In its heyday, the Kincardine Beach Pavilion, shown here in the early 1950s, was touted as having the best dance floor on Lake Huron. Of the seven dance halls that dotted the shoreline of Lake Huron in the first half of the 20th century, only the Kincardine pavilion remains. The dance hall was close to being demolished in 2004, when a termite infestation was discovered.

Guy Lombardo would love it!
Heritage dance hall in Kincardine restored to its former glory

Is that live Big Band music wafting out the open windows of the Kincardine Beach Pavilion after all these years?  If you haven’t been down to the beach here for a while, don’t be surprised if you’re transported back to the days of Guy Lombardo, non-stop dancing and first kisses.  

Thanks to the Friends of the Pavilion, a group of dedicated volunteers who worked tirelessly to restore the historic hall back to its former glory, dancing and falling in love are back in style on the shores of Lake Huron.  

“This is it,” says Barb Fisher, referring to the 1923 pavilion as the last dance hall still in business of seven that dotted the Lake Huron shoreline in the first half of the 20th century.  

While the Kincardine Beach Pavilion was officially reopened in April 2008 after more than a year of renovation work, the $1-million overhaul was not completed until July 2010, when a new outdoor patio overlooking the lake was added.  

The pavilion itself boasts a dance floor twice the original size, thanks to an addition around the entire original structure.

It was back in 1922 that George Conley, a local architect and builder, decided that the old agricultural building at Connaught Park fell short as a dance hall. He set to work designing the Kincardine Beach Pavilion, and helped to pay for its construction. The official opening was held in July 1923.

In its heyday, the pavilion was touted as having the best dance floor on Lake Huron. Made up of three layers of wood, the floor was sprinkled with cornmeal before the dances to keep feet gliding smoothly and to act as a protective coat, along with the shaved paraffin wax that was applied over the top hardwood layer. Admission to the pavilion back in the early days was a mere 15 cents, but going for a spin on that beautiful dance floor would cost you an extra five cents.  

Popular with brides and grooms

Today, the pavilion is home to a variety of events, with wedding receptions filling the dance hall during the prime summer months. In fact, word of the hall’s refurbishment has spread so far that brides and grooms from as far away as Windsor and Toronto are booking their marriage parties at the Kincardine Beach Pavilion.  

“We had 28 weddings in 2010 and next year, all but two weekends are already booked for the prime summer months — and all without advertising,” says Fisher, who adds that music-themed fundraisers, such as the annual Canadian Sunset Gala in May, will round out the rest of the year’s calendar.  

“The community is loving it,” Fisher says of the new-and-improved pavilion. “People are supporting it, but we still need to wipe out a debt of $350,000.”  

Although the town of Kincardine owns the pavilion property — Fisher estimates it is now worth $1.4 million on the open real estate market — it is leased to the Friends of the Pavilion, a non-profit group whose volunteer board of directors is in charge of its operation.  

When the Friends assumed the lease in 2000, it never expected to find itself in the position of begging council to save the pavilion from the wrecking ball. But that’s exactly what happened in 2004, when it was discovered that the building, which because of its lakeside location had been shored up with gravel and stone many times in its history, was infested with termites. That discovery put on hold the group’s application for government grants to fully restore the pavilion, and put in motion plans by the municipality to tear down the walls and carry out a controlled burn to ensure termites did not spread to neighbouring properties.  

In the end, the Friends convinced council that termite treatment could be done without destroying the historic building. The grant application was made, the termites were sent packing and the restoration project began.  

While the bulk of the renovation cost was financed through various provincial government programs, with the town contributing $125,000, the Friends found itself short $350,000 in the end. With a promise from the Friends that the pavilion could be turned into a paying proposition, the town in 2009 agreed to lend the group the money, to be paid off over 10 years.  

Fisher is counting on public support for the fundraising dance events to help pay that off much sooner. “We’d love to wipe out that $350,000 debt in a year,” she says with a note of optimism.  

Take a trip down memory lane at Canadian Sunset Gala

The major fundraiser, held the first Saturday in May, is the Canadian Sunset Gala, with 200 tickets selling for $100 each. Tax receipts are available. The annual gala, featuring cocktails, dinner and an evening of dancing to the music of the Lighthouse Swing Band, is the type of event that is bringing back so many memories for area residents.  

“So many people over the past two years have talked about how they had their first kiss at the pavilion, or about that first dance, or stories about marriage proposals,” says Fisher. “Recently, seniors from area retirement homes were bused in for a Rotary Club picnic at the pavilion — there were about 125 of them and they were all talking about all the happy memories there. This was really a destination point for Bruce County.”  

The Kincardine Beach Pavilion is among those cherished dance halls of the past whose stories are recounted in Let’s Dance: A Celebration of Ontario’s Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions. “For 80 years, the Kincardine Pavilion has sat on the town’s beach, surviving July’s blistering heat and January’s northwest gales,” author Peter Young wrote in 2002. “The Kincardine Pavilion is the only hall of its kind still operating along this stretch of Lake Huron. It has been partially renovated in recent years and hosts occasional functions, but requires further attention if it is to survive.”  

Backed by the Friends of the Pavilion, the Kincardine dance hall has survived. It’s now back in full swing, lovingly restored and brought up to modern standards, with new memories waiting to be created on the dance floor and out on the patio under the stars.  

You can help keep the pavilion alive for another century or more by supporting the Friends’ fundraising events, including the May gala. Check out the Kincardine Beach Pavilion website for more information, or call the pavilion at 519-386-9933 for ticket information. — August 2010