They held a fight and a dance broke out
“Tell it all. Tell it just the way it was.” That has been the advice given to me when pondering if I should tell about the Singhampton dances in the 1950s.
I have hesitated to tell all. I don’t want the readers of The Echo to think my generation were a bunch of wild hoodlums. But I have been assured by a reputable source that the generations that followed have similar tales. No doubt they were before as well.
The Singhampton dances were held in Hammill’s Hall, which was torn down in 1978. It was upstairs in a building that once stood beside Mylar and Loreta’s restaurant.
The ground floor of the building housed a store and the post office. To get to the hall it was necessary to go around to the back where the hall was accessed up a long flight of stairs.
For dances, Jack and Mary Hammill sat at the top and gathered the 50-cent admission fee. One then turned to the left, entered a room where coats and boots were left. On the wall was a large mirror which may be seen today on the south wall of Mylar and Loreta’s restaurant. A few feet further was the entrance to the dance floor which was claimed to be the best dance floor north of Toronto. At the front was an ample stage.
The hall, built in the late 1800s, saw many village activities. Dances were frequent, also box socials and school Christmas concerts.
A story has come down to us about a man at a box social who bid $30 on a box lunch when the going rate was $2-$3. As a result he impressed a young lady so much she became his bride.
In 1921, the Twelfth of July or the Orangemen’s big day, was held in Singhampton. The village was decorated almost beyond recognition with cedar arches. Refreshment stands were set up. The parade was held in the afternoon accompanied with fife and drum bands. To complete the day a dance was held in Hammill’s Hall. The orchestra had string and wind instruments and a vocalist sang such songs as, “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” In 1934 a celebration was held for W. L. Taylor who was being honoured as the newly elected Warden of Grey County. The program was impromtu. They sang, they danced, then someone was asked to give a speech and then they danced and sang some more. A beautiful supper was served and then they danced again.
But what about the fighting remembered so well by many of us? To describe it I have to digress for a while.
It is necessary to explain the liquor laws of the mid 1900s. Alcohol was strictly controlled. A person had to be 21 before being issued a permit to buy.
The nearest sales outlet was Collingwood and in those days it wasn’t easy to get to that town. Not everyone had a car. Often the roads were rough and muddy and in the winter impassable. But where there’s a will there’s a way.
Bootleggers were conveniently found in most localities. (And that’s another story.)
Big brothers would buy supplies for the teenagers around. Places where alcohol could be consumed were strictly enforced. This meant that people illegally drank in their cars. At dances or other events friends slipped out to a car and had a drink or two.
Fueled by such refreshments many young men were ready to take on the world. Small groups from outlying communities would arrive with the attitude, “Our guys are tougher than your guys.” These young roosters were not interested in finding a nice girl to dance with.
At most Saturday dances a fight would break out in mid floor, mid dance. Two fighters would glare at one another, snarling threats and clenching fists which were apt to fly any minute. As dancers we stayed clear. Friends would come to help while one or two of the combatants would leave. By the time the fight ended different people completely were involved. The music would stop. The young men pulled combs out of their back pockets, hair was combed and normalcy reigned.
Sometimes the fighters didn’t reach the dance floor. A fracas would break out in the entrance hall near the top of the stairs. The pair would lose balance and tumble down the stairs. End of fight. One night a big scrap broke out outside near the entrance door. A woman associated with the hall climbed up on an upper level and threw a pail or two of cold water on the melee. Again, end of fight. It has been said that often these fights ended in handshakes.
For the 90 per cent of us, or more, we attended the dances to dance. No slow stuff for us and no sitting around on chairs. We liked the lively country music of the time and most of all, square dances. Each of the three square dances in the evening had three changes. Participating in all three was the equivalent of running from Singhampton to Glen Huron, and back.
Those of us who were there have an abundance of happy memories. The fights were just a little exciting sideshow.
And just for the record, I’ve been told that quite a few young people met their life partners there.
A big thank you to all the people who generously shared their memories and helped straighten out some of my confusion.
Trina Berlo photo: James and Georgina Rigney with author Helen Blackburn in front of the mirror that hung at Hammill’s Hall in Singhampton, where they used to attend some wild dances. The mirror is now hanging at Mylar and Loreta’s restaurant.