by Joan Champ
One of the best things Prince Albert had to offer to high school students during the late 1960s and early 1970s were the city-wide teen dances held at the downtown Recreation Centre (now the Margo Fournier Centre). These dances were organized by the Prince Albert Youth Council, an arm of the City’s recreation department. Of course, there were high school dances, but the Rec Centre dances were something special – mainly because of the quality of bands that were brought in to play at them.
Teen dances were a bit of a tradition in Prince Albert. During the 1950s, for example, six teen clubs hosted Friday night dances throughout the city. These clubs operated under the guidance of the city’s recreation director. Originally, each club tried to hold at least one dance a month which often led to two and sometimes three dances on one night, diluting attendance at each dance. In March of 1956, the central PA Teen Council drew up a new schedule which gave each teen club one dance every six weeks. In the spring of that year, the Teen Council began hosting city-wide dances.
The PA Youth Council started from scratch in 1967 after a youth rally – again under the stewardship of the City’s recreation director, who at this time was Len Cantin. The Youth Council offered a variety of activities and programs, including coffee houses, youth talent shows, an annual Monte Carlo night, and the ever-popular teen dances.
1969 to 1971 were busy and successful years for the Youth Council. The organization, with over 25 members, helped out with community ventures such as the Winter Festival and the fundraising campaign for the new arena (now the Art Hauser Centre). Money raised by the Youth Council also went to purchase items such as a stage and public-address system for the Recreation Centre, and to support local organizations such as PA Minor Fastball League, the United Appeal, and the Canadian Legion.
Most impressive, however, were the many well-known bands from across Canada that the PA Youth Council brought in to play at their dances. Young people from across the city flocked to these events. I remember the excitement of hearing Kenny Shield’s first band, Witness Inc. (later Streetheart), Lighthouse, The 49th Parallel, Chilliwack – the impressive list of talent goes on. These dances were not without problems, however – problems which eventually led to the end of this great form of entertainment for Prince Albert’s young people.
Drinking by teenagers, at or before dances, was nothing new in Prince Albert. Back in 1956, for example, the Teen Council attempted several strategies to curb teen drinking, including the issuing of membership cards which had to be presented for admission to the dances. “This will prevent the non-members of the clubs from attending the dance because it seems they are the ones causing the most trouble,” the Council stated.
The PA Youth Council also had to contend with drinking at its Rec Centre dances. “The problem of drinking and drugs still hasn’t been completely eliminated at our dances but we are still trying,” a Council representative reported in the Prince Albert Daily Herald in November 1969. Fights inside and outside the Rec Centre dances were a regular occurrence as I recall. It was scary at times. “We would like to ask the teens of PA not to abuse the Recreation Centre and its facilities in any way whatsoever,” the same representative wrote in the Herald a month later. “Littering and rough play is unnecessary in or outside the building. The Recreation Centre is there for us – let’s not abuse it.”
In March of 1970, Len Cantin reported to City Council that, by the beginning of 1969, “an increasing, unacceptable number of young people were attending dances under the influence of alcohol and that a few were causing disturbances by fighting and the use of foul language.” He related that the Youth Council, through talks with the Recreation Centre staff and City police, was determined to rectify the situation. The Council advertised in the high schools that anyone under the influence of alcohol would not be allowed to enter the dances. The introduction of the new admission system at the entrance to the Rec Centre was a big change which caught everyone’s attention – as did the presence of City police officers hired to supervise the dances. The Youth Council had worked hard to achieve its goal of zero-tolerance for substance abuse at the dances, Cantin reported. “Although the problem has not been totally eliminated,” he said, “there has been a noticeable improvement and the youth council intends to continue with its present actions in this area and hopefully develop other methods to further improve the situation.”
The Rec Centre dances ended in the mid-1970s, however, due no doubt to the proverbial actions of the few that spoil things for the many.
This column was prepared with the assistance of the Bill Smiley Archives