A few weekends ago I was home visiting my family and while in town I headed out to visit the historic grounds of where the famous dance hall “Kenwick on the Lake” once stood in the picturistic town of Brights Grove. This is for the Blog Series I started a while back from a book I’m reading called “Let’s Dance: A Celebration of Ontario’s Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions” by Peter Young.
Kenwick on the Lake-Bright’s Grove, Ontario
Kenwick on the lake is in a fantastic location, directly across from Lake Huron and its beautiful beaches. The venue was the brain child of talented musician, band leader and promoter from Sarnia, Ontario – Jack Kennedy and his wife/business partner Genevieve. BUT it was not the first popular dance hall that the Sarnia area had in the early 1940s from the very busy Jack and Gen; Kenwick Terrace was to come first (seen below).
The opening night at Kenwick Terrace in January 1943 featured Louis Armstrong. I will say it again…LOUIS ARMSTRONG!!! Gosh I would have done anything to have seen that show in my little home town.
Kenwick Terrace went on to hold regular dancers with Jack Kennedy’s Orchestra and other Big Bands and singers. The wooden dance floor was known for being nice and flexible..perfect for dancers to never get tired feet. It stayed open till 1978.
After the success of Kenwick, Jack and Gen decided to open a dance hall on the shores of Lake Huron in 1946. They purchased the current pavilion that was standing there and extensively rebuilt it over the next few months. It opened as Kenwick on the Lake in June 1946 (source).
The name Kenwick comes from the first part of Jack Kennedy’s last name and the last part of his wife Genevieve’s maiden name Warwick.
Here is a great post from Billboard magazine about the opening of the “New Spot”.
The new venue attracted really big name bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, and Glen Miller to play to crowds of up to 3,000 on weekends. Many of the shows were also broadcast by radio across Canada. The Governor-General of Canada visited Kenwick on the Lake on the opening night in June 1946 (Source).
Dancing at Kenwick would then become a summer tradition that lasted into the 1950s.
One of the cool details about Kenwick on the lake was that made it popular with dancers was that it had an outdoor Terrazzo dance floor as well as an indoor hardwood floor. And if you have ever danced outside to the sounds of your favorite band, you know why this was a draw. There is nothing better than fresh air, good music and the stars over head…sigh….so romantic.
Due to its close proximity to the water, the venue became a “summer resort” with 2 dining halls, hairdressing salon, outdoor bowling alley (seen below), bathhouse and a stand to rent swimsuits and even small rides for the kids. The venue even served as a Saturday night destination for passengers of the SS Noronic that stopped at Sarnia on its trip around the Great Lakes (source).
Kenwick was not just beloved by the attendees but also by the performers who played there. The famous American baritone and bandleader Vaughn Monroe said it “was one of the most beautiful places he had ever played” and band leader “Norm Harris” played for one summer with his band and loved it so much that he came back the next year by himself to sing with the band (source).
Lastly, while doing my research on Kenwick on the Lake I stumbled upon this fantastic story about a particular night at the venue in July of 1946.
July 29, 1946 was a Monday. It was the height of the summer along the shores of Lake Huron. Kenwick-on-the-Lake had opened just one month earlier and was already popular with the dance crowds. This evening would feature music as always, but with a difference. Backed by the Jack Kennedy Orchestra, the show would celebrate the first radio broadcast by Sarnia’s own radio station with the call sign of CHOK.
Promptly at 7:00 P.M., a fanfare resounded throughout the county as the prelude to a program that lasted for 6 hours. Canada’s newest radio station was on the air.
“The show headliners that night were Dorothy Deane and Russ Titus, stars of the Cashmere Bouquet House Party of the 1940’s, who appeared in person during the inaugural show for CHOK. There were also special greetings for Canada’s newest radio station from entertainment greats Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Vaughan Monroe and Guy Lombardo.
“CHOK, then owned by H.M. Hueston, A.D. Mackenzie and Claude R. Irvine, was officially welcomed by W.C. Nelson, Mayor of the City of Sarnia and Bryan Cathcart, M.P.P.” (Source).
All good things must come to an end.
When the popularity of the big bands declined in the late 1950’s, Jack and Gen of Kenwick on the Lake tried Sunday night concerts (such as Alice Cooper), wrestling, square dancing and summer theatre. But the combination of damage caused by the 1954 tornado, a later fire and declining attendance led to its closing in 1962.
All that remains today is the terrazzo pavilion floor which now serves as a basketball court in Kenwick Park in Bright’s Grove (Historical notes from the author Bob McCarthy).
This post was a pleasure to write about AND do research on due to this venue being from my home town and from having so many memories of Jack Kennedy and his family as a child. He was truly a staple in the history of Sarnia, from his music store that his son ended up running (and we bought a piano from) to Jack himself playing his organ in the mall during Christmas time. The Kennedy name and the Kenwick name will never be forgotten.
Other ‘Lets Dance’ Posts: Palace Pier, CNE Tent, Port Dover Summer Garden
Have a wonderful day!