How it all began...
The 1920s to1980s was a time of the dance halls, many of them located in communities along the Lake Huron Shoreline – Kincardine, Port Elgin, Sauble Beach and others. People still have fond memories of warm summer nights at the beach, listening and dancing to the music of live bands. A Master of Ceremonies would introduce the bands and there would be spot dances. Many people found their ‘true love’ while at these summer venues. After a time, the music changed, the businesses changed hands, interest diminished, buildings fell into disrepair or were lost due to fire, and the dance hall era was no more.
The first Canadian Big Band Celebration (CBBC) was held on Saturday, September 23, 1995 at the UNIFOR (formerly CAW) Family Education Centre Main Assembly Hall located in the beautiful Lake Huron community of Saugeen Shores, encompassing Port Elgin and Southampton Ontario.
Prior to the first Canadian Big Band Celebration event in Saugeen Shores, the local Stardust Big Band had been participating for a few years in Thornbury’s annual Canadian Big Band Dance Festival, which was established by Georgian Sound Big Band leader clarinetist/saxophonist Bob Cringan, a retired music educator from Toronto.
The success and popularity of the Thornbury event prompted Stardust bandleader Charlie Bell and lead trumpeter in the band, Wayne McGrath, to investigate the possibility of bringing a similar big band festival to Saugeen Shores. In 1994 Charlie and Wayne began discussing the idea of bringing a similar festival to the area with Family Education Centre manager Ken Oulette and Chamber of Commerce manager Connie Barker. Connie was enthused about the plan to bring musicians, music lovers and dancers to the community and Ken thought having the event out at the CAW complex was “worth a try”. With the support of the CAW and Chamber of Commerce a volunteer organizing committee was established that year to organize the first Canadian Big Band Celebration in Saugeen Shores. The volunteer committee consisted of big band enthusiasts; local businessman Peter Little Sr. and Pat McGrath - it’s important to note here that Pat and her then late husband Emmett McGrath, himself an accomplished saxophonist/clarinetist, ran the Port Elgin Cedar Crescent Casino from 1944 -1968 which was one of the crown jewels of the dance pavilions along Lake Huron. The first committee also included Connie Barker, Mini Jacques, Wayne McGrath, Charles Bell and Donna Kane.
Both Thornbury’s and Saugeen Shores’ big band festivals celebrated big band music by inviting up to five big bands and their supporters from different communities to attend the festival. Dancers and supporters came from near and far and loved the variety of bands and dance repertoire while the band members got a chance to compare themselves to other bands and discuss a big band arrangement or two.
Over the years since 1995 and as it is today, it is thanks to a dedicated and hard working committee and the many generous sponsors from the Saugeen Shores business community that the Canadian Big Band Celebration continues to be a success.