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Friday, June 14, 2024
People of the Stampede: Kids, couples, carny workers and more
Landon Friesen and Dante Torelli enjoy carnival snacks and watch the skateboarders during the Stampede on Monday. Julia Sacco
Jay Mandarino and Blake Marchildon were all smiles after the best trick contest where Marchildon took first place. Julia Sacco
Harvey LePage has spent decades working the carnival circuit and enjoys the Virgil Stampede for its unique sense of community. Julia Sacco
Christine Bloomfield works as a school teacher when she is not running games on the carnival circuit. Julia Sacco
our-year-old Alex McRae heads down the giant slide during Monday’s Stampede festivities. Julia Sacco

For 55 years, the Virgil Stampede has been a staple of life in Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

With attractions from pony rides and reptile shows, to a Ferris wheel, midway and all the classic carnival snacks, the Stampede literally has something for everyone. Inspired by the Humans of New York, we spoke to a random cross-section of the “Humans of the Virgil Stampede.”

Landon and Dante 

For 13-year-olds Landon Friesen and Dante Torelli, the Stampede is a combination of everything that keeps them coming back each year.

Seated at a picnic table chowing down on candy apples, the two teens talk about what the Stampede means to them. 

“I’ve been coming here since I was around two years old,” said Friesen. “I like the games and rides and how everyone’s getting together.” 

As for this year’s highlights, Torelli had a particular moment in mind. 

“Well, we witnessed someone throw up,” he laughed.

“And the skateboarding event was pretty cool, too,” Friesen chimed in. 


While most kids were in line for the Ferris wheel or sipping on lemonade, 12-year-old Blake Marchildon could be found at the skatepark.

After winning the CJs Skatepark Best Trick Contest, Marchildon sat down chatted about his time at the Stampede. 

The Orangeville native has been skateboarding for the last three years and said it is his main hobby and priority. 

His favourite part of the day? “Probably winning.” 

Marchildon said he was pretty exhausted after the competition but looked forward to enjoying the rest of the Stampede.

Jay Mandarino, the founder of CJs Skatepark, extended his thanks to NOTL.

“It was great being in Niagara-on-the-Lake at the Virgil Stampede event where I was the MC. Everybody had a great time. What a well-run event. Congratulations to all the volunteers and staff behind the Stampede,” he said via email. 

Christina and Larry 

Christina Wills and Larry Lauber are relatively new stampeders, but the memories they’ve made will surely last a lifetime.

Seated under a tree waiting for the fireworks to begin, Wills recalled how exactly one year ago, Lauber popped the question.

“We got engaged last year right under this tree. With the fireworks going off behind us, he proposed to me.”

Originally from Niagara Falls, Wills said she was confused why Lauber was so adamant about driving all the way to Virgil. But it all came together. 

“He and my daughter had planned it and I thought, ‘What are you guys doing? I guess I’ll go.’ He proposed to me while I was in jeans and a T-shirt, but it didn’t matter.”

Lauber said that he chose the Stampede for their moment because of its “perfect view.”

The couple have yet to set a wedding date since Wills’ daughter is tying the knot in September, but, for now, they were happy to celebrate their anniversary and snack on carnival food.

“I love the food,” Lauber said. 


Of course, the Stampede itself couldn’t go on without the help of countless employees and volunteers.

Harvey LePage is one of them, with a lifetime of carnival experience under his belt.

“I’ve been doing this 47 years and this will be my fifth (Virgil) Stampede.”

After travelling across the country for events like the Calgary Stampede and other carnivals in Edmonton and Regina, LePage says NOTL stands out from the rest.

“People are really nice and friendly. It’s a real community,” he said. “And the food is great.”

LePage was one of many employees helping run the Stampede. Many workers have deep roots in the industry. 

Christine Bloomfield, who operated the basketball toss game, told The Lake Report about one of her colleagues who has both her children and grandchildren working alongside her.

“They have three generations here today.”

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