(Research and Writing by George William Streeter and Stevie Vallance, with special thanks to the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre.)


Our hosts are the owners of the Lakeside Park Hotel’s Dance Pavilion: Eliza Knowles and her children Irene, Lulu, and Bill (known as “Biscuit” because he loved to eat his mother’s biscuits).

Knowles family members and friends standing in front of the Breakers ca. 1939

William John Knowles aka “Biscuit” (1893 - 1979) (42 years old in 1935)

Played by Matt Evans Bill was born in Southampton on February 24, and after finishing school he worked for his father, William Francis Knowles, at the Lakeside Park Hotel that his dad had built on the beach at the bottom of Morpeth Street. His mother was Eliza Ellen Johnston and Bill got his nick-name because he loved eating her delicious home-cooked food — especially her biscuits! Biscuit was in the choir at the Anglican Church and was a member of the local platoon of the 32nd Bruce Militia. In August of 1914, when war was declared on Germany, Bill and a group of local young men were among the first to enlist with their local Platoon Commander. They travelled to the Canadian Army Base in Val Cartier Quebec, had their medicals on September 1st, completed their Attestation documentation on the 15th, and set sail from Quebec City on October 3rd. They arrived in England 10 days later.

In Britain, intensive training began at once and in March 1915, Biscuit was sent to the front lines to take part in combat. He was given the rank of Corporal in France, where he faced the Germans in the epic Battle of Givenchy, which began on June 15, 1915. In that battle there were many casualties and Biscuit was seriously wounded. He suffered bomb shrapnel wounds from below his left shoulder down his back to his buttocks. It was not until October that he was declared unfit for battle, and was sent back to Quebec City. On December 3, 1915, he received an honourable discharge. The Western Ontario military division HQ and the army hospital were located in London. Holeproof Hosiery, also in London, was a major supplier of socks and underwear to the army, and Biscuit landed a sales position there that started him on a career that would last 25 years. While living and working for Holeproof in London, he met a young musician named Guy Lombardo and when Biscuit’s family built a dance pavilion next to their hotel in Southampton, he encouraged Guy to come up and perform at their Dances during the summer. In 1932 Biscuit married Irene Grant in Montreal. She was a glamorous Irish Canadian beauty and in 1935 a daughter Arlene was born. After the passing of Biscuit's father, William Francis Knowles in 1919, his mother Eliza took over management of the Lakeside Park Hotel for the next 20 years, until Biscuit and Irene moved home and took over the family business in 1939, allowing his mother to retire. Biscuit stayed in Southampton until his death in 1979 at 86 years of age.

Eliza Ellen Johnston Knowles (1863 - 1948) (72 years old in 1935)

Played by Stevie Vallance Eliza was the no-nonsense matriarch of the Knowles family. She was hardworking but always found time to share a cup of tea and a piece of her homemade pie. Her son Biscuit loved her tea biscuits so much he was named after them! Eliza Ellen Johnston was born in Guelph and she married William Francis Knowles in 1884, when she was 20. William was working as a railway baggageman and soon after their marriage they moved to Southampton.

Between 1886 and 1898 Eliza birthed seven children: 4 girls and 3 boys. As their children grew they helped with the many jobs during the busy summer season at their lakeside resort that consisted of a large tourist Inn and 12 rental cottages. William became known as “The Father of Tourism for Southampton”. Eliza and William loved children and they were always coming up with games and fun activities for the guests. William built a boathouse for renting boats so people could row to Chantry Island for picnics. He even made a ramp from the top of the boathouse that was a toboggan slide for kids to slide out into the water with a big splash! Eliza was community-minded and the Lakeside Park Hotel was always busy thanks to her famous whitefish dinners, biscuits and pies. Customers came back summer after summer, for decades. In 1919 William died of a heart attack, and Eliza and her children continued to run the hotel and cottages. They built a dance pavilion on the beach which opened with Southampton’s Rayner Dance Band, in 1922. The pavilion quickly became the town’s hotspot during the summers when big bands from all over southern Ontario visited and entertained locals and tourists. After her son Biscuit returned from WW1 he moved to London, Ontario, where he landed a job with Holeproof Hosiery. While living in London he became friends with Guy Lombardo and invited him to perform at his family’s dance pavilion in Southampton. The renowned Ferde Mowry Orchestra was also a regular at the Knowle’s Dance Pavilion, and after 1936 the pavilion became known as the Embassy, named after Mowry’s Embassy Club on Bloor St., in Toronto. In 1939 Eliza was 76 and decided to retire when her son Biscuit and his wife Irene, who were living in Montreal by that time, returned home and took over managing the family business. Eliza stayed involved until her death in 1948, at age 85. Surely Eliza was “The Mother of Tourism for Southampton”.

Lulu Frances Knowles (1890 - 1978) (45 years old in 1935)

Played by Marcia Cunningham Lulu was born in Southampton on June 1, 1890. In 1911 Lulu was a stenographer at the Southampton Factory, and she spent her life supporting her mother by assisting in running the Hotel. Her father died in 1918 making her role even more important to her mother who took over managing the hotel. In 1933, she married Robert James Cunningham in Guelph. She gave her occupation on her marriage certificate as “Housekeeper” and Robert indicated that his occupation was “Hotel Clerk”. They never had children. Lulu lived until 1978 and she and her husband Robert are buried in the Southampton Cemetery. Lulu’s great niece Holly remembers Lulu when she was 5 years old as “quiet and perhaps a bit shy.” At Guy’s Dance in August 1st 1935, Lulu would likely have been on duty assisting her mother in running the big show.

Irene Knowles (1905 - 1984) (30 years old in 1935)

Played by Natalie Robataille Irene was born in Ottawa in 1905 of Irish descent. Her father Malcolm Grant was a Fireman on the railway. The family was of the Catholic faith. Her mother introduced her to needlepoint, pottery and ceramics. Unfortunately, her mother Mary died at an early age and Irene would later say that Eliza was like a mother to her. They were very close. Irene and Biscuit were married in Montreal in 1932. Their honeymoon took them to the Saguenay and they returned to their home located on Queen Mary Road in Montreal. She was known to be very stylish, always wearing the latest fashions. For her wedding, the newspaper reported that, “The bride was charming in baby blue crepe with a hat of pink chiffon felt. She wore pink shoes and carried a Colonial nosegay.” Biscuit and Irene had a daughter Arlene in 1935, and Arlene’s two daughters describe their grandmother Irene as “gorgeous and glamorous”. The Hotel and Dance Pavilion had been run by Biscuit’s mother Eliza after her Husband William died in 1918. When she retired in 1939, Biscuit and Irene moved back to Southampton and took over management until 1949 when the Lakeside Park Hotel was sold. When Irene arrived in Southampton in 1939, she taught for a time at the Saugeen First Nation Village School. She passed away in 1983 in Englehart, Ontario at her daughter’s home. Her remains were returned to Southampton, where she was buried next to her husband.