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Nelson’s floating pavilions

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

I came across an interesting story in the Nelson Daily News of Jan. 26, 1935 (seen below) that reveals Nelson once had a floating dance pavilion. It had quite a back story too.

The story says Herbert L. Lindsay built it early in the 20th century “as a place of amusement” on the waterfront at Lardeau. It was then used as a warehouse off the wharf there, before being towed to Nelson where it had a hardwood floor installed.

“From then on Nelsonites tripped the light fantastic beneath its rafters during the summer months, the old Nelson boat club and other organizations hiring it for special occasions.”

Lindsay sold the building to Willoughby J. Astley, who in turn sold it to Harry Masters, who sold it to Telesphore L. Marquis, who left it to his sons. It was last used in the summer of 1934 by “various dance orchestras.” It collapsed on the afternoon of Jan. 25, 1935 under heavy snow.

Although the story didn’t give a location, we know the pavilion was at the foot of Josephine Street.

I can’t find any early references to it at Lardeau, or of it being towed to Nelson, but it was first mentioned in the Nelson Daily News of June 20, 1909: “There will be a dance on Tuesday evening in Lindsay’s pavilion under the auspices of the Eagles’ band and orchestra.”

Here’s an ad from the Daily News of July 10, 1909 claiming the pavilion had “the best dancing floor of anything west of the Great Lakes.” I doubt it!

Another ad four days later revealed the presence of an “electric piano.” They didn’t mean that in the modern sense, but rather what is otherwise known as a player piano.

And yet another ad from Aug. 19, 1909 claimed the pavilion was “built on similar plans as the famous water pavilions of Paris.” I doubt that too, but no photos exist to confirm or contradict this statement.

The dances continued until September 1910. Then on Dec. 9 of that year, the Daily News carried a startling announcement:

The Nelson Boat & Launch company have received a number of new roller skates from the east and propose to utilize what was formerly known as Lindsay’s dancing pavilion as a rink. The opening will take place this afternoon and in future both afternoon and evening sessions will be held.

A floating roller rink!

Yet I haven’t found any more references to it being used this way. Dances resumed there in 1911 and once again Wilkinson’s Orchestra was the house band.

The last mention of the building belonging to the Nelson Boat & Launch Co. appeared on Aug. 15, 1913. It appears to have changed hands at this time, for three days earlier, the local cricket club was said to be arranging “a big invitation flannel dance on Thursday evening at Astley’s pavilion.” (Apparently, a flannel dance was one where formal wear was not required.)

Further dances were held over the next few years, hosted by the football club, rowing club, and high school baseball club, among others. Gladys Attree also taught dance classes at the pavilion, as shown in this Daily News ad of Dec. 24, 1914.

Attree was trained in London and immigrated to Canada that year, establishing the Attree School of Dance. She later expanded her classes throughout the Kootenay and into Vancouver and Alberta.

The last mention of Astley’s pavilion is July 21, 1917. I imagine that is when Astley sold it to Harry Masters, but I can’t find any further mention of it until August 1923, when as “Masters’ dancing pavilion” it was the “scene of a merry throng” celebrating the opening of the Nelson-Spokane highway. Here’s an ad from Sept. 1, 1923, revealing the floor had been redone.

There are no further mentions until June 1926 when ads appeared for the “Lakeside Dancing Pavilion,” offered at “very reasonable rent” by Wib Blanchard. I can’t swear that this was the same building.

A year late the pavilion was auctioned off along with four boat houses. The ad in the Daily News revealed the electric piano was still there.

Presumably it was at this point that T.L. Marquis acquired the building, but I’m not sure. Ads appeared in the summer of 1928 for the Lakeside Dancing Pavilion but did not indicate who the proprietor was.

There is no further sign of it operating until August 1933 when it opened as the Troubador Dance Pavilion, named for the Troubador Dance Band that played there. (The same group performed at the opening of the Capitol Theatre in 1927 and is immortalized in a photo hanging in the lobby. Jack Horswill, who died in 2007 at age 97, was a member.)

The Daily News of July 7, 1934 carried an ad for a “grand opening dance” by the Troubadors at the “Lakefront pavilion at boat houses” with further dances to come every Wednesday and Saturday. These would be the final events ever held there.

Five months after the pavilion collapsed in early 1935, its remains still had not been removed. City council condemned it as an eyesore and a fire hazard and notified the Marquis brothers that their foreshore lease would be cancelled and they had to move the wrecked structure.

They did move it, but only as far as the city wharf. A month later, the city clerk was asked to write the brothers and tell them to move it again. Presumably they did, for that was the last mention of the pavilion.

As mentioned, no photos of the dance pavilion are known to exist, but looking for one led me to another such building in the same area: the Nelson Boat Club clubhouse. It is seen at right in the postcard below, postmarked 1913.

Image MSC130-15647_01 courtesy of the British Columbia Postcards Collection, a digital initiative of Simon Fraser University Library

It is also seen top left on the multi-view postcard below, ca. 1910-15.

(Greg Nesteroff collection)

Here are a couple of other distant views of the building from postcards produced probably ca. 1905-10.

At first I wondered if this building and the dance pavilion were one and the same. After all, the boat club was said to have used the dance pavilion at times. In fact, they were two different buildings, but it’s confusing. A third building (and maybe others) was also in the mix.

The boat club building was constructed in the spring of 1902. As the Daily News of May 4 reported:

The Boat club building was yesterday towed from the city wharf where it was built to its permanent location at the foot of Josephine street, and the remaining piles necessary to secure it were driven. The club house has been placed well out in the lake to allow a good view for races and for convenience in getting in or out with the long racing shells.

Meanwhile, a separate organization, the Kootenay Launch Club, planned a clubhouse at the foot of Park Street in 1903, but I’m not sure if it was built. In 1912, the club announced plans for a floating clubhouse at a cost of $2,000. The location was not specified, but later references suggest it was at the end of the wharf on Hall Street.

Local architect Alex Carrie drew up the plans. According to the Daily News of March 20, 1912:

The design is a handsome one and provides for ladies’ and gentlemen’s quarters, dance floor, and a spacious upper floor, which can be used either open or closed … Tenders for the erection of the new clubhouse will be called for at once and the new building is expected to be the scene of many smart social events.

Work got underway at the end of April with the driving of the piles and the building opened on Sept. 18, 1912.

Nelson Daily News, Sept. 19, 1912

However, this building’s life was brief. It was destroyed on Sept. 6, 1919 along with four private launches and three boathouses when the gas tank of a launch exploded. The only consolation was that a shift in the wind prevented even more launches from going up in flames. The clubhouse was valued at $2,800, but only insured for $1,800.

In March 1920, the launch club presented plans for a new clubhouse, calling for a frame building about 60 feet long by 30 feet wide, divided into one large room running the whole length of the building and two small dressing rooms. However, some club members felt it would be too large and, at a projected cost of $3,100, too expensive. I don’t know what the outcome was.

The Nelson Boat Club’s building, meanwhile, lived on. By one report, “In 1939, [it] was damaged beyond repair in a storm on the lake.” But it fact, it appears to have survived into the mid-1950s.

The Daily News of May 21, 1954 carried a story that stated: “The future of the Nelson Rowing Club’s boathouse and club is dim.” (By this time, just to make things more confusing, the boat club had been renamed the rowing club.)

The story explained the city wanted the building moved and the rowing club was prepared to offer it to the Nelson Launch Club for free on the condition that it be fixed up, but the launch club wasn’t interested.

“Rather than see the place demolished [rowing club president Bud Greenwood] is hoping that someone will take it over and make it useable for a club room,” the newspaper reported.

But it wasn’t to be.

The Nelson Daily News of Oct. 5, 2001 reported:

The [Nelson Rowing Club’s] first boathouse was built in 1897 [sic] and lasted until the late 1950s when it broke free from its moorings and started to float down the West Arm. Concerned the two-storey structure would crash into the Taghum bridge, it was set on fire in a dramatic floating scene.

Fascinating, if true! But I can’t find anything to confirm or contradict this.

The Touchstones Nelson archives has the photo below, which Ross McKay donated in 2006. The description simply reads: “Cleaning up Nelson Boat Club boathouse – 1955?” But I think the building is actually being demolished and the photo shows its last gasp. The sign is the same one seen in the postcard taken at the pre-1913 regatta.

Shawn Lamb Archives/Touchstones Nelson 2006.065.01

Updated on June 2, 2021 to add the newspaper quote from 2001, on April 18, 2022 to add more details about the dance pavilion from 1923 until its demise, and on Oct. 10, 2022 to add the multiview postcard.

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Reginald Garnett
Reginald Garnett
May 06, 2023

I note in the postcard photo dated 1913, that the paddle-wheeler SS Moyie is in the background. Went with my Dad on Moyie from Nelson to Ainsworth when I was about 10 or 12 about 1941 or 1943. Also went from West Robson on the lower Arrow Lake to Nakusp in 1945 on the Minto. Moyie and Minto were sister ships owned and operated by the CPR

I believe. As you know, Moyie has been preserved as a museum at Kaslo. While Minto, sadly,

was set on fire and sunk on the Lower Arrow Lake. Date?

Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
May 06, 2023
Replying to

Aug. 1, 1968, alas.


Reginald Garnett
Reginald Garnett
May 06, 2023

Many thanks, Greg, for an interesting and well-researched article. Any information on the

Wilkinson Dance Band?

Greg Nesteroff
Greg Nesteroff
May 06, 2023
Replying to

No, if you know anything about them I'd be interested.


May 20, 2021

Greg always interesting what you find about Nelson and other information on other area's My Son and I were going to come up to Nelson this year but with the Pandemic we decided to wait till next year hope we can take you out to lunch or dinner at that time.


Mickey Nazarov
Mickey Nazarov
Jan 31, 2021

Truck loads of thanks Greg....for a very interesting article re "water pavilion" in Nelson. This city seems to have had a very "high society" type of citizenry in it's early days. Well done Greg.

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