Kenwick photo trips memories for many

Sarnia resident Joyce Williamson identified herself in a 1956 photo of teens jive dancing at Kenwick-on-the-Lake in Bright’s Grove. Glenn Ogilvie

A photo published in The Journal of teens jiving at a 1956 “rock and roll night” tripped memories for many Sarnians of a certain age.

Joyce Williamson, 75, recognized her 16-year-old self standing in the crowd.

The Kenwick-on-the-Lake dance hall was famed for blowing off youthful steam and attracting major recording artists, from Louis Armstrong to Alice Cooper.

“I couldn’t believe it. I did three takes to make sure it was me,” says Williamson, then known as Joyce Purves.

She’d moved here from Scotland five years earlier and later married a Fred Astaire dance instructor.

“We’d dance our faces off. It was just fabulous,” she says.

Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Count Basie and Lawrence Welk were among the big bands that played the Bright’s Grove dance hall, with their shows sometimes broadcast by radio across the nation.

Conway Twitty played there, as did Don Messer and the Islanders, who drew thousands to one gig.

All that remains of the dance hall is a terrazzo floor in Kenwick Park now used as a basketball court.

Bud Waring managed Kenwick-on-the-Lake for two different stints in the 1950s and ‘60s.

His son Brian remembers a day in 1962 when a flashy white car pulled up behind the beachfront dance hall.

Out of the vehicle stepped three of the biggest names in pop music; each riding hits on the Top-40 charts.

Bryan Hyland was a 20-year-old teen idol with the bubblegum classic “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

Gene Pitney, 22, a star in the U.S. and UK had “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” shooting up the charts.

And Bobbie Vintin, 27, whose “Roses Are Red (My Love)” was the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 and blaring from every portable radio.

“I was a little bit star struck,” recalls Waring. “I was only 13-years-old and all of a sudden there’s the three of them jumping out of this Thunderbird.”

Waring, now a sales consultant at The Journal, recalls that a concert microphone failed that night and that the trio were paid $1,100 total for the package deal.

“Back then it was different. There was no Internet, no MTV. Everything was on the radio and it was a big deal.”

– George Mathewson