The Stork Club – ImPort Stanley

Front of the Stork Club. Long white building with a red sign above the wide entrance

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.

The Stork club as seen from the air. A long building with some shrubbery and a long pool, right on the lakeshore.
Overview of The Stork Club in 1935. Notice a pool just to the east, and a bathhouse. They used to rent wool bathing suits to tourists.

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.

The Revival

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.

A closer view of the Stork Club from above. The parking lot is nearly full and there are people on the beach and in the water.
1974 view of The Stork Club from above.

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!

Photo of the dance floor with hundreds of bulbs on tracks overhead and hundreds of people on the massive wooden dance floor.

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.

A teenage band all wearing gold T-shirts and jeans, playing in an orchestra. The conductor is in a light blue suit.

11 thoughts on “The Stork Club – ImPort Stanley”

  1. I had the privilege of performing there in 1977 and again in1978 as part of a stage band festival I organized to raise money for Bunny Bundle. Eight London High School stage bands playing swing and jazz all night.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Peter. For those who aren’t familiar with the Bunny Bundle, it was a fundraiser run by Bill Brady on London’s CFPL radio. Listeners did everything from bringing in jars of pennies to organizing fundraisers as Peter did. Proceeds went to Sick Kids.

      1. Thanks for an awesome article! A band that I am co director of (called Big Bandemic) will be doing 2 shows at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre on Nov 25, 2023. We are marketing it as “Remember the Stork Club”. Several of our band members have performed at the Stork Club years ago, and I am trying to draw the connection. Perhaps email me at if you wish to chat more about it. Cheers. Karl

  2. I was fortunate enough to spend New Years Eve there the year it burned. That was quite the experience. A grand old dame indeed, but that night some of her allure was taken, when the huge windows that were always pushed out to accommodate sultry summer breezes, became unlatched from their hooks, and bang, not in time with the band, adding brisk winter air, keeping it cold enough to wear your coat.I’m grateful I got to see it, as it framed so many of my Mom’s memories. Before going off to war, my uncle and his orchestra played there often. It was definitely a different place and time and she glowed whenever she spoke of those occasions. My mom had a beautiful floor length midnight blue evening coat, with a white satin lining ,rhinestone buttons and ermine collar that she would wear over her evening gown to attend these functions. As a little girl, I was convinced my mom must be a princess to own such a beautiful coat. As much as I’d never trade my own memories, I can’t begin to imagine what she must have thought as she saw this way of life fade into the mists of time. Her beloved brother, who was the orchestra leader, never returned from war. He was killed on New Years Eve during the Italian Campaign and is buried in San Tomaso, Italy. There was never New Years Eve for her again at The Stork Club, but for one night ,I tried to catch a glimpse of what she held dear for a lifetime.

    1. Well, Al, I’ve come up short in my quest. I got my hands on a copy of the 1979 book, How Sweet it Was – Fifty Years at the Stork Club. But the answer isn’t in it. I’d hoped the book would have more specifics about who performed when, but it has a lot of generalities and not many specific dates. I can’t think of anyone else who would have that information. I’m sorry!

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