The Venetian Festival has served as an unofficial homecoming for Charlevoix for the last 91 years. This yearly event brings residents, visitors, families, and friends together to celebrate Charlevoix the Beautiful. The story of Venetian began in 1929 with the first Charlevoix Boat Race, sponsored by the Charlevoix Boat Club. Unlike the regattas of today, this event was a powerboat race. The first event was so successful that it was repeated the following year. The now-famous boat parade gained popularity in 1935. At this time, the Michigan State Centennial provided numerous opportunities to expand the festivities. The recently-renovated East Park played host to a number of Venetian activities, a tradition that continues to this day. In 1935, Marge Carey became the first Venetian Queen. Only four years after the first Venetian boat parade, the 1935 parade featured 17 boats on Round Lake. By 1936, the Venetian Festival became so popular that it attracted 5,000 visitors. Even in the middle of the Great Depression, the festival continued to gain visitors from all over the state. During this difficult time, the parade was expanded to 24 boats. Originally, the Venetian Festivals were scheduled to coincide with the famous Chicago to Mackinac Island sailboat races so that the race participants could come into port and enjoy the festivities.
As a result of World War II, there were only one or two festivals between 1941 & 1946 (the record is unclear). After World War II, the festival kept growing in size. New events on Round Lake were added such as swimming, diving, greased pole walking, log rolling, canoe racing, and boat tipping. By 1958, the festival became more organized, reflecting today’s Venetian Festival. What had been originally a Saturday-Sunday affair now became a Friday-Saturday-Sunday festival; shortly there afterward Thursday was added to the schedule. As the years progressed, an entire week was dedicated to the celebration of the Venetian Festival. The festival has grown over the years into an important yearly tradition for tens of thousands of people from across the country. A trip to Charlevoix would not be complete without getting together with family and friends and watching the boat parade around our harbor, enjoying fireworks, and celebrating Charlevoix. The events and traditions of this festival have brought generations together for 90 years and it is something that will continue for generations to come. For info about the upcoming Venetian Festival click here.