The words of the song, “Dance at the Orangemen’s Hall,” written by the late Fred Peach describe some merriment there over a century ago, relating a humourous story of mischief and its consequences. For anyone over a certain age, the Orangeman’s, or Orange Hall as it was called, evokes a flood of memories.
The name had nothing to do with colour at all. Back in 1889, a group of the Orange Order formed in Cow Bay (Port Morien) and built a meeting hall there. The Order was named for Prince William of Orange, who seized the British throne after defeating the Catholic King James in battle. The Orangemen promoted the Protestant faith and mutual aid of their members. It wasn’t uncommon for members of many religious groups at the time to form exclusive fraternal organizations.
The hall itself was a large two-storey structure located on Main Street between Cliff and Birch. Parish teas, penny sales, church suppers, and wedding receptions were held in the spacious upstairs area. The double doors on the ground floor opened to a small foyer. There, a set of swinging doors would open to the main hall. A raised stage at the end of the hall was flanked by short stairways to the wings of the stage. Dances, concerts, election polls, community theatre, hypnotist shows, and even sporting events were held downstairs.
The dances at the Orange Hall were storied. There would be a steady parade outside to the rear of the hall, either because there was no indoor washroom, or maybe someone would consume some liquid courage before asking their favourite gal to dance. Many local married couples began their romance in the hall, and if you didn’t enter the hall as a lover, you probably entered as a fighter. A challenge, usually fuelled by alcohol, would be issued in the hall, a punch would be thrown, and whoever was in charge of the dance would whisk the combatants unceremoniously and sometimes aggressively, through the swinging doors and out into the street. Very often, the show would continue there, sometimes migrating to adjacent properties.
There were so many stories about the hall. My mother told me that during a barn dance in 1946, one of the locals rode a horse through double doors and into the main hall. Another story is about the Catholic youth who confessed to Fr. Brady that he danced in the Orangeman’s Hall. Fr. Brady refused to offer forgiveness because the sinner could not guarantee he wouldn’t dance there again.
Joe Peach was the caretaker of the hall over the years. He often chaperoned dances alone for St. Paul’s or the Boys Club, and always kept order. Numerous bands provided music over the years. The Ridgerunners and Johnny Murrant’s orchestra performed in the earlier years, later it was local young musicians. In my time, admission money would be split with the band. Each band member went home with about six or eight dollars for an evening’s work, not bad pay for the time.
By the 1970s, the old hall was starting to show its age. The Port Morien legion had opened a spacious new community facility in 1972. In addition, St. Paul’s built a new foundation under the church, and constructed a parish hall there. Kent Hall, named in honour of Rev. Glen Kent, was opened in March 1979. The Orange Hall had become redundant. In June, 1979, the aging structure was torn down.
Joe Peach once told me he regretted that he didn’t salvage the old swinging doors from the hall. What a conversation piece they would be. For many of us, those doors would open up memories of the Orange Hall and the special place it holds in the social lives of those of a certain age who grew up in the village of Port Morien.
Cape Breton Post