cummy Burton was originally expected to join him) manning the station’s entry and flying the station’s “Watts Up!” slogan. Supplied

CKSO’s festivities celebrating the longest day of the year continued along the same vein for the remainder of the decade. In 1980, an extra day was added with “Graffitti Days” at Bell Grove on the Friday evening, which was sponsored by the Sudbury Shamrock Club. The centrepiece event again began at noon in the Bell Park Amphitheatre featuring the bands Timothy, First Company, Special Edition, Exodus, Hangman, Fairchild and Butler. Water ski demonstrations and the continuation of the bathtub races drew the crowds while the Bikini Contest attracted them back to the amphitheatre.

Of course, everyone was reminded to keep an eye out for the CKSO Suncruiser (handing out the CKSO sun stickers) for prizes, giveaways, and naturally, the Sungirls. For that year, a return to Bell Grove was expected in the evening for a National Jive Contest conducted to the sounds of The Blue Notes.

Unfortunately, as the early years of the 1980s continued on, the times were changing and CKSO’s annual celebration of the sunny season gradually faded away on the horizon. In 1990, the station itself was gone, reducing the memories of those summer days to snapshots in the photo album of the mind.

Well dear readers, as Sly and the Family Stone sang, “That's when I had most of my fun … Them summer days, Those summer days.” So, now, it’s your turn to reach on back and tell us about your memories of those years of “Hot Fun in the Summertime” at Bell Park when CKSO helped you “Welcome Back Summer”. 

Share your memories and/or photos by emailing them to Jason Marcon at [email protected] or the editor at [email protected].

Jason Marcon is a writer and history enthusiast in Greater Sudbury. He runs the Coniston Historical Group and the Sudbury Then and Now Facebook page. Memory Lane is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


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