As a high school graduate with an enviable job at The Review, I enjoyed my newfound freedom in my very own apartment, with my very own salary and weekends of socializing always ahead. As someone who “stayed behind” while everyone else seemed to be at university, I looked forward to weekends when at least a few of my peers were in town. I began going out on the weekends.
During the week, I felt like I had joined an older working crowd, learning the ropes of my new job, where the work we did was printed and there was hell to pay if we got things wrong. On the weekends, I left Vankleek Hill’s Main Street behind and headed to the local watering holes, to sit and talk, or dance, or both. Just this week, it occurred to me how many of these places are gone. Why, we could spend an entire evening going from place to place without visiting all of them.
As I recall, for my group, at least–it wasn’t so much about drinking alcohol but about the fun times we spent together. I miss those carefree weekends that were all about spending time with people who liked the 21-year-old unambitious me. We connected by telephone to see who was home before deciding who was driving and where we would go.
We were interested in each other and we all seemed to have so much to say.
Hawkesbury’s Main Street offered the Bridge Inn, which we considered a pretty tame stop, with tables that offered the novelty of (rudimentary by today’s standards) built-in electronic PacMan games. Only at some of the tables, of course.
Across the street, we might catch Pete Paquette Sr. playing and singing for what we thought was an “older crowd” at the Roman Room, owned by Vic Spina. Fancy white leather swivel chairs made this more of a classy stop.
On McGill Street, there was the Holiday (not to be confused with the Holiday Inn), where bands from out of town played R & B cover tunes of current hits. Think Earth Wind and Fire, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, the Commodores and the BeeGees. The big room was a gathering place every Friday and Saturday for perhaps 100 young people. Busy bartenders never stopped. It was so crowded that wait staff could hardly get through with trays of drinks,
That was Ontario, of course. As the night wore on, the wave of young people would cross the bridge to visit a whole round of new stops. The Century Inn in Grenville was another huge attraction, with a big dance floor. From time to time, fights would break out and the dancing would stop if the fight got in the way.
From Grenville, it was a short drive to the York, in Calumet, for more dancing.
It seemed that each of these places offered something different. It was hard to visit each one before Quebec’s closing time of 3 am. I forgot to mention two other establishments in Grenville: the Long Sault (which had only a jukebox during my time) and the Manoir, which wasn’t a place for us, nor was Soumis, which used to be at the foot of the old Perley Bridge (which preceded the Long Sault Bridge).
Further up in the mountains was the Sportsman Inn and the Pine Hill Hotel, to name a few local favourites. The Sportsman Inn was a large place with a country flavour. I remember the long bar and the wagon wheel light fixtures. A latecomer to these weekend outings, the Sportsman had become legend when I was in high school. There was good music from the likes of Family Brown, and tables filled with people who knew each other, all hosted by the Prophets. It felt like we were in good hands, somehow.
Having lived through that social scene, it was hard not to notice that while most people were reasonable about alcohol consumption, some were not. I don’t think that this area holds the record for alcohol consumption, but we are up there. You can earn the distinction of being a prude or a stuffed shirt to eschew alcohol, or to question certain events where we all know consumption goes over the top. Alcohol spills its dangers into prom parties, grad parties and the house parties that happen when parents are on vacation.
I wasn’t a wild one. But I saw and heard about things that scared me. Those things were top of mind when my daughter started going out with her friends. I soon realized that I had to trust her decisions.
We aren’t about to reintroduce prohibition (we tried that in Ontario between 1916 and 1927). And this isn’t about judgment. If we can get through this life while staying out of harm’s and if we can avoid hurting others, that’s something. If we can have empathy for those who have lost their way and can offer a helping hand, that’s even better.
I am grateful for the friends I had then and for the friends I have today. Here’s to the wisdom gathered in the shelter of each other as we continue this dance called life.