If you were a teenager in the 1960s in Orillia, chances are, the highlight of your summers was Teen Town at The Pav.
“Back then, there was the Geneva (movie theatre), bowling, the Shang (Shangri-La Garden restaurant) or Teen Town – that’s what you did. Teen Town was a big deal,” explained Mary Phelps.
Phelps grew up in Orillia and recently got together with some friends, all born and raised in Orillia, to reminisce about The Pav and the role it played in their lives as teenagers.
“That’s where everybody went. There was an electricity there, the whole experience of hanging out downtown and going to The Pav. The Pav was the pinnacle,” said Frank Allinson, who spent many evenings at The Pav, often with Mary whom he dated in high school.
The Pav, also known as Club Pavalon and Couchiching Park Pavillion, was a dance club located at the corner of Jarvis and Bay streets at Couchiching Beach Park. Apparently built before the First World War, the dance club was a hot spot for dancers – from the Second World War up until the 1970s. The building was demolished in 1991.
“My parents went to big band dances there,” said Frank.
By the 1960s, the dance hall became host to almost every Canadian rock band of the era when The Pav was owned and operated by Ray Cockburn, who went on to purchase and run The Kee to Bala.
With the assistance of “Teen Town” volunteers – a group of teenagers who helped run the weekly dances – Cockburn brought in groups such as The Guess Who, Stitch in Tyme, Mandala, Shawn and Jay Jackson and the Majestics, David Clayton Thomas, Crowbar, Lighthouse and many others, for the Friday and Saturday night dances.
“In the summer, we also had dances on Wednesday nights,” said Paul Raymond, who was a Teen Town volunteer. “We’d spin records and clean and close up the place. It was great because it got us into the dances for free.”
“They had what was called a band box – a sound system that, considering they were spinning 45s, actually sounded really good in there,” said Brad Emmons. “It had great acoustics.”
But the real draw was the live bands that played The Pav.
“I remember when Stitch in Tyme first came from Toronto," said Brad. "They were a really impressive group – two or three guys in the band became part of Lighthouse. I happened to be down at the park on a Wednesday afternoon and they were doing a sound check. They were singing Red Rubber Ball and Good Lovin’ by The Rascals. I just went, ‘my God, these guys are amazing.’
"Within two hours, the whole town knew about it; and they all came down. Ray Cockburn was so impressed, he asked them to come back for the weekend. All the cottagers came; it was wall to wall," he recalled.
Brad, who became a professional musician himself, also remembers a night that was likely the North American premiere of a number one hit of the time.
“There was a group from New England called The Barbarians. When they played The Pav, they had just come off a tour in England,” said Brad.
"They announced, ‘We’re going to play you a song we heard over there that’s going to be a number one hit when it gets here.’ Well, it was Wild Thing (by The Troggs) and everyone went bonkers, asking them to play it again and again. I think they played it three times that night!”
While the bands attracted teenagers from throughout the region, as well as cottagers, it was the atmosphere of The Pav that made Teen Town so memorable to local teens.
The group described the hall as having a big hardwood dance floor and a large fountain in the centre with a big mirror ball spinning above it.
“You’d stroll around the fountain to see who was there,” said Maureen Blake.
“There were also benches on each side of the dance floor. Typically, kids from the South Ward would go to the left and those from the North Ward would go to the right,” added Frank.
"You didn’t really mix unless you already knew someone from the other side. And a lot of the guys would hang out at the back, looking for girls to ask to dance – but they’d often never ask," he recalled.
“What made it great was the whole experience – the excitement of going out, who was going to be there, will so and so ask me to dance, hanging out with friends. I don’t remember having any bad nights there,” said Maureen.
“You had a blast, but you were also truly safe,” added Mary. “Orillia was dry at the time, so the focus wasn’t on drinking. Of course there was always some drinking going on, but it was never a menacing atmosphere. It was just a cool, safe place.
“The Pav was special for me because that’s where I met my wife,” said Frank. “I think there was a lot of that.”
“Hearts were broken; hearts were sealed, all that teenage stuff. It was great,” said Mary.