In 1926, Port Stanley opened up what would become the largest and most famous dance hall in Ontario at the time, measuring 13,000-square-feet. The club was originally named the L&PS Pavillion, but renamed the Stork Club in the early 1950s. It was located at the other end of the boardwalk from Hopkin's Casino and built partially out over the water on pilings. The Stork Club opened its doors to the public on July 29th, 1926, with over 6,500 people in attendance to dance to The Vincent Lopez Band.
Being known as the “Coney Island of Canada,” Port Stanley’s beach offered several dance clubs, a Ferris Wheel, two carousels, a bowling alley, two theaters, restaurants, a swimming area with water slides, a penny arcade, miniature golf, and numerous games and refreshment stands along the stretch of boardwalk that led right to the Stork Club, where almost everyone would end up each night. The Stork Club was the place to be on hot summer evenings as the building’s large windows overlooking Lake Erie were usually open to let in the cool breeze. The focus in the creation of the Stork Club was to create exciting night life as a compliment to the sun, sand, and water activities that were popular at the time.
The Stork Club was famous for swing dance and attracted some of the biggest bands in North America at the time including; Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and, the last group to ever play at the Stork Club, Day Break. The band most closely associated with the Stork Club, however, was the Johnny Downs Orchestra, the house band through most of the 1950s. In an interview in 2003, Downs said: “I had always wanted to play Port Stanley because it had been Guy Lombardo’s hopping-off stop. We never found a better place than the Stork Club.”
The main swing and jazz bands of that era circled the great lakes in both the USA and Canada, particularly revolving around Lake Erie each summer attracting large crowds of people to their music.
Along with the big bands, came the big crowds. Port Stanley drew thousands of tourists each year from 1926-1979 to hear these Big Band stars. The largest crowd ever was 7000-plus on September 6th, 1950 for Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians
Admission in the Stork Club was 15 cents - except on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which were free for the ladies. The cover charge got them as far as the promenade around the hall, where they could lean on the rail and listen to the bands play, but couples had to pay an additional 5 cents per song to dance. However, signs were posted before each dance indicating what type of music it would be. Thus waltz fans, or those who preferred other types, could decide if they wanted to enter the floor or not.
The dance hall was completely refurbished over the 1973-74 winter only to have the last event a few years later; a performance by Day Break on New Year’s Eve 1978/79. Twelve days later, the famous Stork Club was set ablaze from a dumpster fire, damaging the building too heavily to save it, and the dance hall was never reconstructed. Not long after the fire, Johnny Downs and some of his friends stood on the charred stage and played a few numbers as a symbolic farewell to the Stork Club.
A group of Port Stanley residents who were regulars at the Stork Club wanted to help preserve the memory of the Stork Club. The group’s efforts resulted in the creation of a museum - the Stork Club Music and Memories Interpretive Centre was in downtown Port Stanley and housed a life size mural of the Johnny Downs Orchestra performing at the Stork Club, a white grand piano - believed to have once belonged to Guy Lombardo, and other big band memorabilia.
The Stork Club was a space to dance like nobody's watching and find your first love, including Johnny Downs, who met his wife on the boardwalk of the Stork Club. Unfortunately now all we can do is reminisce on the pictures and memories made at the Stork Club, and enjoy the fun times that were spent there.
10/27/2018 12:03:39 pm
Beautifully written article.
david edmondson edmondson
12/31/2018 03:54:31 pm
do you have the sigend book how sweet it was and if not would you like it free from the uk no less
7/25/2019 01:01:44 pm
I was honored to have been part of the Stork Club family from 1967 through 1972 having purchased it from the city of London which included 27 acres of beach, baseball park to the incline rail cars servicing Inverie Heights picnic & camp grounds overlooking Lake Erie.
8/18/2020 09:57:58 am
Alex, it was a long time ago, running around the Stork Clubs as kids, trying to hide from "Dirty" John, until you first introduced me to him.
11/6/2021 08:08:06 pm
Hi Alex. I stumbled on these posts while looking up some research about Port Stanley. We just purchased the house up on George Street in Mitchell Heights at the top of the hill with a Mitchell Heights sign on it. It is has 5 units and was run as a Mitel in the past. We have heard that the basement was a bar and there are even 2 small rooms that would have been his and hers bathrooms. Rumour has it that some of the bands that played at the Stork Club would stay at the Mitel and drink at the bar in the basement. Wondering if you know anything about that or about the history or the building?
1/16/2022 10:42:01 pm
I purchased a large lighted marquee mirror in the early 1980's from a supper club in Chicago that may be from The Stork Club. From the photo in this website it looks like it may have been one of them from between the front doors of the building. It says "Now playing at the STORK CLUB Duke Ellington introducing his latest song "Take the "A" Train" That would date it from after 1941. It was painted and signed by someone named Andre'. I've been trying to track down if this could be authentic or just an attractive decorative piece. Any information you may have would be most appreciated - thumbs up or down. My thanks in advance.
7/25/2019 01:20:23 pm
Here's the link to the Stork Club photos of some of the past entertainers and ticket stubs ( for a major event a little over a buck WOW ) within my music history photo CV
8/2/2019 08:48:12 am
Thank you for documenting this important piece of music history of a great venue and past attraction of Port Stanley, Ontario. To imagine great Big Bands of Lombardo, Ellington, and Basie playing there with miniscule admission fees for dance enthusiasts is simply astonishing. If the Stork Club is ever rebuilt, I would love to perform there with the London (Ontario) Jazz Orchestra (LJO).
6/23/2020 04:07:57 pm
Does anyone know what band played New Years eve 1976?
8/22/2021 03:17:26 pm
In the book how sweet it was it mentioned Louis Armstrong was at the stork club July 22 1961. I got his autograph from him. on the back of the paper he autographed it has that date. I can’t find any reference to that date other then that book. Anyone know ? Thanks
Mary Anne Wright Vigars
2/21/2022 05:47:50 pm
Many wonderful memories of New Years Eve celebrated at the Stork Club. My husband and I saw Loius Armstrong there in 1961. What a wonderful spot that was.
4/1/2022 09:22:20 am
Used to play at the Stork Club with Gary Bailey and the Union Five.
8/8/2022 06:57:43 am
Thank you for the great article on the Stork Club. I vacationed with my family in Port Stanley every summer of my life, as my grandparents have a beautiful summer home on Lakeview Street in Orchard Beach. I have so many amazing memories of my days in Port Stanley. And while I was a kid in the 60s And only experienced dancing at the store club once in the 70s, what an amazing place for all those people and all the fun they had. It is an iconic piece of Ontario‘s history. I remember hearing my parents and grandparents talk about all the fun they had there.
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