On The Waterfront

      Last fall I attended a museum exhibit called On The Waterfront, where they displayed a number of old photos and postcards of the waterfront from days gone by.   I thought I might share a few of these, for those interested in history and vintage memorabilia.      

Grand Bend Beach Beauties

In this postcard, we see swimmers enjoying the beach in Grand Bend in the 1920’s.  One hundred years later, it remains a popular beach resort, but my how bathing suits have changed, although these may have seemed daring in the flapper era.  

On the Waterfront - Grand Bend Dance Pavilion

Imagine paying five cents for a dance – if you ran out of money, you were done for the night and maybe went for a moonlight stroll instead! 

Many of the waterfront amusements then involved dance halls or pavilions which attracted people for the nighttime entertainment, as much as the beaches did during the day. 

On the Waterfront - Dance Pavilion - Stag Island

My great-grandmother lived across the river from this resort and dance pavilion.  One of my father’s earliest memories was of hearing the music floating across the water while being babysat – with the probability of a cookie and a reassurance that his parents were not too far away.   Built in the the early 19th century, it hosted parties coming down river on  steamships to attend the dances and stay at the hotels and cottages.  Long torn down, it is now the site of a private clubhouse with a beautiful wood floor which would make a perfect dance floor. 

On the Waterfront steamship

Before there were bridges and motorcars, you, and your horse and carriage, could also hop on the ferry to get to the party.  

On the Waterfront - Ferry with Horse

Fast forward to the Big Band era…

Kenwick on the Lake

Care to jitterbug anyone?

When my parents were dating in the late 1940’s, they attended the Big Band dances at this venue on the shores of Lake Huron.  Opened in 1946, it had an outdoor dance floor, as dancing under the stars was very popular back then.   It attracted big name bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Louis Armstrong, and Glen Miller who played to crowds of up to 3,000 on weekends.   My mother recalls going for a hamburger and a Coke at a nearby diner after the dance – hamburgers were 25 cents, a sum they could barely afford. 

Moonlight Serenade – by Glen Miller and his Orchestra

Kenwick Pat Boone (4)

By the 1950’s as musical tastes shifted, it attracted the likes of rock and roll’s Bill Haley and the popular crooner Pat Boone.  I’m certain my parents did not attend this crowded Pat Boone concert, as I was born a few days later.    

By the 1960’s when we used to picnic in the park there on summer Sundays, there was nothing left of it but some broken cement from the dance floor and a few crumbling walls.  Now, it’s a tennis court, with a historical plaque marking the site, although a few years ago they held The Simply White Dinner (link) there, and dancing under the stars resumed for one enchanted evening. 

When we see pictures of young people congregating on the beach this summer, partying and having fun in the midst of a pandemic, it seems crazy, but youth is ever optimistic.   Although, looking back at these old photos, it does seem a much more romantic time.  Perhaps music and moonlight never go out of date.       



22 thoughts on “On The Waterfront

  1. Jo Shafer says:

    “Those Were the Days . . .” as an old song from the ’60s goes. And Pat Boone looked like a high school sweetheart. But I especially enjoy seeing the pictures from the 1920s and 1930s era, one of my favorite periods of pop culture. Thank you for this glance into the nostalgic past.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Jo. I remember that song from the 60’s too – Mary Hopkin. In fact I still have it on my 60’s Playlist on my IPod. I have a lot of oldies but goodies, and a couple of Pat Boone songs too as I always liked “April Love”. I wonder if anyone will be looking back at 2020 a hundred years from now and what they will think? Esp. as no one prints photos anymore….

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Linda Schaub says:

    In the neighborhood forum on Facebook, people have posted pictures of Elizabeth Park from many years ago. The photos are all sepia-toned and show the ladies in their long skirts and big hats enjoying a picnic lunch. Very fun pictures to look at there and here in your post as well. I love vintage photos. When I was a kid we used to take a ferry boat ride to Centre Island and have a picnic lunch there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      Our historical society was having a Zoom web thing last week about summer activities from years gone by…..but I had already drafted this post from my museum visit. Maybe next year….they said they would make it available on youtube for everyone to view at some point. Is Centre Island near Boblo Island?

      Liked by 2 people

      • Linda Schaub says:

        That sounds fun and we have a video that I’ve seen on social media about Detroit in its heyday and they mention going to Boblo Island. I never went to Boblo Island when I was younger. People used to get on the two Boblo boats and cruise on over there and spend the day picnicking and on the rides and such. Centre Island is not far from Toronto and we went on a boat – I said a ferry, but I don’t think we took a car on the boat with us. It looks like they still have trips to Centre Island leaving from Toronto. I was just Googling around to see if they had vintage shots of Centre Island but could find any from my childhood era. I have two B&W photos taken of a day there – my mom and me and her friend with her children. We were having a picnic and in the water. My mom’s friend lost her son in a motorcycle accident. He was hit by a woman with MS who had a restricted license and was not supposed to drive at night. She was out at night and hit/killed him. We had pictures of Bruce as a child and sent them to her … she had taken very few photos of the kids so she was happy for the shots. She used to board babies from the Children’s Aid to make money. She had two kids of her own and ended up adopting five of those kids she took care of and so picture-taking was a luxury and expensive back then.


      • Joni says:

        Oh I thought there was a Centre Island in Michigan. I’ve been to Centre Island near Toronto twice, once the summer I worked in Toronto after graduating, and once in 2nd year as part of frosh orientation week we had a day trip there. Yes, you go over on the ferry but no cars on it as I recall. My younger brother had a class trip in grade 8 to Boblo Island, as I remember it as having rides. It seemed like a fun trip as opposed to my grade 8 class trip which was to Flint Michigan if you can believe it to tour a car plant and a planetarium – we were bored to tears.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        We do have many little islands along the Detroit River … the biggest one is Grosse Ile and there are 11 others besides that. All but Grosse Ile are uninhabited. When I went on that Detroit River 2-hour cruise, we went past the old Boblo Island which they now call Bois Blanc. I can’t remember what was there – I did see some big boats docked along there, but we just went past and didn’t get close to it. I never went to Boblo Island as we didn’t move here til I was 10 … it has been closed quite a while and there are the two Boblo boats. One is in NY or somewhere on the East Coast being refurbished and the other boat was damaged during a fire last year. A local entrepreneur bought the remaining Boblo boat and intended to turn it into a floating restaurant and he’d done lots of work on it and it was almost ready to open, when some contractors that were working on the boat had a spark from their machinery (a torch maybe?) got on some wood (they were trying to preserve as much of the original boat as possible) and it burned out of control. I think the whole Boblo trip was geared for kids, from the ferry boat to the amusement park. We went to the Detroit Zoo twice in ninth grade. That trip to Flint sounds boring … I think that Flint auto plant had something to do with the Flint Water Crisis – maybe fluids from cars going into the water. There was some connection there. My trip to Centre Island was so long ago – I see the few pictures about that day, but it doesn’t stand out in my mind for some reason – too young I guess.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ally Bean says:

    A charming glimpse into the past. How fun it would have been a flapper during the 1920s. Those swimsuits are the bee’s knees. I like Glenn Miller today, so to have heard him live would also have been wonderful. I like your last sentence. It’s the truth, isn’t it?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Annie! I’m glad to know there are still Glenn Miller fans around. That is one of the few things I know about my great-grandmother – that she made good cookies. But isn’t that true of every grandmother! I suppose that is why the memory stuck out in his mind as she would point across the river where the music was coming from and tell him that’s where his parents were at the dance.


  4. Anne says:

    What an interesting read: times change – yet they don’t – as you rightly point out at the end. I hope young people will rediscover the joys of simple entertaining as opposed to clubs etc. Passed a neighbour’s home yesterday and they were having a lovely get-together with friends on their front lawn (we have only recently been allowed to visit friends and family), all of whom waved happily – filled with the joy have being able to simply enjoy company once more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I think the problem is more the sheer number of young people socializing on the beaches, parks and clubs etc. It’s wall to wall people….hopefully that will stop now that the weather is turning cooler. I don’t understand the club scene anyway as that rap music is anything but romantic….I was going to add that in my post, but edited it out.


  5. J P says:

    A lovely batch of memories. Big dances seem to have always been a draw for young people, only the music and the kinds of venues have changed.

    Glenn Miller was the most popular band around in the late prewar years and it remained a going concern under different leaders after Miller went missing in the war. I have mixed feelings about those “estate bands”. They supply the “greatest hits” the fans love, but any growth and innovation comes to a stop. Of course that can happen to groups whose leaders/members remain active too.

    I can’t say I was ever much of a Pat Boone fan, but he sure had a long and successful career (which relatively few popular musicians can say).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Well JP I learned something new today. I did not know Glenn Miller had died in WW2 – I just googled some history. There are large gaps in my music knowledge, despite having a Big Band playlist on my IPod. I assumed it was him playing at the lake venue but it would have been an estate or tribute band as you say. The lake dance pavilion opened in 1946, so my parents would have attended in the late 40’s to early 50’s. They got married in 1952, but had a long engagement as my dads parents were both elderly and sick and died the same year in 1951 and he had to pay off all the hospital bills etc so he had very little money. The same guy who had the lake dance venue also owned another dance hall in the city called The Terrace and it opened in 1943 with Louie Armstrong as the opening act. My mother also remembers going to that venue as well, although she didn’t have any particular recollection other than it was a big upstairs room with a wood floor with a grocery store underneath on the bottom level. I have an older friend who remembers working at the concession stand in the 60’s making milkshakes just before it closed – it was her first summer job – I think they were showcasing minor rock bands by then.

      Liked by 1 person

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