The local skate and snowboard legend will be commemorated on the annual day on the first Saturday in March at Town of the Blue Mountains; organizers are asking the city of Collingwood to also proclaim the day in future years
Preparations are underway for the first Wee Willi Winkels day in the Blue Mountains town, and organizers are hoping Collingwood will be the next municipality to join us.
In December 2021, the Blue Mountains City Council voted to proclaim the first Saturday in March each year as Wee Willi Winkels Day. This year, the event will take place on March 5.
Now organizers hope Collingwood and Wasaga Beach will do the same in years to come.
Wee Willi Winkels was a skateboarding and snowboarding innovator who made some of the first laminate boards and pioneered some of the first snowboards together with skateboarding legend Tom Sims. Spending the last 20 years of his life in Collingwood, Winkels died in 2014.
Celine Szoges, the organizer of this year’s festivities at Blue Mountain, says her own family immigrated from Europe – as did Winkels – and were active in the skiing community there, leading to a symbolic kinship .
“In Collingwood, the ski community here had that same element of sealing. I had gone to Willi’s wake because I knew a few people who knew him. I was so proud. Here is a European, just like me, who came here as a member of the snow community,” she said.
A substitute teacher at local school boards who replaced Collingwood Collegiate Institute and Our Lady of the Bay (then Jean Vanier) Catholic High School, Szoges said she was shocked when she spoke about Winkels and the local students had not heard of him.
” They did not know ! I thought they must be joking. It’s a major international sport that was started here,” Szoges said.
Winkels was born in Germany in 1956. He arrived in the Blue Mountains town in the 1960s when his family moved to a cabin at the base of the Apple Bowl ski slope at the Blue Mountains ski resort.
A regular on the slopes of the town of Blue Mountains where he regularly tested his inventions, Winkels was the first to create a tailboard and one of the first to begin marketing snowboarding in Canada and North America. Many of the skateboards available in Canada from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s were manufactured by Wee Willi Winkels Inc. at its 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 had a strong influence in Southern Ontario.
“Anything that had a board, it was a game,” Szoges said, noting that having a Wee Willi Winkels day in Collingwood and the Blue Mountains town could become a major tourist attraction if marketed properly.
Winkels’ partner of 37 years, Judy Winkels, plans to design a flag for the inaugural event, based on a famous series of photos of him jumping a skateboard onto a Corvette.
Always a do-it-yourselfer, Judy describes her husband as “monumental” in driving innovation in skateboarding and snowboarding.
“He came out with the Flying Yellow Banana, we called him. He couldn’t call it a skiboard, so he had to give it a name. He called it snowboarding, and the name stuck in the industry,” Judy said in an interview with CollingwoodToday.ca.
Judy says Willi may be known to many long-time residents of Collingwood, as he was a regular in town and at the Santa Claus parade, cruising along the route on his motorized skateboard.
When asked how Judy thought Willi would feel about the southern Georgian Bay townships marking an annual day in her honor, she said her longtime love would have been “ecstatic.”
“He would be so honoured. He would think that was pretty amazing,” Judy said.
As of now, the City of Collingwood has agreed to greenlight the clock tower at City Hall from March 5-12 in honor of the day, and will consider at an upcoming meeting of the council a request to proclaim the first Saturday in March each year 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 accessible here.