GLORY DAYS GONE, BEACH STILL POPULAR (June 21/96)

“The potential of the fine, sandy beach along the shore of Long Island as a tourist attraction was recognized in the latter part of the 19th century when picnics were there,” Eileen Bishop writes in a collection of essays (privately published as Eileen’s Short but True Stories).

Ms. Bishop might have added that beaches all along the Minas Basin shore have been luring people for hundreds of years. First the Micmacs, then the Acadians; and, in turn, the Planters and Loyalists; all found that the unobstructed beaches of Minas Basin were useful for various reasons.

It wasn’t until 1886, however, that the commercial potential of Evangeline Beach was tapped. Tourists were probably the last thing Charles A. Patriquin had in mind when, in partnership with Franklin P. Rockwell, he opened a picnic area and playground on the beach. Patriquin probably hoped that, at best, the beach would be patronized by local families, church groups, schools and so on. But in 1900, Evangeline Beach was attracting thousands of summer visitors and a hotel was erected.

Today, Evangeline Beach is a quiet haunt of cottagers and campers. People still enjoy its beaches, but the glory days of the ’30s and ’40s when Evangeline was one of the most popular day and night spots in western Nova Scotia are gone.

Evangeline Beach may have peaked in popularity during World War Two when servicemen made its dance hail, the romantic “Starlight Room”, the place to be on Friday nights.

In earlier days, however, Evangeline Beach was the summer destination of thousands. When W.M. Black purchased Evangeline Beach in 1909, cottages, a dance and meeting hall and stables were erected. Black was said to be one of the first in the area to own an automobile – which he used to transport guests from the Grand Pre station – and he showed foresight by offering gasoline and oil at the beach.

There were many attractions for “locals” and tourists. A tourist brochure from 1909 mentions “exquisite bathing” only a few feet from beachfront cottages. The hotel dining room was open in season, serving meals described as satisfactory, but “not elaborate.” A large building curiously named “The Casino” was available for concerts, picnics and private parties and dances. Among the shade trees near the beach were picnic grounds. Later owners added swings, slides and teeter-totters for kids and another building with a curious name, the “Yellow Canary”, which offered ice cream and other refreshments. From a bandstand in front of the hotel there were nightly concerts during the peak of the tourist and vacation season.

Just after the turn of the century, Evangeline Beach offered fully furnished cottages from $3 to $6 per week, with meals included starting at $1.50 a day per person. Bathing suits could be rented for $.10 a day, row boats for $.30 an hour.

Since Patriquin first opened Evangeline Beach 110 years ago, six owner/operators have left their mark on the area. With a bit of nostalgia perhaps, people of our parent’s generation will best remember the beach from the dance years when bands the likes of Mart Kenny and “Moon” Landers provided the accompaniment for burgeoning romances.

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