Browsing through the archives of old Terrace newspapers, it’s striking how many of the stories placed on the pages of the past resemble those on our pages today. Names and faces are familiar, if one or two generations – or a swatch of grey hair – behind. Pipelines and pellet plants are proposed, conservationists call for stricter regulations, recycling programs and community plans for Thornhill are detailed. The experience drives home the sense that the growth – and subsequent worries about that growth – Terrace is facing today is something not new at all, actually, but something that this town has been through once, twice, three times before. To use a cliché, the more things change, the more they stay the same, right?
But mixed amongst those news stories is something quite dated – boxy advertisements promising a varied night out on the town: cabarets, discos, travelling shows, a working man’s watering hole for nearly every night of the week. With many of these places within a few walking blocks of each other, a picture begins to emerge of a Terrace with a bustling nightlife scene in both the downtown core and beyond – something that, it’s safe to say, isn’t necessarily the same today as it was then.
Back in the early ’70s and for the better part of the next couple of decades, the Terrace Hotel and the Lakelse Hotel, now the Best Western and the Inn of the West, offered a torrent of ever-evolving establishments – places like the Red D’or, Augie’s Lounge, the El Toro Room, Hanky Panky’s, and the bar in the Terrace Hotel, commonly referred to as “the Zoo.” Jezebel’s Cabaret, which was located across from Speedee Printers, was the epitome of ’80s flash style and the faithful Terrace Legion used to have a dress code in the evenings. The Skeena Hotel, which burned down in 2008, kept the bar warm for the workingman, and if you wanted to hear country music, the just-opened Northern out near Thornhill was the best bet. Terrace even had a disco – Mozart’s Boogie Parlour, now the Back Eddy, enjoyed a few years of fame until disco inevitably went out of style.
More relaxed liquor laws and a transient population of workers with money to burn in town contributed to a looser nighttime vibe, nights that often ended with the bar crowd parked at the various late-night drive-ins around town.
“It was quite a neat little atmosphere that we had going here,” reflects JP Dodd, on the phone from Thornhill. Dodd worked as a doorman and manager for years, beginning at the Lakelse Hotel in the early ’70s. “It was pretty active.” He and his crew were “in pretty high demand” back in the day, and moved between establishments trying to keep the peace.
“We weren’t too brutal with people, we talked to people and they just knew not to bugger around in those places,” he said. “If you did, you knew you were going to be turfed.”
And they were rewarded handsomely for their efforts.
“We had regular jobs throughout the day and you were getting $3, $4 an hour. But there (at the Lakelse Hotel), they were offering us $25 bucks an hour – that’s really high for those days, that was in the early ’70s,” he said. “You had to put your ass on the line sort of a thing. If there were guys fighting, you had to go break it up. And usually if some of the guys went in there and started breaking things up, next thing you know you were in the middle of a fight. That’s just the way it was in those days.”
And while bar brawls were more common – one person I spoke with detailed an unsavory street fight between rival Prince Rupert, Terrace, and Kitimat groups. Who won? “No one, the police won, they always did.” – patrons were also held to a higher standard.
“The cabarets usually had a dress code, if you went down there in really dirty clothes and that sort of a thing you didn’t get in,” said Dodd. “I can remember we had a group of tree planters come in and they were just absolutely filthy, we just stopped them right at the door and said no.” Same with the carnival workers. “The circus people, when they used to come up with all the rides and that, they used to try to come in and they’d just be filthy and we just wouldn’t let ’em in … they were all ticked off when we wouldn’t let them in but we said you’re not sitting down with your greasy pants and getting our furniture dirty.”
But it wasn’t just the laymen who got a hard time from the doormen.
“We used to keep a tight rein,” he said. “It was really funny because we didn’t let the RCMP come in without paying. They were ticked off at that. You want to come in and see the people? OK, two bucks.”
During an interview at Xander’s coffee shop on Lakelse Ave., the former site of one of the many establishments she worked at off and on beginning in the late ’70s, Mavis Hamilton remembers a doorman at Jezebel’s cabaret, which she managed for a time and Dodd also helped run, who had a unique way of keeping the atmosphere classy.
“He’d show up to work in this beautiful three-piece suit,” she said. “He was a hoot… Just the fact that he showed up in a three-piece suit stopped a lot of aggression, that and the fact that the staff was dressed – and it wasn’t a uniform, it was dressed – and it was a cabaret of the ’80s.”
Cabarets and lounges were different from bars and beer parlours, both in the eyes of the law and in atmosphere.
“It was different than going to the bar, going to the bar was just going to the bar. Going to the cabaret was, you dressed up to go. Even the people that came on the weeknights dressed up,” said Hamilton.
Jezebel’s was “the place to be” when its proprietor, Manuel DaSilva, first opened it up, she said. “He went all over the world and checked out everything he liked and brought that back to the cabaret.”
To understand what the scene was like, Hamilton says it’s important to keep in mind that money was different back then.
“You could get a lot more for your money. When I started working in bars in 1979, the price for a draft beer had just gone up to 25 cents. And people were complaining that you could only get four for a dollar instead of five. It was completely and totally different. The price of a highball was a dollar fifty. They were making a lot more money, your money went a lot farther.”
Where’d all that money come from?
“There was at least 25 logging companies going, Alcan and Eurocan were going full time in Kitimat, Rupert was going crazy, the whole area there was a lot going on – you could feel the energy in the air – but it was seasonal, everything was seasonal, right? So you have people going great guns for four or five months of the year and then needing to find something to do for the rest of the time,” she said.
A number of factors contributed to the end of Terrace’s nightlife heyday – a slowing economy, increased liquor prices, a shift in the drinking culture. And while the economy is no longer slow and it’s not hard to imagine new clubs and pubs popping up, it seems unlikely to Hamilton things would go back to the way they once were.
“People’s attitudes about alcohol have changed, the laws about alcohol have changed, the people that are made responsible for people drinking have changed. I can’t see anywhere in the world going back to that kind of thing because the servers and bartenders are being held responsible,” said Hamilton. “The emphasis has gone from the person who is doing the imbibing to the person is serving.”
Tastes change, too. “People do things at home now that they would’ve done elsewhere,” she said. “One of the draws at Jezebel’s was that we had Frogger, we had Asteroids, we had all of these gaming tables…”
It remains to be seen what will happen to the shuttered hotel nightclubs and buildings downtown as the city grows and the population shifts. But for those nostalgic for the old days, when the drinks and patrons of Terrace ran nearly free, here’s a tip: when Jezebel’s closed, its bar and furniture went to spruce up the Terrace Legion, one of the few spots in town that still operates today as it did then.