There’ll be no dancing under the stars at the Burlington waterfront this summer after the City of Burlington withdrew funding to support an evening of nostalgic music, held for the last eight years to commemorate the Brant Inn.
The famous nightspot, which closed in 1964, was a stopover for all the major entertainment figures touring North America like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Guy Lombardo, Tommy Dorsey, Andy Williams, Nat King Cole, Xavier Cugat, Duke Ellington, and even Liberace
Robert Tang of the Dancescape dance studio, which volunteered dance lessons, said the City contributed between $2,000 and $3,000 a year when the event was launched in 2006, but in the last couple of years that was boosted to between $6,000 and $8,000
Instead, an evening of entertainment is being planned for Saturday, July 19, in a private atmosphere at The Williamsburg retirement residence, at the corner of Appleby Line and Upper Middle Road.
There are still a few tickets available for the event, which includes a three-course meal and a glass of wine. It’s likely dee-jay music of the 1940s will be used, but organizers were still trying to engage a small swing band at press time.
Tang said he’s very disappointed not to be at the lakefront again, but when funding is not available it makes it very difficult to stage such events. The bulk of the funding, he said, was used to rent a dance floor.
Rain occasionally interrupted the dance, which featured the swing ensemble of the Milton Concert Band and was emceed by CHCH-TV entertainment reporter Alex Reynolds, but it was moved inside to the City-operated Discovery Centre attached to the Spencer’s Landing Restaurant. However, since that time the restaurant has taken over operation of the room for private functions.
Ken Davy, a past president of the Burlington Historical Society, said he can see the City’s viewpoint in cutting funding, since the event was essentially started by a private company and in some years was not well attended.
Davy recalls going dancing at the old inn during the Second World War.
“At the beginning they only served soft drinks,” he said. “But people used to hide mickies and bring them in, in ladies purses.”
He said the inn was an extension of the Brant Hotel, which was located on the current site of Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital.
“The problem was the hotel was built in what at that time was Wentworth County, where liquor and beer were allowed to be served, but the inn was in Halton, which was “dry”!
Davy was chairman of a Burlington Historical Society project that produced the book ‘Brant Inn Memories’, which was written by Stewart Brown.
Exactly 70 years ago this month, the headline group at the Brant Inn was Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, at that time recognized as the best dance band in North America after selling more than one million records.
Lombardo’s band, billed as turning out the ‘Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven’, played at the inn for four nights from July 14-17, 1954, and admission prices were hiked from the usual nominal fee of $1.50 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and $2 on Fridays and Saturdays.
Burlington was a town of only 4,000, but the Brant Inn put it on the map. The QEW was not yet in operation, so hordes of patrons traveled to Burlington by train, being dropped off right in front of the building on a rail line that continued down the Beach Strip.
Just one month earlier the Hamilton TV station CHCH went on the air for the first time, airing among many old favorites including ‘The Roy Rogers Show’, a big hit with kids.
The interior of the Brant Inn was designed to look like a ship and music was broadcast on radio from that location right across Canada.
The Sky Club, which had tables and seating for 1,700 extended right out over Lake Ontario, where a large number of boats usually dropped anchor under the stars to listen to the music.
Popular Hamilton radio personality Paul Hanover hosted a show called ‘Meet Me at Brant’ on CHML radio, interviewing famous entertainers like Lombardo.
Proprietor John Murray Anderson, who was extremely well connected in show business, entertained many of the stars in his penthouse suite.
Then there’s the story about the time Jayne Mansfield stayed upstairs at the old Coronation Tavern, which is now Wendel Clark’s Bar and Restaurant on Brant Street.
Struggling downtown merchants probably are wishing those days were still here!