Dancing the Night Away
The Tin Box Memories

Dancing the Night Away

Author: Connie Carson

Connie is a well-known local story-teller and professional who has a passion for the history of the City of Belleville, in particular, the downtown streets.



The dance halls on Front Street were the perfect diversion for off-duty men in uniform to
unwind during the second world war from 1939 to 1945.
During the war, military personnel stationed in Trenton, Picton, Mountain View, Ontario
School for the Deaf and Deseronto trained in our area in preparation for joining the war
in Europe.

The weekly dances were a welcome event that our city looked forward to. It allowed a
brief window of time to forget their troubles, dress up and go out on the town. There was
no formal dress code, but the young ladies loved cocktail-style dresses or fancy street
clothes, and the men sported suits or jackets and always wore a tie. Stylish gents would
stop at the corner shoe shine stand at Bridge and Front before heading to the dance.
Lineups, three blocks long, formed on Front Street, all ready to party on the weekends.
The alcohol-free concession stand sold pop and cigarettes only. Nonetheless, the
rambunctious crowd was known to bring their own booze to the club and stash it under
the table.

The Jitterbug was all the rave, commanding the city’s dance floors all over town.
Iconic local bands, including Kay Martin and Commodore Orchestras, took to the stage
on the weekends. The crowd bebopped to jazz favourites, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo,’
‘Twelfth Street Rag,’ and ‘C Jam Blues.’ When the tempo slowed, they waltzed their
ladies around to the famous ‘Charmaine’ and ‘Lover Man.’ Ballroom dancing to the
music’s infectious beat fuelled the crowds excitement and energy.
Let’s go back to Belleville’s good old dance days and visit a couple of the packed clubs.


The year was 1940, and at 9 o’clock sharp, the band struck up the first notes of the
evening’s entertainment. Within minutes the dance floor at Club Vanity Fair was jam-

The boisterous and energetic patrons climbed three flights of wooden stairs before
reaching the top floor of the club which Sam Pappas owned above Pappas Billiards at
227 Front Street.

Hoards of service men frequented Vanity Fair, and fisticuffs occasionally broke out. The
army guys from Picton and air force personnel from Trenton and Mountain View didn’t
always play well together after a few drinks.

Bruce Parsons, a well-known Belleville resident, played trumpet for the Commodores for
$3 a night. He often performed on the stage at Vanity Fair and told me many, sometimes
true stories of the ‘flyboys’ and the ‘pigeons.’

“There was always this rivalry, with the army calling the air force ‘pigeons’ and of
course, a fight would break out. Sometimes, the guys who did the fighting walked out
together to find someplace to have a beer. In those days, it was probably a bootlegger.”

On several occasions, pandemonium reigned supreme! Bruce recalled one incident in
which a fight came too close to the bandstand for saxophonist John Higgins to tolerate.
The usually reserved Higgins grabbed a nearby Coke bottle and knocked a guy over the
head with it.

“The guy was out for 30 or 40 seconds, and when he got up, he didn’t know what hit
him. Higgins just kept on playing and hardly missed a beat.”

The Greek-Canadian Club organized fundraisers during the Battle of Crete to help out
their friends and neighbours out. A specific fundraiser at Vanity Fair stuck out in Bruce’s
mind more than any other. He recounted that Sam Pappas chipped in by waiving the
club fee, and the Commodore orchestra played for free. There was no charge for
admittance if you brought a donation of canned goods or clothing. The club was packed
to the rafters, and an astounding sum of money was raised!

When the party ended, John Kikes, owner of the London Lunch Restaurant at 174 Front
Street, treated the performers to a fantastic steak dinner. It was a night full of goodwill,
good food, good music and treasured memories for the whole community.
Sadly, in the late 1940s, the top floor of the building was destroyed by a disastrous fire,
and Club Vanity Fair went down in flames.


Just a block away, another favourite dance hall called the Trianon Ballroom was located
on the third floor of the old Royal Bank of Canada building. It sat on the corner of Front
and Campbell Street at 241 Front Street.

In 1938 the ballroom owners were Harold Carruthers, Syd Samuels and Ted Maraskas.
The bare-bones decor contained a circle of chairs around the room’s perimeter, and it
was not as fancy as Club Vanity Fair.

Still, there was no shortage of young military guys dancing, drinking and girl-watching at
the Trianon Ballroom.

Long-time band leader of the Commodores Orchestra and music legend Stan Wiggins
played at the ballroom for several years and remarked. “In the cold months, the dance
hall was so steamed up by the end of the night that moisture literally ran down the walls
and windows.”

The grand old building was sold to new owners, and the doors were closed forever. It
was torn down and replaced with the current bank building around 1947.


In 1942 a catastrophic fire at the popular Coconut Grove dance hall in Boston claimed
492 lives. The same year a fire at the military barracks in Newfoundland killed 99 people
and injured 107 others.

The military temporarily banned dance facilities, and their personnel could no longer
enter the dance halls, thus ending the popular club dances on Front Street.
Take a stroll along the Downtown District and listen for the echo of the 10-piece big
band orchestras emanating from the rooftops. Pause for a brief moment and picture the
young men and women that danced before us.

A Tribute to Bruce Parsons
Bruce was Belleville’s best-known dry cleaner (Parsons Cleaners), everyone’s favourite
boss, trumpet teacher, smiling face, and friend. He was 82 when he died in 2008, but he
never got old. He was always learning or experiencing something new…or laughing
about it. Or bringing people together.
As a Commodore for over fifty years, there’s hardly a trumpet player who didn’t take
lessons from Bruce at one time or another.

R.I.P. BRUCE PARSONS 1926-2008