When the date of Aug. 15 draws near for residents of Canton, many reflect on their memories of days gone by when the entire community would take a day off and gather downtown to spend a day filled with special activities.

For many years, the highlight of social life in Canton was its annual "Day Off" celebration. It got its start in the late 19th century when the Ladies Aid Society of the Church of the Assumption, sponsored a church supper on Aug. 15, which is the feast day of the Assumption in the Catholic liturgy.

In 1903, the leader of the Canton bank, Percy Young, offered to bring a band to entertain during the dinner. The following year, the celebration moved downtown and on Aug. 15, 1904, the whole town sponsored a day-long festival for the first "Day Off."

By the 1940s, Canton's "Day Off" had become a regional event and special trains were run to bring in out-of-town visitors so they too could enjoy the events held on that special day.

Festivities were increased to include county championship baseball games, speakers, merry-go-rounds, aerialist acts and evening dances at the town hall. Annual "Day Off" celebrations were held in Canton for over 50 years. The last "Day Off" celebration of this kind was held on Aug. 15, 1955.

In more recent years, Canton has revived the celebration to be held on the weekend closest to Aug. 15, with a large Canton Day Off celebration with a parade, live music, contests and games to be held every five years. The next large celebration is already being planned for 2014.

In the off years, like this year, the community volunteers plan a smaller event with the goal of raising money to sponsor the larger celebrations. This year's events include a softball tournament, a bean bag tournament, music, barbecue cook-off and a town photo to be used to promote next year's extravaganza.

The weekend kicks off on Friday night with the softball tournament at 6:30 at the softball field. ZZ tap will have a band, American Standard, beginning at 8 p.m.

On Saturday, the Canton Historical Society will be hosting a lawn sale, beginning at 8 a.m., on the lawn of the Historic Canton Depot. The proceeds from the sale will go towards the restoration project for the depot.

The softball tournament resumes at 9 a.m. and continues throughout the day.

One of the new events for this year's Canton Day Off will be a barbecue cook-off being organized by Nick Prestby of the Canton Pub. There are at least seven teams participating and meats to be judged include a whole chicken, pork ribs and a pork roast. The cook-off is open to area fire departments or any other interested teams of four. The entry fee is $125 and includes the cost of the meat. Cooking begins at noon and judging begins at 7 p.m. Call Prestby at (507) 743-8565 with questions or for more information.

ZZ Tap will be hosting a wine tasting at 1 p.m., featuring the wines of Winneshiek Wildberry Winery of rural Decorah.

The beer tent opens at 1 p.m. and is sponsored by the Canton Fire Department and Canton American Legion Post #400. Stateline Karaoke and DJ will start the entertainment there at 4 p.m. and will continue at 7 p.m. with the street dance.

Register for the bean bag tournament near the gazebo starting at 1 p.m. for a 2 p.m. start. One can call (507) 459-4960 for more information or to pre-register.

At 3 p.m. a town photo will be taken by Charlie Warner to be used in the promotion of the 2014 celebration. All community residents are asked to gather at the gazebo to be included in this special photo.

The fun on Saturday winds down with live music at ZZ Tap, beginning at 8 p.m. and featuring the Deep River Band.

On Sunday, the Assumption Catholic Church will hold its annual meatball and salad bar dinner, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the church hall. The menu includes meatballs, homemade mashed potatoes and assorted salads and beverages.

Unfortunately, there will not be a Canton Day Off race at the Canton Speedway as was previously advertised.

The Canton community is excited about the upcoming festivities as it takes their annual "Day Off" and plans for their larger celebration next year. All are welcome to come and enjoy the events held in honor of a long-standing social tradition.