Once Upon a Time: ‘Party Place’ of a bygone era

As our Counties move cautiously into Stage Three of recovery from COVID, it is interesting to remember a long-ago era when social distancing was not a concern. Anne Konrad, whose family has owned a farm in Albemarie Township, reminisced about those more carefree gatherings.

For most people, “depression” does not suggest a party, but old-timers around Purple Valley recall the wonderful social life of rural communities in the 1930s. Who would ever guess now when driving through this hamlet north of Wiarton that its community hall was once the busiest party place on the Peninsula? Every Friday night cars would bump their way along dirt roads to this “in” place, then known as the Orange Hall. Helen Howe from Lion’s Head said she wouldn’t miss a week, driving the 20 miles, a long way during those days. ”My Dad thought I was crazy but we all came, from Tobermory to the other end of Owen Sound.” They came in carloads; they danced all night.

                       “Courtesy of Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre,                                                      A2014.003. K-64-06-25, Bruce Krug.”

The young Amy Balls, now Mrs. Mervyn Waugh, and her brother, lived in Adamsville and remembers her father saying: “if you want to go to the dance, you’ll get up and milk cows here at 6 am too.” So her dad gave her 50 cents for two tickets. She’d dance until 2 am and get home in time to milk the cows early the next morning. Helen’s husband Adam took in tickets (25 cents admission) and got $70 one night—300 people. Later, opening night at the newer hall saw 500 attend.

During the 30s the best band was from Cape Croker, a group also known as “music crazy” Lennox Johnston’s orchestra. They played drums, fiddles, fifes and piano. In the 40s, square dances became the most popular, with Herb Gilbert, the caller. His wife, Eva, tells how he would call until midnight and then the round dancing (waltzes, heel and toe) began. If there were no fiddlers left, somebody played their mouth organ. Sometimes the crowd got rowdy. There was liquor in cars and some of the outsiders, Amy Waugh says, “thought they could come out into the country and drink and do as they pleased—.” Some got banned. More rural dances remembered next month.


This article was originally written for the 1991 Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook and adapted by Bob Johnston.