Perhaps one of the most remembered events of the Bon Soo Winter Carnival in the past was the crowning of Miss Bon Soo. The Miss Bon Soo Pageant was normally held on Superbowl Sunday – a week before the annual 10 day carnival kicks off.
For a month prior however, residents were given a chance to get to know the 15 or so contestants when they appeared on the daily local talk show hosted by Grace Pitt. The contestants would also be featured on 60 second TV ads and full pages in the Shoppers News (Sault This Week) that would run from December to the end of January.
It was a big-to-do. Full of glamour and excitement, the Miss Bon Soo Pageant was always a huge ratings winner for Huron Broadcasting that backed the show since its inception. Big name personalities like Lloyd Robertson, Dave Deval, Harvey Kirk and other names known from the CTV network would be M.C. of the live show along with Donna and Leroy from The Tommy Hunter Show, dance numbers by the Trixie Hardy Dancers and Studio Dance Arts later, provided entertainment for the audience. It was a truly local show that would be seen in other parts of Canada and the U.S.
It was a pretty big tv production as well, with multiple cameras, production gear, lights and mics, the four hour show was taped before an audience of about 900 people. The actual broadcast would play out the following Monday. The pageant’s executive director, Frank Gardi always made sure there were plenty of great prizes for the Bon Soo Queen and the two runners up. The became instant celebrities like royalty as they would make their rounds to hundreds of events over the ten days of the carnival. Prizes included trips, fashions, make-up and use of a car during the carnival to name a few.
Over the years many young girls would participate in the pageant, nominations taking place in early December. The Pageant committee would go through hundreds of applicants before deciding on the 15 girls who would be selected to compete.
Winning the title made household names for many: Constance Arnil, Marianne Perry, Yvonne Hendricks come to mind amoung the Bon Soo Queens.
Jill Braido, who would go on to become one of the city’s most popular news anchors was crowned a Bon Soo Princess in 1985.
“I really count myself as fortunate to have been a part of the Bon Soo Pageant. I was in the 1985 edition and took part with 15 other wonderful ladies. We all became very close throughout the events leading up to the pageant and had many laughs during the rehearsals,” Braido told SaultOnline.com “Many of us are still in touch via Facebook and even recently were sharing pictures online. It was a great experience both in the confidence it gave me and the camaraderie we shared and was something I will never forget.”
The contestants would compete in the evening gown competition, the swim wear and fur coat presentations, modeled and judged by a team of celebrity judges. The 15 contestants would be narrowed down to five girls on pageant night, all waiting to hear their name as the host would say, and the “new Miss Bon Soo is…”
One of those girls who did hear her name was Karen Shepherd Dovigi who was crowned Miss Bon Soo Queen in 1982 – at the peak of the pageant’s popularity. “Winning the title of Miss Bon Soo, 1982 was most certainly a huge honour and a responsibility I took very seriously. As the winter carnival queen, my year was a fun-filled adventure, from participating in parades, hosting various community events and making numerous special appearances,” said Shepherd Dovigi. “I learned skills that proved to be very valuable. Although it was a long time ago, it seems like yesterday!”
Though the Miss Bon Soo Pageant ended in the 1990s many people still remember the carnival queens of the past and the pageant itself fondly.
The Bon Soo Winter Carnival runs 12 days this year beginning on Thursday February 4th to Monday February 15th, 2016