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Rose Gardens Reunion: roller skates, record hops and ‘spudnuts’

Phil Egan If you grew up in Sarnia in the ‘50s and ‘60s then Rose Gardens was part of your DNA.
Roller skaters at Rose Gardens in February of 1964. Courtesy of the Lambton County Archives, Wyoming. Sarnia Observer Negative Collection 45408-04.

Phil Egan

If you grew up in Sarnia in the ‘50s and ‘60s then Rose Gardens was part of your DNA.

It was a world of high school dances, shopping at Mary’s Record Mart on Front Street, Canadaburgers at Tab’s Drive-In on Colborne Road, Saturday night dances at the YMCA on Mitton Street, Drive-In movies on Plank Road, and the iconic roller rink on Sandy Lane on the west side of Canatara Park.

Rose Gardens, in its later years, as seen from the west end of Canatara Park, about where a commemorative stone now stands.Submitted Photo

It didn’t matter what high school you attended – everybody went to Rose Gardens.

On Sunday, Aug. 26, veterans of the ’good old days’ are invited to re-live those days at a Rose Gardens Reunion hosted by Jack and Marilyn Craig. Marilyn is the daughter of the late Dick and Elsie Rose, the popular owners and operators of the famous roller rink and dance hall that drew thousands of Sarnia teenagers from 1952 to 1974.

The facility was a haven for local teens for more than two decades.Submitted Photo

All are invited to the event, which is billed as “Remembering Dick and Elsie Rose.” It runs from 12:30 pm to 4:30 pm at the Canatara Park Beach Pavilion, beside the Band Shell and beach parking lot on the west side of the park.

Dick and Elsie Rose were special to many of those who attended Rose Gardens – keeping an eye on them like doting substitute parents.

Dick Rose, a former RCAF vet and London firefighter, in 1951 purchased the wartime dance hall on the beach known as Starlite Gardens, where Jack Kennedy and the big bands of the era had played. Over its first six years, Rose Gardens operated as an open-air skating rink, charging 40 cents for admission and 10 cents for skate rental. The Gardens expanded and was enclosed in 1958.

The Gardens also became Lambton County’s first doughnut shop, with Elsie baking and selling her popular “spudnuts” for five cents at the refreshment booth.

aaDick and Elsie Rose with Sarnia Fire Chief Cliff Hansen in 1966, during a muscular dystrophy fundraiser. The annual event included a Friday night dance with both live music and records.Submitted Image

In the ‘60s, Friday night record hops drew hundreds of teenagers to watch local bands like The Volcanoes and The Staccatos, and bigger acts such as Ronnie Hawkins, Burton Cummings and the Guess Who, The Capers, Del Shannon, David Clayton Thomas and Bobby Curtola.

Marilyn Craig today has fond memories of dropping in to Mary’s Record Mart every Friday night to preview the latest Top 40 hits with her Dad, choosing music for Rose Gardens.

In 1974, faced with changing times, a youth culture that was beginning to dabble more heavily in drugs and alcohol, and the increasing difficulty of policing the clientele, Dick and Elsie Rose reluctantly closed the teen haven.

Rose Gardens is gone but, for thousands of teenagers of the time, never forgotten. And on Aug. 26, it will be time to recall those days again.

The roller rink floor was also used for record hops every Friday night from 9:30 p.m. till midnight. The last dance at Rose Gardens drew more than 2,000 people.Submitted Photo

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