No.58, 2007 New Year's Eve in Senlac, Saskatchewan by Pamela Kent (SK)
As newly-weds and new immigrants to Canada, we settled in Edmonton in 1952. With true Prairie hospitality, Cora, a young woman I worked with at Marshall Wells, invited us to spend Christmas and New Year’s at her parents’ farm in Provost - a small town on the border with Saskatchewan.
We enjoyed a wonderful Christmas, marveling at the abundance of food and drink, coming as we did from still rationed England. Our hosts, Danish immigrants themselves of a previous generation, couldn’t have been more welcoming.
Cora had made plans for the next occasion - New Year’s Eve.
“We’re going to the New Year’s Eve dance in Senlac - just over the border in Saskatchewan,” she told us. “It’s always a lot of fun.”
It turned out that Senlac was only slightly bigger than Provost, but it had a community hall. Now, my husband Gord and I had spent most of our lives in Wimbledon, on the outskirts of London. We went dancing most weeks in the Wimbledon Town Hall and sometimes to the Hammersmith Palais, with its beautifully sprung floor, so huge it was hard for me to see across it; especially as I refused to wear my glasses, believing in that old adage “Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”
We danced to the big bands of the time - Oscar Rabin, Joe Loss and Ted Heath. The dance at Senlac was nothing like that.
The committee had decorated the hall with an eye to economy. Toilet paper, twisted around, hung on the walls in gay profusion and served as a substitute for the more fancy, coloured, crepe paper. We, the ‘sophisticats’ from London viewed the decorations with disdain.
“At least, there’s a bit of a band,” Gord whispered to me as he pointed in the direction of the stage. An elderly lady sat at the piano next to two men with violins and a large boy with a drum. We had danced to good trios before, we consoled ourselves and this time, it was a quartet.
As we usually did, we had dressed for the occasion - well, for the occasion that we thought it was. I was wearing a little black velvet number, with a flared skirt and a frilly crinoline underneath. Gord wore his good grey suit and white shirt and tie. Most of the men had come straight from their farm chores, hurried up by their wives, still smelling faintly of straw mixed with manure. The women wore nice, simple floral dresses - no black velvet for them!
We don’t have any pictures of that occasion, but I’m sure by this time, my snooty little nose must have been decidedly stuck-up.
The band struck up with a rousing rendition of ‘Down Yonder’ and the floor filled with eager dancers. Even the Palais didn’t get that crowded. Gord and I decided to sit that one out, waiting for something more suitable - a waltz, a quickstep or a fox-trot. Next, the band played “The Blue Skirt Waltz”. We danced, but everyone else was dancing faster, moving swiftly over the floor and enjoying themselves way more than we were, as we tried to show the locals how it should be danced.
“The next one’s got to be a quick step”, Gord said, wistfully. It wasn’t. It was “The Nest, the West and You, Dear.” And after that, “Down Yonder” again, it soon became apparent that the band’s entire repertoire consisted of those three tunes - none of them on our hit parade, but as we danced - not just with each other, but with the people of Provost and Senlac, we found that we were having fun, in spite of ourselves.
Over the fifty-two years since then, we’ve been to many New Year’s Eve celebrations. Some have been as grand as those we attended in England, as this country grew and flourished, but none of them holds the place in our hearts of that first dance in Senlac.