There is a little town 2 hours SW of Toronto called Port Dover, known for their famous ‘Friday the 13th’ Biker get together. However between 1921 and 1979 Port Dover had a Dance Hall that people made the trek to Dover every summer for….Summer Garden was its name.

Today’s post is for the Blog Series I started in 2013 from a book I read called “Let’s Dance: A Celebration of Ontario’s Dance Halls and Summer Dance Pavilions” by Peter Young.

Port Dover Summer Garden 1920s

Summer Garden was actually 3 halls overs the years. The first one was built-in 1921 by Ben Ivey and named by his mother (the opening night band was a 12-piece singing syncopated group from Detroit-Charles Cody). Erected on series of wooden supports which had been sunk many feet into the sand below the water (as seen in above image), it was unfortunately demolished by a huge storm (the storm took out its legs) in the winter of 1929 (source).

Ellen and Fred on beach, Port Dover August, 1923
I wish the below image was able to be larger, as it shows a lovely couple ‘Ellen and Fred on beach in Port Dover 1923 with the First Summer Garden in the background. Source: Archives of Ontario

Summer Garden # 2 opened for business by Ben again in May 1929 (Featuring Emerson Gill on opening night) and was wisely located further up the beach. Built in 19 days by volunteers it lasted 3 years before it was burnt to the ground while the townspeople stood by and cried (source).

Summer Gardens 2 Port Dover

Here is a song by Emerson Gill I imagine was played on opening night.


Not letting any of this get Ben down he stood tall and erected Summer Garden # 3, on May 24th 1932.

Summer Gardens 3 Port Dover

In 1936 Ben passed the management torch to his son Don, who would go onto become somewhat of celebrity to those who visited the Garden. He was known for managing the ballroom with Ivey League class — wearing a white suit and ever-present red rose and everyone called him ‘Pop’ (source).

Don Ivey Summer Gardens Port Dover
Source: Lets Dance by Peter Young

With high energy and an octagonal dance floor, it was the place to go to get down. If you couldn’t afford the cover charge, the walls of the dance hall were so thin, you could stand on the beach and take in the concert (source).

A favorite of Servicemen during WW2 stationed at nearby flying schools, dancers travelled far and wide for a day at the beach and night of dancing. Bands in the 40s included Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa.

Port Dover Summer Gardens Big Band Poster
Source: Lets Dance by Peter Young

There is a great quote in Peter Young’s book from Margo Kerber who went to Gardens during the 1940s.

“We’d take the trolley in Galt for a weekend in Port Dover and the Friday and Saturday night dances. You couldn’t wait to get back the next weekend. One of my friends is happily married to the boy she met then in Dover”.

Dance of the Roses

The Famous ‘Dance of the Roses’ was a dance that became Don’s baby and the highlight of the summer dance season. With the walls covered in roses and the best big bands playing the night, it was the Biggest Dance Affair in Port Dover.

1950s and on, saw bands like Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks, Guess Who and Lighthouse play the venue, all who speak with great fondness of the venue.

With high energy and an octagonal dance floor, it was the place to go to get down. If you couldn't afford the cover charge, the walls of the dance hall were so thin, you could stand on the beach and take in the concert (source).
Note: Don Ivey is to the Left in this picture in the White. Source: oocities.org

1969-1972 Summer gardens

Summer Garden Guy Lombardo and Lighthouse - Port Dove
Source: PBase

January 8th, 1979 the fun ended as the Summer Gardens was torched by an arsonist and once again burnt to the ground. It was sadly never rebuilt and now is a summer garden picnic area where families enjoy ice cream and picnics.

Summer Garden Farewell

The night is chill, the ballroom deserted
The sound of dancing feet is gone
The sound of music has faded away
There is no sound of voices, they have disappeared
There is no laughter
Farewell, dear old lady Summer Garden.
There are tears I cannot hide, so I smile and say as the flames die
Smoke gets in my eyes…

– Don Ivey, January 9, 1979. (Source)

I recently visited Port Dover for the first time and while I could not find this picnic area personally (I don’t think I looked hard enough), I did take the picture below and day dreamed that this was the view that many dancers saw while taking in summer air, after a night dancing to some of the biggest bands in the world.

Port Dover

Other ‘Lets Dance’ Posts: Kenwick on the Lake, CNE Tent, Palace Pier

Liz 🙂

17 comments on “‘Lets Dance’-Port Dover Summer Garden Dance Hall”

  1. What a touching history of this one storied and beloved dance hall. It’s a sincere shame that it wasn’t able to rise from the ashes again. Perhaps one day Port Dover will decide the time has come for the latest iteration and rebuild it once more.

    xoxo ♥ Jessica

    • I’m so glad you like these posts, I love doing them. The big one I have coming up soon (it’s taking some time), is one of the coolest dance halls outside of Toronto. This one will for sure get your imagination going.

  2. Awesome post! So strange you posted this as I was going to do some vintage Port Dover research. We just came back from there for some fun in the sun and loved all the old houses there. I have been going there religiously since I was a child. Thanks again… so interesting!

  3. What a shame that it was destroyed again after all the rebuilding. I like the thought of being able to listen from the beach if you couldn’t afford to get in.

  4. I have some happy memories of playing with ” Jimmie & the Viscounts” at the Summer Garden, & meeting ” Pops” Ivey. That was an era that can’t be recreated.

    • REALLY?! Oh how fun!!! I so wish I could grab a time machine and head back to just one night to see how fun it would of been. So fantastic that you have these memories now. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  5. I enjoyed reading your blog. I have my own memories of the Summer Garden – some real, some fiction as in my 2-book novel, “The Summer Garden and the Song”. Book 1, “The Summer Garden and the Song: The Circle of Life” was published and released July 8, 2016; Book 2, “The Summer Garden and the Song: Harvest” was published and released November 24, 2016. Both books available on Amazon. The Summer Garden was the destination dance hall for many in Southwestern Ontario, myself included.

    • Thanks for stopping by Neil 🙂 I am going to put your books on my reading list for the summertime, thanks for much for pointing them out to me. I love books like the one’s you wrote.

      I would of loved to have experienced the Summer Garden, but at least I get to read about the many memories that others have enjoyed there over the years thru the internet and also this blog post. This is a good consolation prize in my books 🙂

      have a super day!

      • It was a great dance hall, Liz, and Port Dover was the place to be on hot summer nights. I tell people I’m not going back to the Fifties … I never left.

        I hope you enjoy “The Summer Garden and the Song” – a 2-book realistic fiction love story, circa 1959, when you get to them this summer. Both books include countless cameos of tobacco farming, music, people, events and places from the era and area. They are also available from my publisher, Cavern of Dreams Publishing in Brantford. Check out my Author – Music page on their website for information.

        Best wishes.

  6. I had a couple in my restaurant today inquiring about the Summer Garden and wondering when the old girl burnt down. I new it was Jan. 1978 but was questioned by a co-worker so I went on line and discovered your wonderful blog. I don’t even know what blog is but the story was beautiful. My family grew up beside the last Summer Garden and my father worked there. Wonderful memories, Thanks

    • Hi Diane! Thank you for stopping by and leaving this wonderful comment. I love reading about others memories about articles I post on my website, thanks so much for sharing 🙂

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