Submitted by R. Keith Davidson
So Grandma and Grandpa, remember when you went to the summer Thursday night teen dances at the old Lambton Street arena, in the late 60s and early 70s? Well, the Stampeders are back. Read on.
I have had an old trumpet for 52 years and finally gave it to a lad up the road, who thought he would like to learn how to play it. It belonged to Paul Rimstead, the Toronto Sun beat writer who came up to play his trumpet along with friends Don “Stoney” Stone, Mike Palmer et al in the Empire Furnace & Stove Band, at the 1970 Old Boys/Girls Reunion. Their last gig during the weekend was on a flatbed truck on the street, in front of the old arena. I found it under the fire escape steps on the Monday following the reunion. I told Mike about it but he never picked it up. So thinking about the old horn conjures up many memories about music events that happened in the old arena, and I would like to share some with you old-timers who may like to reminisce about them along with me.
Back in the 60s, the Ag Society brought in the famous Don Messer and The Islanders band, for a show on a Saturday night before the fall fair. The arena floor was packed with spectators and the old time down east music the band played was fantastic – everybody was tapping their feet. In the second set the two famous singers, Charlie Chamberlain and Marg Osburne, were on chairs sitting a tune out and Don Messer was on the fiddle playing with his orchestra. The place was rockin’ and all the musicians were stompin’ hard on our old four-section stage. They stomped so hard that the vibrations caused one of the 8’X4’ plywood backdrops to come crashing down on top of Charlie and Marg. Charlie was okay and shook himself off but, Marg was hurt when the backdrop hit her on her shoulder and head. The show stopped, the ambulance was called and the attendants took Marg to the hospital. Then, as they say, “the show went on” and the band finished their final set with Charlie back singing. I took some flowers to Marg at the hospital the next day – she was still there but released later in the day. I received a nice note from her a week later for the flowers and to let us know she was okay. What a wonderful lady – what a great singer – I bless her soul to this day that she didn’t sue me and the Ag Society (and that I didn’t get fired).
A couple of years later, the Ag Society brought in Stompin’ Tom Connors for a concert in the arena. What a fantastic show Tom put on. He lived up to his name and stomped all night, with his silver heel-capped black cowboy boots. This time the Club had the backdrops on the stage anchored down securely, so they would not fall on Tom. Tom always carried a 15” X 15” piece of plywood that was 1” thick, for his stage stomping. At the end of the evening, when he was changing in my office, he showed me his board – it was done – it now had a hole right through it , with shards all over the place. Tom asked me if I wanted it. I said for sure and he signed it for me. I kept Tom Connor’s stompin’ board in my office for years, until it was time to move up to the new community centre and then I forgot to take it with me! The arena eventually was demolished and you guessed it, along with Tom’s board! It should have gone to the Bruce County Museum or the Paddy Walker House. Dang!
The best couples dancers in Canada used to dance every Saturday night at the Kincardine Beach Pavilion, that Caddy Mullen owned and operated. Caddy, in 1967, brought in the world famous Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians Orchestra. The Pavilion was not big enough to hold the anticipated ticket holders so he booked the arena. The dance was a huge success! Over 1,200 people attended! I will bet if you were there you have never forgotten that special evening dancing to Guy Lombardo –it was magic! At the first intermission, mayor Floyd Wieck presented Guy, a proud Italian, with a Kincardine black watch tartan jacket and for the rest of the night he wore it, waiving his baton while conducting his orchestra like he was a proud Scot.
In the late 60s and early 70s there was a window of about six or seven years, where I operated Thursday night teen dances for the kids in the old arena. The dances ran from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., so the neighbours could get some sleep.
I worked with Tim O’Donnel, a young radio deejay from Kitchener, who had a side business booking music. Over the years we booked in some of the top rock groups in Canada, like the Guess Who, The Staccatos (later named The Five Man Electric Band), The Stampeders, Lighthouse, Copper Penny, Down Child Blues and a host of others. The dances were so popular that kids from all the neighboring towns often came to them. We probably averaged about 300 kids most nights. We made huge profits from the dances, like thousands and thousands. I talked the recreation board into talking Council into putting those monies in to our recreation department summer playground programs for kids. Because of this, the registration fee for a kid for six weeks was only $10 and $25 for a family. We always had 150 kids signed up each summer for playgrounds for two reasons; we had fantastic teen leaders and every family could afford the registration fees, thanks to the teen dances. It was sort of like the big kids in town helping the younger kids.
The biggest crowd we ever had, was for The Guess Who. They had just become famous – they were pictured in a grain field out at Winnipeg on the front page of the Saturday Toronto Star Weekly and on the following Thursday they were playing a teen dance at the Kincardine Lambton Street Arena. Unbelievable! I think there were over 600 kids at that dance. After the dance, Burton Cummings, all dressed up in black, with black cowboy hat and boots was sitting way back in my chair in my office, smoking a great big cigar with one foot up on the desk, waiting to collect the band’s share for the night from me. Man I wish I had a picture of him then, it’s still in my mind’s eye, though. Over the years I followed Burton’s and Randy Bachman’s careers – man what great musicians. For the last 15 years I have gone to bed on Friday nights listening on my bedside radio to Randy on his Vinyl Café radio show from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., on CBC Radio 1. I was always going to call in to his show and ask him if he could remember his band gig in Kincardine in 1968. Too late now – his show closed down last Christmas.
The kids all behaved themselves at the dances – they knew if they didn’t I would shut the dances down. I was the only one supervising the dances, but I had my rink rats out in the crowd as my eyes and ears. I used to stand at the entrance as the kids streamed into the dances. There was a few times I turned away the odd teen who was a little too red eyed and stinking pretty from smoking weed, or had been drinking, but that didn’t happen very often. So today all you seniors out there like Robin Riggin, Dave Dunlop and Cathy Pym, who were teens 50 years ago or so, I want to give you all a big hug and a big thank you for being so well behaved back in the day. Your grandchildren can well be proud of you – tell them I said that just for you.
The Stampeders were always my favorite band. We had them back every year from 1970 through 1973 – they loved Kincardine. Radio stations are still playing their hits like Sweet City Women. Because of COVID in 2020, they are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. On Friday, Mar. 25, they are performing at the Roxy Theatre in Owen Sound. As I write this, there are 27 tickets left from the 400 being sold. I have mine third row center. If you happen to go to the show make sure you come down and visit me in front of the stage at intermission. I will give you a fist pump and we can reminisce about how the teens in Kincardine raised so much money at teen dances and how young kids, five to twelve years old, could sign up for $10 for the summer playground programs.
And finally I would dearly love to thank all the people who lived in the eight houses close to the old arena, when those teen dances were held for six years, so many moons ago, but I can’t – they are all gone. Imagine how many sound decibels those dear neighbours had to put up with for four hours, every Thursday night. But they all knew the dances were a good thing for the kids. Would you believe I never received one complaint from any of the neighbors about the loud music from the dances? Bless them all!
Dalton Leach, Betty and their family lived in one of those houses on Huron Terrace. Betty is gone now but Dalton, now in his 90s, resides at the Tiverton Park Manor in Tiverton. He was on the arena board for years and helped with all kinds of sports things at the old arena. He was a big help to me in running the old arena. I owe him a lot. Whenever I would be stewing about something falling apart or other problems, I would talk to Dalton and invariably he would help me and say to me . . .”listen, Keith my man, there are no problems, just solutions!” I took his advice to heart and that advice has helped me in so many ways, right up to my old age. I passed Dalton’s advice for life on to all my kids and to this day they will often say to me – remember Dad, “no problems, just solutions!”
Dalton loves the pipe band. If you see him this summer on Queen Street in his wheelchair, please do me a favour. Go up to him – give him a smile, a fist pump and tell him that Keith Davidson sent you to thank him for being such a good man and for helping his community out so much in the old days. Thanks!