ImPort Stanley is weekly series about life and discoveries by a recent “import” to Port Stanley, ON.
It’s been gone more than four decades but The Stork Club is an important part of Port Stanley history. Its logo is emblazoned on local souvenirs and on a mural en route to the main beach.
Count Basie, Chubby Checker, Marty Robbins, The Drifters, Ronnie Prophet, Glenn Gould, and Walter Ostanek all performed at The Stork Club. All the big names in big band and swing played there in its day. Eventually, the music genres shifted along with the times. My husband remembers attending a show there in the mid-70s.
The Stork Club began as the London and Port Stanley Railway Pavilion when it opened in the summer of 1926 with 15-cent admission. It was located just west of the main beach where a collection of cottages and monster homes sits today. It had the biggest dance floor in the area, including London. There were 13,000 square feet of gleaming maple to rhumba, jitter-bug, and fox-trot on.
According to a historical account online, the club gradually declined in popularity despite bringing in modern acts as musical tastes evolved. It had thrived through WWII because – as a couple of Port Stanley ladies reminisced* – servicemen from the RCAF Technical Training School in St. Thomas would attend. (That RCAF site is now the St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital on Sunset Drive, #4.) After falling into disrepair, the local health unit shut the club’s doors in 1973.
Joe McManus came to the rescue. He’s locally famous. Founder of several companies including McManus Petroleums, Red Star Gasoline, Arrow Petroleum, radio station CJOE (which became CJBK) & McManus Motors. He bought the property and his son Joe Jr. “virtually lived in it” until renovations were completed. The club reopened in June 1974 to a great response.
Joe Sr. died in January 1976 from injuries sustained in a December ’75 car crash that took the life of his wife, Bessie. But the club carried on. However, New Year’s Eve just two years later marked the Stork Club’s final event. On January 13, 1979 someone set fire to a garbage container outside. It wasn’t possible to repair the extensive smoke and water damage. What was left of the Stork Club had to come down.
But nothing can take away peoples’ memories of it. The biggest names in music played there as well as top local bands. Johnny Downs and his band reportedly played the club more often than anyone else. It was a big deal back in the day. If you performed there or jitterbugged as a patron, you were a part of local history.
Thanks to Scott McFarlane, Admin of the Port Stanley Memories Facebook page, for permission to use the above photos from The McManus Family Collection.
*This linked article refers to “The Stork Club Music and Memories Interpretive Centre”. That exhibit no longer exists.
UPDATE: History buff Cindy Winder sent me this photo she took of a 1923 picture, during the Stork Club exhibit mentioned above. It gives a sense of how big the dance floor was!
Magician/entertainer Peter Mennie sent his picture of the Oakridge Stage Band (London, ON) performing during a fundraiser Peter organized for the two years before the club burned down.