Keeping time

Laura Button
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New Bonaventure marks 102 years of dancing

Strains of accordion music that escape the lodge are dampened by the wet snow still falling. Pull open the latched door of the Loyal Orange Lodge (LOL) and the music gets louder. Shed your over clothes and winter boots before taking a step inside - you're greeted by warm air and warmer smiles. The annual New Bonaventure New Year's Day square dance has begun.

If you could go back in time, you would find girls in hand-stitched dresses and young men in their Sunday best. The stage would be hopping with a 12-piece band. Ladies would be serving tea and cold plates from tables at the edge of the hall. The wooden floor would be buckling under the weight of 12 dancing couples, spinning and tapping in time to the music.

All join hands and close up. Photo by Laura Button/The Packet

New Bonaventure - Strains of accordion music that escape the lodge are dampened by the wet snow still falling. Pull open the latched door of the Loyal Orange Lodge (LOL) and the music gets louder. Shed your over clothes and winter boots before taking a step inside - you're greeted by warm air and warmer smiles. The annual New Bonaventure New Year's Day square dance has begun.

If you could go back in time, you would find girls in hand-stitched dresses and young men in their Sunday best. The stage would be hopping with a 12-piece band. Ladies would be serving tea and cold plates from tables at the edge of the hall. The wooden floor would be buckling under the weight of 12 dancing couples, spinning and tapping in time to the music.

In 102 years, the lodge has only missed one New Year's Day dance. A snowstorm kept people home Jan. 1, 1959. The lodge held the dance at Easter instead.

Tonight, the roads are slush-covered and slippery, but Giles Miller still wonders where the crowd is.

"They've come in worse than that." He shakes his head.

"It's the smallest crowd in a long time," Miller says as he welcomes new arrivals. "It's a bit of a disappointment to see it fall back, but we're going to strive on to see what we can do."

The crowd is shy getting started - a few wallflowers shuffle their feet, until Miller cracks the whip. Soon, eight couples are in a ring.

Oliver Muggeridge and his wife, Doris, came from Lewisporte. Others are from St. John's, Burgoyne's Cove and places in between. There are young faces too, though they protest they don't know how to dance. No need to worry - there are enough old hands here that you'll always have someone to guide you in your misstep.

"A mistake don't mean a thing; everybody makes mistakes so what's the difference? Even me," says Miller.

The steps are simple enough. From the initial take two - two couples greet each other at the centre of the floor - to everyone's favourite close up and grand chain, it's a matter of keeping the steps in order, and in time to the beat.

"If you could see it 20 years ago when the crowd were up on it, they wouldn't miss a step. You weren't allowed! You had to dance out the bar of music," Miller says.

You could step dance too, or try your turn at a waltz, but nobody waltzes here.

"They come for the square dance," Miller says. "It was always a square dance. Always."

The 12 days of Christmas, remembers Miller, were full of dancing.

"There was a square dance pretty well every night. It'd be a nickel or 10 cents to get in, and when it's over, it's over ... Until Easter, when you'd get another one."

They'd come from all over. From Little Harbour and Pope's Harbour - a four-hour walk away - from Trouty, Dunfield and Ireland's Eye. After all these years, the Orange Lodge's New Year's Day tradition is the only dance left.

There were 120 members when Miller joined the LOL as a young man. Now there are just 18, and Miller tries to keep it going from his new home in Clarenville.

"You get attached to something," is how Miller explains his continued dedication to the tradition.

The night used to open with the big band, lodge members with horns and accordions and drums. Today you have to imagine the crowd in years past, with 30 ladies serving soup and cold plates from the small kitchen, and 20 children sound asleep on the stage while the band played on. They were laid out on piles of coats, every which way, lulled to sleep by the gaiety of friends and family.

If only there were a way to time-travel, Miller would be back there in a heartbeat.

Whether the dance will still be going in another 102 years is another thing.

"I don't think so," Miller muses sadly. "The outports are going pretty fast."

The Packet

Geographic location: Lewisporte, St. John's, Little Harbour Ireland Clarenville

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  • Eugene
    July 02, 2010 - 13:17

    Thanks for your coverage of the LOL square dancing function at New Bonaventure on New Year's. My memories of these happy times in the 50's are still very vivid. I was a young teenager then from Ireland's Eye full of vim and vigor and could squeeze the accordian (in my turn) for squaredancing from 9pm till 3am, and did so at this particular hall on several occasions for community functions. It was indeed Times of the Century very happy people thet enjoyed life to the fullest..... A proud populace. Congratulations!

  • Eugene
    July 01, 2010 - 19:58

    Thanks for your coverage of the LOL square dancing function at New Bonaventure on New Year's. My memories of these happy times in the 50's are still very vivid. I was a young teenager then from Ireland's Eye full of vim and vigor and could squeeze the accordian (in my turn) for squaredancing from 9pm till 3am, and did so at this particular hall on several occasions for community functions. It was indeed Times of the Century very happy people thet enjoyed life to the fullest..... A proud populace. Congratulations!