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Ontario’s first lottery

The Chi-Cheemaun Ferry, 1969’s Summer of Love and fancy French randomizing machines—three seemingly unrelated factors that are all connected to the remarkable history of Ontario’s lost lottery, WINTARIO! Unlike many lotteries these days, WINTARIO was a spectacle, a dazzling affair. It featured live televised draws and shoutouts from Ontario locales from St. Clements to Tobermory (one of the Chi-Cheemaun’s ports of call), all hosted by a roster of the day’s popular celebrities. (More on those later!) And why not? It was our province’s first home-grown lottery after all.

Here’s how it all went down.

1969: The summer of love, and gambling

As free spirits everywhere are letting their hair down, the federal government lets go of its national prohibition on gambling (besides horse betting). Before this time, Canada’s Criminal Code deemed casinos and lotteries illegal, which pushed those gambling activities underground. With the update to the Code in 1969, provinces would be permitted to set their gambling laws and regulate their own gambling activities, including lotteries. Far out.

Early ’70s: WINTARIO is willed into existence

Following the change to the Criminal Code, the Ontario government sees an opportunity to set up a lottery that can help raise funds for communities throughout the province. In a stroke of genius that would reverberate through the decades, an uncredited marketing mastermind combines “win” with “Ontario,” and WINTARIO is born.

To help develop the lottery, and ensure play is fair and unimpeachable, Ontario turns to France: home to the gold standard of randomizing lottery machines—the world-famous Ryo Catteau. The Catteau spins 49 perfectly-weighted numbered balls which drop through a patented trap door, ensuring a random selection. These machines, the same style used to make LOTTO 6/49 and Super 7 draws today, help make sure every number has the same odds of winning, every time.

1975: Live from the Ontario Science Centre—WINTARIO’s first draw!

With the hardware in place, WINTARIO holds its first live draw at the relatively new Ontario Science Centre. From Arva to Ancaster, Ontarians tune in, ticket in hand, hoping to see their numbers called as the 49 balls tumble through the Ryo Catteau. The draw is hosted by then-famous newscaster and host of CBC’s Front Page Challenge, Fred Davis and farmhand turned Hee-Haw fixture Charlie Farquharson—a character created by Canadian actor Don Harron. (We told you there’d be celebrities!)

1975 – 1990: The Lottery goes local

For the next 15 years, WINTARIO draws are broadcast live from virtually any town or village large enough to have a school gym, community hall or… ferry. In 1984, a draw is broadcast from the decks of the MS Chi-Cheemaun as it sails from Tobermory at the top of the Bruce Peninsula to South Baymouth on Manitoulin Island. Draws were also held in barns, plowing matches, fiddle contests, you name it!

Jan. 4, 1990: The last draw

On a cold January night in Sault Ste. Marie, WINTARIO drew its final number. Over the years the lottery saw 647 individual draws in locales throughout the province. For those old enough to remember, this wouldn’t be the end of live lottery draws in the province. A new show, Ontario Lottery Live was launched soon after. WINTARIO would also inspire the creation of provincial lotteries like LOTTARIO and national lotteries like LOTTO 6/49. A made-in-Ontario, randomness revolution had been born.

And there you have it. The long and local tale of the Ontario lottery that once was. Since those days, a lot in lotteries has changed. What hasn’t changed is the randomness of the draws—no matter the method. That’s why it pays to keep an open mind, an eye for entertainment, and the knowledge that whether you always play your favourite numbers, or like to switch things up, every number has the same odds of being selected. It’s all up to the fun of chance.

Want to learn more about how lotteries work? Read our post on lottery odds now.