Antler Lodge opened its doors for the first time on Friday evening, May 14th 1954. Admission was seventy-five cents, and they featured round and square dancing to live bands.
One of the opening acts at the Lodge was Lee Miller’s Orchestra, and they delighted the crowds weekend after weekend, for much of that first summer. Naturally, being a new venue, young people, and even some not-so-young people flocked to see the new Antler Lodge. There were curious tourists as well, who came to check out the newest dance hall in the region, and it became ‘the place to go’ in the summer of ’54. When the perennially popular Rideau Ferry Regatta wound down on the August long weekend, the Lodge became the hot-spot for the in-crowds, a place to mingle and mix, with some new faces, and the old familiar faces as well. Antler Lodge was a hit.
Dick and Margaret McLean, the owners of Antler Lodge, must have been pleased that first summer. Their new business was booming, a crowd-pleasing attraction, where people could gather together, dance, socialize, and enjoy some live country music.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Antler Lodge would have ever existed, if Margaret and Dick hadn’t got together back in 1939. They were both local kids from Rideau Ferry. Margaret, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Jackson, and Richard, the son of Mr. and Mrs. James McLean
The McLean’s new business Antler Lodge would become an endearing and memorable place for so many, in the decades that followed.
As those first long, hot, summer weekends at Antler Lodge unfolded, the familiar strains of down-home country fiddling escaped the confines of the rustic wooden structure, and echoed over the fields, and across the Rideau lakes. Melodies from Hank Snow, Ray Price and Webb Pierce, played by local bands, filled the wooden rafters of the homespun Lodge, with hit after hit of trendy country and western tunes. The dancing went on until the wee hours; romances blossomed, and hearts were broken, to the tunes of Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold. The parking lot was crammed with vehicles from Perth, Smiths Falls, Brockville, and even as far away as Kingston. Pretty girls posed demurely beside their date’s cars, decked out in pedal pushers or full skirts, flirting with their beaus, who sported narrow jeans, or pleated trousers. Shiny glass bottles of beer and liquor appeared from their hiding spots, tucked away, hidden carefully in glove boxes and trunks, and kisses were stolen in this parking lot, known to the neighbourhood teens as the passion pit.
Some kids hung out at the Rideau Ferry Inn, just up the road, but there was something about Antler Lodge; it was cozy, more intimate, more like a house party. The inside was spartan, unrefined, with exposed wooden beams, and a huge set of antlers mounted on the wall, above a homey, unpretentious, stone fireplace. In this casual, laid-back atmosphere, the lighting above the dance floor glowed soft, muted; perfect for swaying close, in dimly lit corners, and for long, steady, gazes into the eyes of a dance partner.
One of the first wedding receptions held at Antler Lodge was on October 19, 1955 as they played host to the delightful newlyweds Helen Kehoe and Tom Kerr. Helen was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Kehoe of Perth, and Thomas was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Kerr of Stanleyville. The colourful autumn leaves set the stage for the joyful wedding, at St. John’s Church in Perth, officiated by Father Farrell. Shirley Anne Kehoe, the bride’s pretty sister, was the maid of honour, and the lovely Monica Kerr was her bridesmaid. At the groom’s side, stood his best man and brother, Walter Kerr, and his charming ushers escorting guests to their seats at St. John’s Church that day, were Pat Kehoe and Pat Kerr. Following the wedding, an elegant dinner was served in the Blue Room, at the Perth Hotel; and one of the highlights of this special day, was a memorable reception, at none other than Antler Lodge.
On June 12th 1956, Antler Lodge played host to a very special retirement party, for one of the area’s longest serving, and most respected municipal clerks – Roy Darou. An enthusiastic crowd of over 200 well-wishers and supporters, mostly citizens of North Elmsley Township, gathered to pay tribute to this local legend. Roy, a dedicated worker, had served the township faithfully, holding the same office for over forty years. There were glowing speeches that evening by Reeve James Coutts, appreciative tributes by Councillor Ferguson McVeety, many gifts, and warm wishes, from all who had gathered there. This was one of the earliest of such notable celebrations, to be held at the Lodge, in the coming decades.
Competition remained steady in the dance hall business throughout the summer of ’58, and ABC Hall in Bolingbroke began featuring bands every Friday night, advertising a variety of tempting refreshments, along with music by Lockwood’s Orchestra. At the Agricultural Hall in McDonald’s Corners, dances were usually held on Saturdays, and often their music was supplied by popular local group – Bill Hannah and the Nightingales. The admission price was considerably lower than the other halls, at the bargain-basement price of fifty cents for the evening. To remain competitive, Antler Lodge held a special Midnight Frolic, on Sunday August 3rd from 12:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m., drawing huge crowds of racers and boating enthusiasts, following the annual Rideau Ferry Regatta.
Rideau Ferry Regatta
In the spring of 1959, Antler Lodge raised the bar for their opening dance of the season by featuring music by the famed Country Hoppers, stars of CKWS radio, Channel 11 TV, and RCA Victor records. They also increased the price of admission, and began to enforce a strict ‘no leather jackets or boots admitted’ policy, to discourage unsavory types from attending their dances, and causing trouble.
The Country Hoppers had a steady gig at the Lodge for the entire summer of ’59, and all through the cottage season in 1960 as well. People for miles around flocked to hear the sounds of country and western music, mingle, drink, and dance the night away.
1961 would see an even greater increase in the popularity of area dance halls, and there were no less than eight local venues featuring live bands. The Stanley Lodge in Lanark constructed a new wooden dance platform, and hosted the Haylofters of CJOH TV, as well as the much sought after Ottawa Valley Melodiers.
John ‘Mac’ Beattie, Arnprior native, led the Melodiers, a legendary Ottawa Valley band on drums and vocals, with Reg Hill on fiddle, Garnet Scheel on guitar, Gaetan Fairfield on rhythm guitar, and Bob Whitney on saxophone. The band performed for decades, and released a total of seven albums, mostly in the 1960s.
Left – front – Maurice Charon and Horace Blanchette; centre row, Garnet Scheel, Barbara Ann Scott -drums, Karen Shaw, Mac Beattie, Maisy Billings,Gaetan Fairfield
Max Keeping, CJOH TV – introducing Mac Beattie
At McDonald’s Corners, music lovers could enjoy the sounds of the Country Rockets, playing weekends at the Agricultural Hall, and the Maberly Agricultural Hall featured Kenny Jackson’s Valley Cruisers. The Valley Cruisers had a distinctive country sound, highlighted by masterful fiddler Kenny Jackson, and polished performer Harry Adrain on guitar and vocals. The gifted Raymond ‘Raymie’ Donaldson played lead guitar, with the powerful strumming of Gary Barr on rhythm guitar, rounding out this dynamic group.
At Scott’s Ballroom in Westport, they featured round and square dancing, to the sounds of Fred Paquin’s Orchestra. Kingston native Don Cochrane got his start in the Fred Paquin Orchestra, as a teenager. Don would go on to collaborate on songs recorded by the Mercey Brothers, and would record two albums of his own music as well.
During that summer, Barker’s on Hwy 15, Otter Lake had music by Ron McMunn and his Country Cousins. Ron McMunn, or The Silver Fox, as he was known, hailed from Clayton, and in 1954, Ron formed the Country Cousins. His band performed live on CJET radio in Smiths Falls every Saturday night for over a decade and this set the stage for their tremendous popularity in local venues in the years that followed.
Ron McMunn ‘The Silver Fox’
At the Fallbrook Orange Hall, the Mississippi River Boys provided the weekend entertainment, and at Antler Lodge, the Country Hoppers enjoyed their third steady year of regular engagements.
Early in that summer of 1961, the owners of Antler Lodge – Mr. and Mrs. Richard ‘Dick’ McLean announced the forthcoming marriage of their daughter Helen Isobel, to Mr. William Donald Robert ‘Don’ Halpenny. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. R. Anson Halpenny, and hailed from Easton’s Corners. The marriage took place on July 7, at St. James Anglican Church in Perth.
Later, that same summer, Antler Lodge hosted former Perth High School classmates as they celebrated their Class of’44 reunion.
Following a tasty turkey supper at the Rideau Ferry Inn, everyone drove up the road to the Lodge for some live music and square dancing. It was a night to remember, and Gordon Mather was an entertaining Master of Ceremonies. There was a good turnout with Mr. and Mrs. Frank Frizell (Dorothy Ferguson), Bill Thomas, Mr. and Mrs. Willard Shaw (Vivian Greenley) , Dr. and Mrs. C. Campbell (Mary Ewart), Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Elliot (Kaye Ferguson), Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Mather, George Findlay, Mr. and Mrs. Ken Buchanan (Evelyn Radford), Mr. and Mrs. Don Goodfellow (Doreen Marcellin) Mr. and Mrs. Fred Guarino (Mid Stewart), Mr. and Mrs. Ron Thompson (Bette Oakes), Mrs. F. Cohis (Maxine Ramsbottom), Mr. and Mrs. George Leonard, Mr. and Mrs. Don Campbell (Marg Quartermain), Mr. and Mrs. T. Rockburn (Clara McInnis)
Several prizes were awarded during the evening: Man with the baldest head – Willard Shaw, runner-up Gordon Mather, Couple married the longest – Mr. and Mrs. Ken Buchanan, Couple married the shortest time – Bernard and Kaye Elliot, Couple travelling the longest distance – Mr. and Mrs. C. Cameron, Couple with an anniversary – Mr. and Mrs. Fred Guarino, and last, but not least – a prize for a bachelor – George Finlay.
The Country Hoppers, formerly known as the Riders of the Southern Trail, were a tremendously popular band, drawing large crowds from Carleton Place, Smiths Falls and Perth; and they became the regular weekend entertainment at Antler Lodge from 1962 through to 1966. Their first album ‘The Country Kid’ was released in 1962 and included performances by Davey Gibbs, Garry ‘Gizz’ Watt, Fred ‘Pappy’ Ryan, Paul ‘Hiker’ Gurry, and Larry ‘Dooley’ Protheroe. The Country Hoppers were known for their versatility and could play country fiddle tunes, honky-tonk, ballads, and square dance music as well.
In the fall of ‘64, the Appleton Junior Farmers held a dance at the Lodge, featuring the Happy Wanderers. The Happy Wanderers, an Ottawa group, were immensely popular with teens, and had a regular show, every Saturday night, at the Carleton Place Town Hall. Ken Reynolds, Ward Allen, Bob King, Vince Lebeau, Joe Brown, and Lynn Strauff, formed the original CFRA Happy Wanderers, and they became one of the most popular acts in the Ottawa Valley.
They were also featured on a weekly half-hour show, on CFRA radio, broadcast across the Valley. When they played Antler Lodge, they brought special guests Marie King, Barry and Lawanda Brown. Bob Livingston kept the evening’s dancers moving around the floor like clockwork, as the caller for the square dancing.
A few years later, Barry and Lawanda, along with their father Joe, and their sister Tracey, would form The Family Brown, which included masterful lead guitarist Dave Dennison, and accomplished drummer, and capable band manager Ron Sparling.
The Family Brown
Another talented group drawing crowds to the Lodge that year was the Country Harmony Boys. During the later part of ’64, Antler Lodge also featured the Top Hats and the Travelons.
By 1968 Antler Lodge had an established house band that entertained the crowds every Saturday night, during the entire cottage season. The Country Harmony Boys were a polished group of talented local musicians, and they drew the masses, young and old, to the Lodge, for their weekly fill of square dancing tunes.
Meanwhile, some of the other area dance halls were booming as well, and the popular Balderson Hall often featured Bill Munro and his Country Rockets, or Don Gilchrist and his Dancers, and they kept these cozy venues hopping until the wee hours. Donnie Gilchrist, a talented showman, was born in Campbell’s Bay. At one point in his career, he teamed up with the very capable Joan Ann Jamieson, and went on to become one of the legendary step-dancers of his time. He later caught the attention of Frank Ryan, founder of CFRA radio station, who helped to promote him on the local airwaves. Don rose from his humble beginnings in local dance halls, and went on to perform in 24 countries around the world, and even appeared on numerous TV specials.
Don Gilchrist, legendary step-dancer
Frank Ryan of CFRA was key in promoting many of the local Ottawa Valley bands and helping them to succeed in a very competitive industry.
CFRA’s Frank Ryan
Because of their location, ABC Hall in Bolingbroke often had acts come in from the city of Kingston. One of the more sought-after bands in the summer of ’68 was Mallen’s Melodiers, playing both modern pop, and square dancing tunes. Not to be outdone, the hall at McDonald’s Corners regularly featured crowd-pleasing music by Symington’s Orchestra, for the very competitive admission price of seventy-five cents.
Antler Lodge hosted yet another high-profile wedding reception, when Beryl Kehoe married Robert Orok. On July 31st at St. John’s Church in Perth, Beryl, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lambert Kehoe of Rideau Ferry, became Mrs. Robert Orok. Robert’s parents Fred and Mona Orok were the founders and owners of the flourishing Orok’s Hardware Store in Lanark, and were well known and respected in the area. Rev. B.F. O’Neil made the journey all the way from Brockville to officiate the wedding. Highlights of the ceremony included memorable music, played by talented organist Mrs. Robert McTavish, and a heartfelt solo sung by the gifted David St. Onge.
Standing up with Beryl was dear friend Kathryn Campbell, Maid of Honour, and two lovely Bridesmaids – Darlene Beveridge and Judith Orok. William Neilson was the dashing best man, accompanied by two charming ushers, Richard Kellar and Bernard Kehoe. Two delightful youngsters taking part in the ceremony were Alison Kerr, the bride’s cousin as flower girl, and small, but capable Conrad Potvin had the all-important task of ring-bearer.
While Antler Lodge was growing in popularity during the ‘50s and ‘60s, there was an undeniable musical revolution taking place in England; and the distinctive beat of rock and roll music was spreading across the ocean, to North America. It was called the British Invasion, and groups like The Beatles, The Dave Clark Five, The Kinds, The Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits and The Who, began to get air-time on Canadian radio stations. By the mid 1960s rock and roll was dominating the local airwaves, and by the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, many young people followed the trendy new music, and wanted to hear rock music played live in local venues.
Antler Lodge had always been a country music venue. The rustic, intimate, hall, attracted large, enthusiastic crowds, with their talented live bands, and memorable evenings of western-style square dancing. As more and more young people gravitated toward rock and roll music, the crowds at the nearby Rideau Ferry Inn began to grow in leaps and bounds. The Rideau Ferry Inn featured live rock and roll bands, or disc jockeys, and by the late 1960s and early 1970s enjoyed the lion’s share of the weekend business. Country and western music, during those years, lost its appeal with the majority of the young crowds; although it remained as well-loved as ever, with the older generation.
Rideau Ferry Inn
The once hugely popular country dance hall was simply not able to compete with the cutting-edge music at the Rideau Ferry Inn, or the latest rock groups playing at the Perth arena or Farrell Hall, like Max Webster, April Wine and Lighthouse. The declining business continued to operate on a smaller scale through the summer of 1975, but by August of 1976 Antler Lodge had given up, locked its doors, and was up for sale. A small ad in the real estate section of the “Perth Courier” was published on Thursday, August 5th: “Antler Lodge, Rideau Ferry, approx 6 miles from Perth. Stone fireplace, maple floor, stage and lunch counter.” Two years later, in 1978, the Lodge was still for sale – “This once thriving lodge is situated on a one acre lot. Inquire today. $35,000.”
It was shortly after midnight on Friday, October 9, 1981, when the Bathurst, Burgess, Drummond and North Elmsley (BBDE) Fire Department received the call. According to Fire Chief Harold Jordan, flames were shooting through the roof of Antler Restaurant, within six minutes of the call. Eighteen local fire fighters responded to the call, bravely battling thick smoke and hot, scorching flames; but according to Harold, “We couldn’t save anything.”
Perth Courier, October 9, 1981
“The local fire department was unable to establish the cause of the blaze, and it remains a mystery why the Ontario Fire Marshals were never called in to investigate the source of the fire that completely leveled Antler Lodge.”
** The fact that there was never an investigation into the cause of the fire that destroyed this beloved dance hall, remains a mystery even today!
photos of Antler Lodge, used with permission – Graeme Hoatson Beattie
(this story is an excerpt from the book ‘Lanark County Connections: Memories Among the Maples’ – available online or in local stores. ISBN-9780987702647)
For more information on dance halls and musicians in Lanark County: