The Battlefords historic dance halls

Hiebert on History

When one brings up the subject of the old Battlefords dance halls, the name of the hall that first comes to mind is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And rightly so because Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the most famous and storied dance hall in Battlefords’ history.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was located at Railway Avenue East and 110th Street on the north side. The hall was a 40-foot by 20-foot log structure. A gentleman by the name of Tom Coburn was in charge of the restaurant and dance hall, which was particularly active during the war years. Anybody who was anybody in the Battlefords was sure to have the dance hall on their Saturday night schedule. Dances were held twice a week. Royal Air Force pilots in training and army personel made up a large contingent of partygoers. There were almost always fights between the two.

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The best bands (like the Melatones and Melody Ranch Boys) in the area felt it a privilege to play Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Superstar Wilf Carter once entertained at Uncle Tom’s.

On occasion, some remarkable situations developed at Uncle Tom’s. Pilot Vic Pearsall once landed his plane on 110th Street and taxied up to the dance hall. He then taxied his plane to Coburn’s Service Station to fuel up. When the police questioned him, he said that he gassed up at the Purity 99 Service Station which was some distance away. Vic was a real character (he continued flying into his nineties).

What happened to Uncle Tom’s Cabin? It was sold to make space for a new Royalite Garage and Bulk Station. The Saskatchewan Wildlife  Federation took the building apart log by log and reassembled it in Cochin for a club house. Later the federation raffled the building off. It was won by Gordon Racicot who subsequently disassembled it and moved it to a lot at Aquadeo Beach. That’s where it is today.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin may have been the most famous of the mid-century dance halls. But the Armoury was a close second. During World War I, The Armoury was used for target practice and drill practice. It was a high quality structure with joists made of thick fir. During the years, and after, dances were held on a regular basis at the Armoury. And, of course, the best bands in the area kept the dance floor full.

Recently a group of history-minded businessmen bought the building and turned it into a state-of-the-art micro-brewery. They did a wonderful job of saving a 108-year-old historic structure that almost certainly would have come under the wrecking ball. Check with the management for a guided tour.

The Opera House is located on the top floor of the Battleford Town Hall and was constructed in 1912. The Opera House is without doubt the most ornate and prestigious of all the dance halls in the Battlefords. The building was a symbol of community pride. The Opera House was constructed of red brick with decorative Tyndall stone detailing and a prominent entablature with projected cornice. The Opera House accommodated school plays, high school graduations, live theatre, talent nights, Christmas concerts, the annual Firemans’ Ball, and dances. Many of the dances were formal affairs. Women dressed in expensive gowns and their husbands in suits and ties. The dance floor is large with a cushion of horse hair (a rarity to be sure).

Unfortunately a fire ravaged the Opera House in 1965. From that time forward, the Opera House has not been in use. There were plans to restore the dance hall but thus far they have not materialized.  

Sloan’s Auditorium (located bottom level of the North Battleford Legion). It’s not a large dance floor but it’s held in high regard by the public. Sloan’s has a bar and a kitchen so it’s ideal for small to medium crowds. 

The Battleford Legion on 22nd Street in Battleford is a rather old building (likely seven to eight decades) but it is a remarkably good dance hall. The dance floor is spacious. The stage is large and only about two feet high, so it’s easy to set up equipment. A large kitchen and a bar make the Legion an ideal venue for weddings and community dances. 

The Red Barn was built in 1948 by the Charabin brothers. It was originally a cattle barn with a large hay loft. Leon Charabin and the Melody Ranch Boys partnered to handle the business end of the Red Barn. From 1952 to 1959, square dances were held on a regular basis. The Melody Ranch Boys played at the Barn on Saturday nights. People came from far and wide to dance and party at one of the community’s great dance halls. So what happened to the Red Barn? It was sold and moved 16 miles west to the Robdale Ranch, which was owned by Dale Hoganson and Bob Ashauer.

The Co-op Hall was located on 11th Avenue and 102nd Street above the Co-op Store. The Co-op Hall was a popular dance hall for dancers, revelers and partiers. And, as was the case with the other well-attended venues, the best dance orchestras played the Co-op Hall

There’s a story. During the middle of a particularly rousing set, a band member had to urgently go. The washrooms were too far so he slipped out of the back door onto the fire escape. Nature called but little did he know that three partiers were enjoying a beverage below. The revelers were not amused and immediately went to find this gentleman who quickly resumed his place in the band.

What happened to the Co-op Hall? It was demolished along with the Sallows and Boyd (Pigeon Hotel) a few years ago.

The Battlefords Ukrainian Senior Society (Branch 184) was built a number of decades ago (1950s I believe), and it has a very interesting history. The building was originally the city Kinsmen Band Hall. In January of 1980, the building was moved to its present location at 792-108th Street. The Ukrainian folks in the Battlefords are proud of their hall, and rightfully so. The purpose was to get citizens of Ukrainian descent to gather for readings, Ukrainian New Years, Ukrainian Heritage Day, cards, dancing and good food and drink. The activities were varied to be sure. The BUCCC used the halls for meetings and cultural events like Cvoboda dance lessons, readings and films by Ukrainian writers on Ukrainian topics. Other groups rented the hall for Christmas parties. It was a popular venue, designed to accommodate smaller crowds.

The official opening of the Ukrainian Senior Citizens Centre was held at 2 p.m., Nov. 19, 1980. Dignitaries included Mayor James Maher, Senator H. Sparrow, Doug Anguish, MP, E. Kramer, Saskatchewan Minister of Highways, Jean Sternig, President, BUCC, M. Holota, Canon.

The main floor will accommodate 85 people. The bottom level can seat 50 comfortably. It’s got a kitchen that doubles as a bar. The dance hall also has a wood floor, which is of some advantage.

Recently, the building was sold and converted into a café/entertainment venue. The plan is to donate the proceeds from the sale to the Battlefords Union Hospital.

The Trocadero Hall is right up there as one of the great Battlefords dance halls. It was located on 11th Street and 102nd Street straight across from the Co-op Store and the Co-op Dance Hall. Dances were held on the main floor. Suites were located upstairs. As was the case with popular dance halls, the best bands played the Trocadero. Many weddings were held at the Trocadero. A friend of mine (who has since passed on), told me about her wedding and how the Trocadero staff took care of all the details. “It was wonderful,” she said. The Trocadero wasn’t always a dance hall. Variously, the hall was Morrison’s Garage, Green’s Hardware, and William’s Allied Hardware. At the present time, the space is occupied by H&R Block, an accounting firm, and Klassy Kutts hair salon.

The Bucket of Blood (the Orange Hall) was built in 1907 and is located at 1151-100th Street. The dance hall is on the top floor. The building housed many different businesses over the years. The unique oriel windows facing main street are still visible. During the war years, dances were held every Saturday night. Pilots in training with the British Commonwealth Training Program came to party every Saturday night. So did the locals. The girls were absolutely smitten with the handsome, daring young pilots. The local boys were insanely jealous. The result was a dance hall brawl and fighters were often pushed down the stairs. There was a lot of blood. Hence the name “Bucket of Blood.”

On the southwest top level of the North Battleford Civic Centre is situated a very fine dance hall. Dances were organized by the Civic Centre Administration for hockey wind-ups, and by community groups. The dance floor is spacious. The dance hall was a popular venue.

The Round Hall was built in 1938 by Frank Deery who lived south of Battleford. The hall was originally situated beside the RM office along the old number four highway – about 15 miles south of Battleford. The Round Hall was one of the few dance halls with a horse hair dance floor. Many dances were held in the Round Hall; it was a popular venue. Royal Air Force pilots in training attended the Round Hall dances. Fights with the locals were common. Name bands played Saturday nights – some of the band leaders included Winterhalt, Kopp, Kunz, Neil Smith and Shepard Denton to name a few.  Older folks referred to the hall as the 40/60 club because 40 per cent of the people were inside dancing while 60 per cent were outside in the bush drinking. A few years later, Frank cut the hall into sections and moved it across the Battle River ice to the Battleford Flats and then reassembled it. What happened to the Round Hall? It was sold, dismantled again, and moved three miles east of Regina. Now it’s used for storage. It’s in pretty bad shape but it’s still there.

Let’s not forget the young people – the teenagers. They had their own dances over the years like all teenagers. Big dances were held in the gymnasiums under the watchful eye of the administration and  teachers. Wouldn’t want anyone to get too romantic, or drink at all. Of course not. There were no smaller dances because everyone went to the big dances. But there were house parties, some of which got out of hand. During the fifties and early sixties, bands like the Talkabouts (the first rock band in the Battlefords) and Serenaders kept the kids hopping. The house bands were vinyl – the Beatles, the Stones, the Hollies (the British Invasion) in the late sixties. Every era had its teenage music – 70s, 80s, 90s. Now it’s hip hop and rap. All teenagers love their music and love to dance. Teens were different in every era. Yet they were all the same.

(Sources: full credit must be given to Julian J. Sadlowski who did the majority research on the dance halls and published it in his book, Pictorial Story of North Battleford; Gordon Parkinson, City of North Battleford Historic Archives; City of North Battleford Historic Archives; Canada’s Historic Places; John Sendecki; personal experiences)

 

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