Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
MANITOU BEACH, SASKATCHEWAN — Elvis played here. He sure did. It was ’54 and he was touring with Hank Snow and there isn’t a septuagenarian alive who can say for certain that he didn’t slide his blue suede shoes across the stage of Danceland. In fact, rumour is that Lisa Marie told someone that she was certain for sure her dad from Tupelo came through these long swatches of farmland to put on a show in front of teenagers swinging beneath the big long sky two hours from Saskatoon.
Funny thing about the Elvis legend in Manitou Beach. It’s not so interesting that people cling to the belief that he played here. It’s that if you linger in this prairie town for a couple of days, hobnobbing with its charming residents, taking a dip in its wonder of a lake, listening to the stories that span decades, you find yourself coming to believe the King could play here still.
There is a very surreal “Back to the Future” feel about Manitou Beach and neighbouring Watrous and in no spot is that feeling more acute than Danceland, the 5,000-square-foot hall built in 1930 and operated by a lovely pair of sweethearts, Arnie and Millie Strueby.
“I would come here in the Forties and you would pay 10 cents for a dance. Five cents for you and five cents for the girl you asked to dance, and if you had a steady partner it was a quarter for three tickets, not 30 cents. You would save a nickel,” Arnie Strueby recalls, his eyes twinkling and face grinning with the memory of his teenage days.
Now in his eighties, he and his wife look after Danceland with devotion and love. At night, after the crowd is gone, they sweep the floors, including the venerable dance space that is home to what’s believed to be the only remaining horse-hair dance floor in Canada. The floor is one Danceland legend that is undisputedly real. Padded with six inches of horse tail between the main hardwood dance space and a pair of subfloors, the Danceland floor that once drew hundreds of people on Sunday afternoons in its early days is a moonwalker’s dream. It has give, thanks to the train-car full of horse tail beneath the dancer’s feet. That means your knees and soles aren’t going to ache the way they would on a modern laminate, wood or concrete sheet.
Did Elvis Leave This Building?
Made of Douglas fir, the ballroom also has tremendous acoustics. Bands play polka and swing music, sometimes old rock classics from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. There’s a cash bar that serves Old Style Pilsener, the beer of choice for many older citizens of Saskatchewan, and upstairs a balcony where you can look down on the dozen or so couples who twist and foxtrot and waltz the night away in this delightful relic of a place that’s so genuine you might catch yourself crooning “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
Charlie Johnstone, an old-timer from Winnipeg who moved to Manitou Beach decades ago, spends his Saturday nights taking turns with as many women as he can on the floor. “I can go all night,” he says — of dancing. “The floor is perfect. My knees don’t feel a thing.”
Judy Hoppe, visiting from Portland, Oregon, calls the town utterly wonderful. It’s a spot where you can find the continent’s oldest bird sanctuary, an Anglican church with a 500-year-old stained-glass window shipped in 2,000 pieces from England, and Little Manitou Lake, reputed to have medicinal powers that aboriginal groups utilized for centuries.
Manitou Beach isn’t a place you should just drop into for a couple of hours. It’s not the prettiest stop you’ll stumble upon, nor the most upbeat. But it is absolutely worth a visit. In fact, in the year since I ventured to Saskatchewan I have often thought about this tiny speck of a town and how much depth and soul it seems to possess out amid the prairies. Abutting the mineral-rich lake, the town is a short distance from the fields of auriferous grain and the province’s carpets of agriculture, a bountiful patchwork that’s not appreciated nearly enough. In Danceland, you’ll encounter creaks of age and the brassy notes of an era nearly a century old. You’ll catch sight of couples rebelling against time as they whip around the circumference of the floor, bouncing as if on a wave. Some giggle and haul into their lungs the air of the big open ballroom with a vaulted, domed roof sweating with tender memories.
If Elvis wasn’t here, he sure missed out.
More About Danceland
Address: 511 Lake Avenue, Manitou Beach, SK (see map below)
Telephone: 1-800-267-5037 (toll free)
Hours: Friday and Saturday nights, 6-11 pm; Sunday Gospel Show, noon; self-guided tours available during the day.
Performers: See the Danceland schedule for upcoming acts.
More About Manitou Beach
Where to Stay: Manitou Springs Hotel & Mineral Spa (302 McLachlan Avenue, Manitou Beach, four blocks from Danceland)
Nightly hotel rates: Rooms range from $119.95 to $169.95, pool admittance included.
Mineral spa prices: Pool admission starts at $10.95 for an adult swim or $14.95 for a day pass.
Telephone: 1-800-667-7672 (toll free)
More Vacay.ca Coverage: Manitou Beach: The Dead Sea of Canada
And About that Elvis Sighting
Elvis Presley got his big break because of Canadian country music star Hank Snow, who mentored the young kid from Mississippi in 1954. Presley was Snow’s opening act for a few months and Snow did tour Canada often; however, there’s no record of him coming through Manitou Beach that year. But there is also a Manitou Springs near Denver, Colorado and there are records showing that Elvis stayed and played at resorts there.
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