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Where Halifax goes to play

After 60 years, the Shore Club remains a favourite spot to escape the city, nosh on lobster and dance all night

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After 60 years, the Shore Club remains a favourite spot to escape the city, nosh on lobster and dance all night.

During the summer, Hubbards, the small beach community perched at the western border of the municipality, is hopping. People flee the city in droves, seeking the cool breezes and frigid water of the Atlantic. And for many Haligonians, their day trip doesn’t end when the chip trucks close. If it’s a Saturday night, it’s time to dance at the Shore Club.

In early 1946, the land surrounding the Shore Club was all pasture. Roy Harnish, a local dairy farmer, was paying close attention as larger operations absorbed many of Nova Scotia’s small dairy farms. He decided to make a change and started digging that May. Over the next few months, he built his new dance hall. The Shore Club opened on August 24 that same year.

With nearby cottages, onsite lobster suppers and a beach just over the hill, it was the perfect seaside retreat. And according to Roy’s grandson, Rhys Harnish, people came from all over.

“Back then it was a lot different than it is today,” says Harnish. “It was a suit and tie for the gentlemen and the women all wore dresses. It was couples-only and you had to request reservations. You were shown to your table and served by a waiter.” At the time, most of the major beaches in Nova Scotia had dance halls nearby. Every weekend, people would travel to Silver Sands Beach, Rainbow Haven or Hubbards Beach to relax all day and dance all night.

Roy and Lois Harnish with friends Alice and David Nichol on opening night, 1946.

According to The Mellotones frontman Jeff Mosher, the Shore Club’s status as the last traditional beach lodge is what makes it special. “People had their priorities straight back then,” says Mosher. “They’d stay in the city during the week and come out to the dance hall and the beach on the weekend. People really knew how to have a good time.”

Now, the Shore Club is much more casual, but no less popular. When musician Matt Minglewood is in town, people come from all over the country. The Shore Club’s famous lobster suppers and live dance music bring in enough people to fill all the available rooms in Hubbards every weekend.

And they’re drawing a wide range of dancers. Each year, Harnish focuses on putting together a great summer schedule of entertainment to attract a variety of people. This summer’s schedule includes acts by the Mellotones, the Hopping Penguins and The Persuaders.

Bob Miller is a real-estate agent living in Bedford. He’s also probably The Mellotones’ biggest fan. “I’ve been going to see The Mellotones at the Seahorse every week for five years,” he says. “I’ve only missed three Thursdays in all that time, and that was because I took a stroke.”

His first Shore Club experience was a Mellotones show. He loves it there, mainly because of the great music that he remembers from its hey-day. He also enjoys the huge venue, the hardwood dance floor, the food and the company. “I’ve probably met a dozen people there that I haven’t seen in years,” says Miller. “I even ran into a girl that I dated 40 years ago.”

The effort Harnish puts into creating his entertainment schedule is paying off. He says that for the past five or six years, their numbers have been increasing. “We’re wall-to-wall people all night,” he says. “Between 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m., our average age is probably 50. By 1 a.m., that average age has probably made its way down to the mid-to-late 20s. The older crowd stays for the first set or two and then the younger crowd shows up.”

Mosher loves seeing the multiple generations that attend the Shore Club together. “It’s a family affair,” he says. “People come out with their parents.”

“It’s a big crowd of all ages and everyone’s there to dance,” he adds. The band thrives off of the energy of the crowd and the size of the venue. Mosher says that playing in such a large room lets them play a bigger sound, which gets the dance floor moving and, in turn, gives the band the energy to play in front of a packed house.

Mosher remembers the first time they played at the Shore Club. “There was a line out onto the street,” he says. “I don’t know how many people were through the door, but I would guess about 600. And we had such a huge response. It’s really an event for people.”

Visit www.shoreclub.ca for a schedule of upcoming live performances. Reservations are recommended. 

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