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“Rowdies” put end to dances on romantic rooftop pavilion

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Phil Egan

It promised to be the “event of the season.”

All across Sarnia people were excited by the news. The beautiful and elegant Northern Navigation Company’s pavilion was set to open that night for a series of weekly dances.

With soft breezes wafting off the St. Clair River and the popular McKanlass Orchestra setting the mood, the rooftop garden pavilion was an ideal venue for a night of romantic dancing under the stars.

It was July 11, 1918. A team of young women from across the city had worked hard for more a month to make the dances a success.

The Northern Navigation landing area with its stunning rooftop pavilion was located on the waterfront, just south of Cromwell Street.

Most people had only seen it when lake steamers arrived or left port. The company’s ships Huronic, Hamonic and Noronic were fixtures of the waterfront.

That night, a large crowd from Sarnia and Port Huron was expected for the first of the “informal” dances. The pavilion floor was declared “in excellent condition” and the refreshments prepared.

The evening’s agenda was printed in the previous night’s newspaper and Sarnia’s federal Member of Parliament, F.F. Pardee, was there to officially open the proceedings.

Sadly, the enthusiasm did not last.

On Aug. 26, less than seven weeks after they began, Pardee declared the rooftop dances over and done.

“Rowdyism and filth” were cited as the reason. It seemed the dances had attracted some of the seedier elements of society. Property was damaged. Cigarette butts carelessly discarded. Fights had broken out.

The young ladies who worked so hard to make them a success were aghast. There had been no sign of an apparently overworked and undermanned police department.

The newspaper railed against the “outrageous” conduct.

“Everybody,” it declared, “loves that spot on the hot summer evenings.” Once again, the majority of well-behaved citizens had been inconvenienced by the intolerable behaviour of a few. Jail terms were called for. The paper decried the lack of respect for the company’s property, pointing out that the Northern Navigation Company was “a valuable asset to the people of Sarnia.”

The company was known to have previously suffered at the hands of “marauders,” and was entitled to police protection.

For the young women of the city, and for a public in need of diversion after four years of war, it was a sad day indeed.


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