Aquatennial Ambassadors celebrates its rich history

Newly restored video documents events of 1961 Aquatennial festival

Pieces from the Hennepin History Museum's Aquatennial collection remain on display in City Hall through July 31. Credit: Jill Bachelder

Around 30 people gathered in the City Hall rotunda Monday to celebrate the history of the Aquatennial Ambassadors, the organization responsible for the Queen of Lakes competition, with a history exhibit and the unveiling of a never-before-seen version of a film documenting the 1961 Aquatennial.

The celebratory event featured several speakers, including Pam Albinson, author of “Seventy-Five Years of the Minneapolis Aquatennial” and 1962 Queen of Lakes. It was hosted by the city, the Hennepin History Museum, Aquatennial Ambassadors and the Municipal Building Commission.

The Ambassadors’ Queen of Lakes competition has occurred at every Aquatennial since the festival began in 1940, offering scholarships and a yearlong public relations-internship-type experience to its winners, Laura Swartz, this year’s queen explained. Swartz has attended more than 300 events across the country promoting Minneapolis in her role as Queen.

With the remastering of the old film, the organizers saw “a special opportunity to do something here at City Hall to launch the Aquatennial festival,” Leah Wong, spokesperson for the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said.

The exhibit drawn from the Aquatennial collection at the Hennepin History Museum included old photos of the festival and dresses worn by past Queens. It remains on display until July 31.

The film shown at the event featured remarkably clear footage of classic Aquatennial events, such as the canoe derby, Aquafollies and the crowning of the Queen of Lakes.

The footage, produced by the Minneapolis Cine Club, was originally shot on 16-milimeter film. Images had become unclear when converted to DVD from the original format.

This year, the Past Queens Organization and the Hennepin County History Museum collaborated to get the footage fully restored.

The history of the Aquatennial is remarkable, Albinson said when introducing the video, especially considering how vast the initial festivals were and the technology that was available to people at the time.

“It’s important to remember, this was produced with no social media, no Twitter, no call hold, call forwarding, faxes,” she said. “In 1940, this was done by the handshake, and look what they produced.”

Devin Timaul, an intern at the City Clerk’s Office attending the event, said he had come to learn more about the Aquatennial, and found the video to be “a really good piece of history.”

“It helped me go back to a point in history and see how things were back then, which was really nice,” Timaul said.

Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene noted the importance of remembering the Aquatennial for its “rich history” as well as celebrating the way it brings people together.

“I know [the Aquatennial] is a really fun week for me in the summer, and really reminds me of what a treasure Minneapolis summer is,” Greene said.