Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Winnipeg Beach: Memories of Yesteryear

Demolition of rollercoaster

Article found amongst memories and keepsakes of the Late Mildred Kelly of Winnipeg Beach
From an old May 1967 newspaper clipping.

Bit by bit, they are tearing pieces out of Manitoba's heart today. An area holding many memories for countless thousands of westerners is being hacked to rubble by wreckers to blot out for all time the boardwalk, roller coaster, dance hall and concession stands at Winnipeg Beach.

It is a follow up to the provincial government's decision to improve the beach area that for many years was operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway and later was taken over by a private group known as Beach Attractions Limited.

Following two or three unprofitable seasons, several of the concession --- including the dance hall were vacated in 1966. Lots on the beach front were advertises for sale to cottagers. The provincial government acquired the lake front area in 1966 and plans were made to establish a recreation section from a point south of the property occupied by the north boundary of the former picnic grounds.

Mayor Lawrence Tapper of Winnipeg Beach said the government was keeping him advised of developments and the initial stage of the project is to take out all existing building on the 32 acre site and later to allocate a picnic area with shelters, waterfront benches, possibly a bathing pavilion and other buildings necessary to a beach resort.

Mayor Tapper said all plans have not been finalized, but it is expected wrecking and clearance will take most of the summer, then the full development as part of the over-all Interlake assistance and improvement program will be made known.

Meanwhile echoes of the music that sifted through the moonlight from the old dance hall on the boardwalk ----- Dreamy Melody, Three O'clock in The Morning, Stumbling, Mammy O' Mine, Ja Da, Smiles and Peggy O'Neal --- may be recalled by many of today's citizens.

That hall had a suspended stage above the dancers for a few seasons and Plant's Orchestra supplied the music for crowds that came down on the Moonlight trains from Winnipeg.

Around 1926, the new dance hall south of the original structure, was built and opened with Peavey's Band, a dance group that come from the United States to play at the Roseland Dance Gardens, Winnipeg.

Peavy's Band played the entire first season there and the hall was advertised as having the largest and finest dance floor in Canada.

Other musicians who played in hotel dance bands during the winter --- Frank Wright, Leo Martin, Herb Brittan, Laurie Thompson --- liked to play beach engagements in the summer and occasionally big name bands were brought in on one night stands, the last to play there being Bob Crosby's --- in 1953.

When the CPR ended the day excursion trains the hall became a roller rink patronized by beach residents and cottagers.

Memories too, are wrapped up in the 1/4 mile of steel track, the more that 5,000 two-by-fours and 12 "dips" of the famed roller coaster that catapulted riders down a 45-degree slope of 175 feet after 300-foot climb to the summit.

The cars twisted, turned and bucked their way over 11 succeeding dips, high and low, for a memorable thrill.

The roller coaster was built in 1919. Its construction was held up by the Winnipeg general strike of that year so it opened only for a short time late in the season. But from 1920 onwards it served thousands daily, and was a landmark easily spotted from the train window as Winnipegers went down for a day at the beach.

The merry-go-round ( nobody ever referred to that ride at the beach as a carousel ) is also being splintered into nothing, its gay, colorfully-decorated wooden horses being shipped to storage in Winnipeg for future sale.

The movie theater, try your luck concessions, the Dodge'em, the floss candy and bingo stands are all coming down.

When the dust clears, nothing in that area across the Main Street in Winnipeg Beach on the lake side will be left except the old water tower which, Mayor Tapper said, is needed by the town

. And so it passes --- and with its passing go memories of white flannels, two-toned shoes, white flannel pleated skirts and straw skimmers and those nightly strolls along the boardwalk to the sound of a moaning saxophone.

The beach residents all say it will come under the heading of civic improvement. But the sigh when they say it.

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