It graced the inner river for decades. It occupied its eternal parking space as a beacon of hometown iconography. It fed generations, sustaining the exuberance of the weekend population with hoards of legendary french fries, onion rings, dogs, and burgs. Today, we take a moment to remember the legacy of the Market Chip Wagon.
The Chip Wagon occupied a GMC Grumman Kurbmaster Step Van, a popular workhorse of the modern-day food truck scene thanks to its tall roofline, boxy aesthetic, and its relative lightweight for a 20 foot long cube on wheels. The exterior was unmistakably plastered with a multitude of hand-painted elements; perhaps most recognizable was the moustached gent wearing blue jeans, a black tie, and a chef’s hat holding up a smorgasbord of good old-fashioned Americana. The block red letters asking ‘Fries Plus?’ were as much a suggestion as they were a challenge.
All chip wagons have their hometown favourites – I suspect in our case it was the french fries, perhaps dressed as poutine, or soaked in ketchup, salt, and hot grease. And yet, the menu was unique to the Market Chip Wagon. Pickled eggs. Battered mushrooms or jalapenos, and those onion rings; damn. A youthful me used to head down to city hall to shyly watch the older skaters rip the steps and benches from the Farmers Market parking lot, and then retreat to occasionally order a cheeseburger and a side of onion rings so I could squish those crispy halo’s into a layer of melted processed cheese.
There isn’t much available online to help remember the Chip Wagon – a few recommendations, the odd photo, and a news article on its lease agreement with the City
In 2016, the public engaged in a harsh exchange of words with City Hall over the terms of the Chip Wagons’ disputed lease renewal. ‘City Hall wants the Chip Wagon gone,’ became the public opinion, only to be contested by council, who approved the sale of the chip wagon and renewed its lease until December 2017. But a request to renew the lease for another decade was rejected, citing the looming capital improvements the city is planning to make to the inner river along 1st Avenue East between 8th and 9th.
Back in 2000, the City of Owen Sound prioritized the Downtown River Precinct initiative under the Harbour and Downtown Urban Design/Master Plan Strategy – and from where I’m sitting, the revamped harbour and river set up is going to be a killer addition to town, helping further revitalize the recent upswing of the downtown core. But the negativity surrounding the lease renewal stains the legacy of the Chip Wagon. The idea that we have to physically hold onto every last nostalgic cornerstone of this city is, frankly, absurd.
We have a dedication to preserving our culture and our history – and the Chip Wagon is certainly part of that discussion – but I’d rather hold onto the good memories we have of the Chip Wagon – just as I have for Earl Georgas Ski Shop, the original Vertical, the east side Coliseum, and Riverside Billiards. My point is, we’re going to benefit from what’s coming to OS, and while the Chip Wagon put us on the map in its own way, its absence from the Farmers Market will be OK, too. Would it have accentuated the downtown river precinct? Yeah. It would have. Does its absence stoke the fires of rage in my gut? Nope. But there is an absence.
Is this evidence that the very concept of the chip wagon is going the way of the drive-in theatre? Maybe. People change. Tastes change. Cities evolve – and Owen Sound feels as though it’s on the cusp of some hugely beneficial changes and adaptations. Maybe we’re in uncharted waters, but there’s a sense that’s not such a scary place to be. The onion rings were good – but so can risk be.
Hey – I loved that place, and I’m sad to see it gone. But when I walk by, I’d rather give its now dormant space the proverbial nod of respect than shake my fist at City Hall. The Market Chip Wagon is rumoured to be reincarnated elsewhere in the region. The onion rings will live on. The Chip Wagon deserves our wistful smiles.
Here’s to you, Market Chip Wagon. The downtown won’t be the same without you, but I’ll think back on your food with great relish. I’m happy to see you move on to greener pastures. You deserve it.
Written by Nelson Phillips