Preparations are underway for the inaugural Wee Willi Winkels Day in the Town of the Blue Mountains, and organizers are hopeful Collingwood will be the next municipality to jump on board.
In December 2021, Town of the Blue Mountains council voted to proclaim the first Saturday in March annually as Wee Willi Winkels Day. This year, the event will fall on March 5.
Now, organizers are hoping Collingwood and Wasaga Beach will do the same in future years.
Wee Willi Winkels was a skateboard and snowboard innovator who manufactured some of the first laminated decks, and pioneered some of the first snowboards in collaboration with skateboard legend Tom Sims. Spending the last 20 years of his life living in Collingwood, Winkels died in 2014.
Celine Szoges, the organizer of this year’s festivities in Blue Mountain, says her own family immigrated from Europe – just like Winkels – and was active in the ski community there, which led to a symbolic kinship.
“In Collingwood, the ski community here had that same element of tightness. I had gone to Willi’s wake because I knew a few people who knew him. I was so proud. Here was a European, just like me, who came here as part of the snow community,” she said.
A supply teacher in local school boards who subbed in at Collingwood Collegiate Institute and Our Lady of the Bay Catholic High School (then Jean Vanier), Szoges said she was shocked when she spoke of Winkels and local students hadn’t heard of him.
“They didn’t know! I thought, they had to be kidding. This is a major international sport pioneered right here,” said Szoges.
Winkels was born in Germany in 1956. He arrived in the Town of the Blue Mountains in the 1960s when his family moved to a chalet at the base of the Apple Bowl Ski Run at the Blue Mountains Ski Resort.
A common fixture of the slopes in the Town of the Blue Mountains where he would regularly test out his inventions, Winkels was the first to create a wedge tail board, and was one of the first to start marketing the snowboard in Canada and North America. Many of the skateboards available in Canada from the mid ’70s to the early ’80s were made by Wee Willi Winkels Inc. in his Brampton factory. He was one of the first to create proper snowboard bindings.
He also had a skate team in the late 1970s that toured and held heavy influence around Southern Ontario.
“Anything that had a board, he was game,” said Szoges, noting having a Wee Willi Winkels Day in Collingwood and Town of the Blue Mountains could become a major tourist draw if properly marketed.
Winkels’ partner of 37 years, Judy Winkels, has plans to design a flag for the inaugural event, based on a famous photo series of him jumping a skateboard over a Corvette.
Always a tinkerer, Judy describes her husband as being “monumental” in furthering innovation when it came to skateboarding and snowboarding.
“He came out with the Flying Yellow Banana, it was called. He couldn’t call it a skiboard, so he had to make a name for it. He called it the snowboard, and the name stuck in the industry,” said Judy in an interview with CollingwoodToday.ca.
Judy says Willi may be known to many long-time residents in Collingwood, as he was a regular fixture around town and in the Santa Claus parade, cruising along the route on his motorized skateboard.
When asked how Judy thought Willi would feel about South Georgian Bay municipalities marking an annual day in his honour, she says her long-time love would have been “ecstatic.”
“He would be so honoured. He’d think it was pretty amazing,” said Judy.
As of now, the Town of Collingwood has agreed to illuminate the town hall clock tower green from March 5 to 12 in honour of the day, and will be considering at a future meeting of council a request to proclaim the first Saturday in March annually as Wee Willi Winkels Day in Collingwood.
For more information on Wee Willi Winkels, the Blue Mountains Public Library currently has an online exhibit about him that can be accessed here.