A while back…like several posts ago I mentioned that I picked up this awesome book called “Let’s Dance: A Celebration of Ontario’s Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions” by Peter Young.
What is the book about:
“Let’s Dance: A Celebration of Ontario’s Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions is a nostalgic musical journey, recapturing the unforgettable music of youth and lasting friendships, the days when the live mellow sounds of Big Bands wafted through the air — Louis Armstrong, the Dorsey Brothers, Bert Niosi, Art Hallman, Johnny Downs, Mart Kenney, Bobby Kinsman, Ronnie Hawkins …. Throughout the 1920s to the ’60s, numerous legendary entertainers drew thousands of people to such memorable venues as the Brant Inn in Burlington, Dunn’s Pavilion in Bala, the Stork Club at Port Stanley, to the Club Commodore in Belleville and the Top Hat Pavilion in North Bay — and the hundreds of other popular dance venues right across Ontario. From the days of jitney dancing through the introduction of jazz and the Big Bands era to the sounds of some of Ontario’s best rock groups, people of all ages came to dance and some to find romance on soft summer nights.”
The book was a wonderful read and especially since I’m a Lindy Hopper and I love all things Nostalgic around that era. So the book gave me the urge to:
A) Want to visit these places, existing or non existing;
B) Share some of the history with my readers and with the Ontario Lindy Hop dance scene as well.
So I thought I would do a blog series on many of these places, so here we go with our first post…
PALACE PIER-TORONTO, CANADA
The Palace Pier was originally conceived in the late 1920’s to be a large amusement pier that was to rival the neighbouring “Sunnyside Pavilion“. The pier was to project 1800 feet into Lake Ontario with a steamboat landing at the end. However financial difficulties and the depression stopped construction and only 300 feet of pier was created (see above). For most of the 30’s the Pier was vacant but on June 10th, 1941 the auditorium opened as The Strathcona Roller Rink, and then a short time later became The Queensway Ballroom in 1943. This reverted to the Palace Pier Dance Hall and would soon become a favorite destination for dancers.
Here is a picture of where the Pier was located (the left image) in Toronto
Plans for the Pier before having to scrap almost everything (was to have had a bandstand, Theatre and “Palace of Fun” which I could only assume was rides).
The Big Bands
The Pier saw many Big Bands pass thru it’s doors, bands like:
There is a story from Ernie Ince who was the General Manager for the Pier for many years that recalls the effect one Bandleader had on the audience “Lionel Hampton would work the crowd into a frenzy. He’d soak 3 suits in a performance and play louder and faster as the night moved along” (“Let’s Dance” by Peter Young, pg 13).
Man I would of given ANYTHING to have seen that…sigh.
The Pier’s heyday was the mid-40’s and into the mid-50’s with the 50’s seeing a renovation that had the Palace Pier boosting about having one of the largest dance floors around. 3 tiers were built with balconies surrounding the dance floor so that everyone could see the action on the dance floor (“Let’s Dance” by Peter Young, pg 13). CBC Radio even did live Radio broadcasts from the Pier over the years.
Changing with the Times
By the mid-50’s the Pier had to change direction to keep alive so they started booking country acts like Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash which ended up being very successful (“Let’s Dance” by Peter Young, pg 15). Also during the week they would book Bingos, Boxing matches, political rallies, proms and such to help pay the bills to get them to the weekend where they were still seeing around 1000 attendees coming out to celebrate music and dance.
Sadly on January 7th, 1963 in the early morning there was a fire at the Pier and everything was completely destroyed and due to declining popularity it only made sense to not rebuild and sell the property. Condos were then eventually built on the spot where the hall stood (the Palace Pier Condos).
The building may not be standing anymore but you can still pay a visit to the monument on the Waterfront Trail at the Foot of the Palace Pier Court (it’s just west of the mouth of the Humber River. Walk over the bridge and keep going till you see the monument).
Interesting fact: The base of the monument are the original concrete pier footings
Here I am with the monument. I have to say I could actually envision everyone dressed to the 9’s coming down here to listen to some amazing Big Band Music on a Saturday night. It made me wish I had a time machine so I could of joined in on the fun.
To end my little trip, my husband put on some Glenn Miller “Moonlight Serenade” and we closed our eyes and actually pretended it was the 1940’s for a moment and we danced. It was a fun experience and I’m sure we got some weird looks but I did not care, I got to dance at the Palace Pier even if it was just in my mind.
Please let me know if you have visited this spot as well and stay tuned for another post in this series.