The 96th annual Canal Winchester Labor Day Festival will kick off a little sooner than usual this year.

The 96th annual Canal Winchester Labor Day Festival will kick off a little sooner than usual this year.

It starts with the arrival of a memorial honoring fallen soldiers of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Regiment, Canal Winchester Mayor Michael Ebert said.

The memorial, Eyes of Freedom, is scheduled to arrive in town at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2.

"The memorial is being escorted into town by 200-plus motorcyclists, and I believe it is a great event for people to come out and see," Ebert said.

The escort will arrive from U.S. Route 33 on East Waterloo Street, coming from the direction of Diley Road.

"We will not be closing the street, but anyone using East Waterloo Street to head into or out of town that day can expect a delay," Ebert said.

The memorial will be displayed throughout the weekend, opening at 10:30 a.m., at the Bob McDorman Automotive Museum, 45 E. Waterloo St.

Consisting of eight hand-painted panels, the memorial depicts life-size images of 22 U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy corpsman of Lima Company who died while deployed in Iraq, according to Ebert.

"All of these young men died in a short period of time, between May and August of 2005. Though the Marine Reserve Unit was mostly from Ohio, these fallen heroes represent seven states, from Alaska to the East Coast. It will be an awesome, moving sight," Ebert said.

"The memorial does not charge admission, but we ask for those who do go to view the memorial to leave a donation, so they may continue their travels throughout the country," Ebert said.

As many as 50,000 people are expected to come to Canal Winchester's Labor Day Festival set for noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3; 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4; and 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5, according to organizers.

In addition to welcoming the memorial, the Labor Day festival will welcome the return of an old favorite.

"The Canal Winchester Historical Society will be bringing back an event that was quite popular in the past -- the ice cream social," Ebert said.

Free ice cream from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams will be available as along as the supply lasts, beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, he said.

The social will take place at the Canal Winchester Historical Society complex at the train station/Chaney Mill area along the railroad tracks on North High Street.

"All of the complex will be open for viewing, and volunteers will be accepting new memberships to the historical society for nominal fees," he said.

For children, another popular feature of the festival is making a return this year.

"Free-ride Saturday is back, thanks to Wyler Chevrolet," Ebert said.

"Between noon and 5 p.m. Saturday only, kids can ride as many rides and as many times as they can."

Ebert said the entertainment will have a new feature, as Mike Albert, an Elvis tribute artist, and the Big E band will be making their first appearance at the Labor Day Festival.

"Mike is no stranger to Canal Winchester, as Mike and the Big E Band performed at the Bob McDorman Corvette Show for many years," Ebert said.

"Those coming should make sure they get out to see him from 5 to 8 p.m. Sept. 4 at the McDorman stage on East Waterloo Street -- bring lawn chairs and relax to the great fun and music of 'The King,' " he said.

Another band, Hotel California, will appear on the main stage at 8 p.m. Saturday and the Chris Higbee Band will appear on the main stage at 8 p.m. Sunday, according to Ebert.

"The C.W. Steel Company will be performing on Stradley Stage at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, just after the kids' parade, and the opening ceremony kick-off that starts things at the main stage at noon," he added.

"Our canal boat races will be returning for the third year with cash prizes being offered to various groups. Bring your family, friends and social groups out for this fun-filled event starting at 2 p.m. Sunday," he said.

Typically over the three-day weekend, approximately 45,000 people attend the festival, Ebert said.

"However, if the weather holds out, we could see 50,000 this year with all of the new activities."

Parking is available at several locations, including the pool parking lot and the Roger Hanners Park, both on Groveport Road, according to Ebert.

There also will be parking at Guiler Park and the Canal Winchester High School parking lots on Washington Street. On-street parking will be available outside of the downtown area and some of the local churches are offering their properties for parking with a fee.

"People travel to Canal Winchester from all across the state and beyond for the many activities we offer, such as the car show, the great entertainment, the parade and much more," Ebert said.

"Our Labor Day festival committee has been working for a year preparing for this year's festival, and we'll start very soon preparing for the 2017 festival. In the year 2020, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of our festival and have already begun to think about special activities and entertainers for that milestone year. We will be looking for sponsors and volunteers to help out," he added.

For a complete schedule of events go to cwlaborday.org.

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