Williams Lake has celebrated the unique civic holiday of ‘Wrestling Day’ since the 1930s. (Photo courtesy of the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin)

Wrestling Day civic holiday dates back to 1930s in Williams Lake

It started simply and sensibly enough.

It started simply and sensibly enough.

One brisk Cariboo morning on Jan. 2 in the 1930s, still foggy from a night of New Year’s debauchery, friends Syd Western and department store owner Alistair Mackenzie sat quietly in downtown Williams Lake sipping their coffees.

No one was around. The streets were empty. Not much was happening. But, strangely enough, a tiny group of about 10 village merchants were open — their stores empty, also.

It struck Western, the chair of the village commission, and Mackenzie as odd — especially on a day neither man felt like doing anything, either.

Western and Mackenzie’s conversation branched out logically enough. It was a waste of time to open a business on that day, they concluded. And, if Boxing Day followed Christmas then surely Wrestling Day should follow New Year’s Day. It made perfect sense.

Everyone in the village was “wrestling” a hangover, anyway, they argued.

“I must have been half cut,” Western told the Vancouver Sun during an interview on Jan. 2, 1992, at 94 years old. “Oh, that crazy day.

“I’m not a publicity hound, but I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

Western used his position as village commissioner to bring credibility to the unique holiday. And soon “everybody was in on it,” he continued.

It became a habit, despite not being an official holiday. Every year, all of the downtown merchants agreed to close their doors. The town would shut down. Everyone took it easy for one extra well-deserved day off.

Wrestling Day, though its actual anniversary has been a topic of some debate, is now an official civic holiday and tradition, and has been since 1959. Only for a brief stint in the 1970s was the holiday abolished by the mayor of the day.

Williams Lake had grown in population in the ’70s, larger businesses had moved to town and times had begun to change. Big businesses ignored the holiday, remaining open. Other local outlets simply began to follow suit and ignored it, also.

Tom Mason, Williams Lake mayor in 1977, cast the deciding vote declaring an end to the celebration of Wrestling Day.

“Wrestling Day was a cute thing,” he told the Tribune at the time. “But as time moves along cute things are no longer cute.”

The decision didn’t sit well with many of the town’s citizens. Wrestling Day’s hiatus was short, and the next year the holiday was reinstated.

Since then, there’s always been a Wrestling Day, which has been supported and proclaimed as an official civic holiday by multiple city councils since.

To date, sticking to its humble roots, there is no community event scheduled to coincide with Wrestling Day.

Western and Mackenzie, no doubt, would be proud. Not much used to happen on Wrestling Day, and not much still happens on Wrestling Day.

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