The Ontario Open Fiddle and Step Dance Contest History
In the beginning the contest was part of the annual Fall Fair, and was held upstairs in the arena. That first year, in October of 1970, there were 19 fiddlers and 550 people in the audience.
The contest was moved downstairs, into the arena proper, in 1971, and the following year it became the "Ontario Open Fiddle Contest," the winner in the Open Class receiving the trophy presented by Don Messer. By 1973, the contest had become so popular among contestants and spectators that it was moved to its own date in July, just in advance of the Canadian Open held at Shelburne, Ontario.
1974 was the first year for step dancing and a banner year overall: 101 fiddlers and 41 step dancers.
In subsequent years, the contest grew larger in terms of participants, audience, and the number of different programme elements.
The 1983 contest saw the addition of a Group Step Dance competition class -previously only an exhibition category. Its enormous popularity with audiences quickly made it a highlight of the entire weekend.
Through the mid 1980’s, the weekend contest consistently drew 200 contestants. By 1987, there was a sense of full maturity to the contest, a confidence that everything was under control and that’s of course when the blackout hit. Just before the Friday evening show the power went down, and showed little sign of being returned quickly. Had it not been for dedicated volunteers and their portable generators "the show must go on" tradition would have ended. But go on it did, with a gusto and spirit of co-operation that did everyone proud. It was one of those moments when adversity brings out the best in people -in this instance, spectators, competitors, and organizers alike.
That same dedication is evident every year at the Fiddlers’ and Steppers’ Park. Year after year, sometimes generation after generation, competitors and enthusiasts roll in on Thursday and Friday, anticipating a few solid days -and nights, for those with endurance -of renewing friendships and the music -always the music.
There’s nothing quite like walking through the park in the late evening, with a favourite tune like St. Anne’s Reel bouncing in summer air.
Ontario Open Fiddle & Step Dance Contest
This annual event displays the old-time skills of fiddling and step dancing.
These were important to our ancestors at weddings, dances, barn raisings and even at the lumber camps as a form of recreation and entertainment.
The contest is held near the end of July each year in the Bobcaygeon-Verulam Community Centre and is a chartered non-profit organization supporting community projects.
The People of the Ontario Open
There isn’t space here to mention everyone who has helped shape the Open over the years, but enough to suggest just how many are needed to make it go.
The post of Master of Ceremonies has been admirably filled, over the twenty years by Larry Stacey, John Lester, Art Jamieson, Vince Mountford, George Ruddock and Ray McNeilly. Our guest entertainers have included the likes of (on fiddle) Graham and Eleanor Townsend, Ivan Hicks, Lee Cremo, Rudy Meeks, (step dancing) Buster Brown and the McGuire Sisters, Cliff Adams, Brenda Cowan and Beverly Moulton, Kevin Hickey, (general entertainment/music for dancing) the Leahy Family and Orchestra, Art Jamieson’s Orchestra, Maritime Express, Whiskey Jack, Blue Grass North, The Cindy Thompson Show, ...
In addition, the contest could never have been successful without accompaniment and judging. On stage, helping out the competitors and the M.C.’s, have been (on piano) Elva Anderson, Linda Jones, Les Boston, Nichole Lacaille, Julie Schryer, Carolyn Woods and Kendra (Woods) Norris, (on fiddle) Bob Ranger and Robbie Dagenais. In the judging chairs we have had many dedicated musicians and dancers, many of them responsible, as teachers, for developing the talent and the art we witness on stage -too many to single out just a few here.
There are of course many people that you never see on the stage, organizers and helpers -all volunteers -who’ve made special contributions to the Ontario Open: Fred Bart, Vic Briton, Jim Coones, Jack Crowe, Jeff Crowe, Anne Crowe, Barry Crowe, Grace Crowe, Charlie Edgar, Hughie Elliott, Ray Foster, Stirling Jermyn, Mark Jermyn, Woodrow Jones, Cecil Junkin, Woodrow Junkin, Fred Kerr, Ron King, John Lester, Brian Lambert, Arthur Logan, Byron Martin, Betty McDonald, Brian McFadzen, Ken McGill, Libby McGill, Ray McNeilly, Walter Osmok, George Ruddock, Audrey Stinson, Mary Stockdale, John Stockdale, Fred Taylor , Murray Taylor, Barry Taylor, Don Thompson, George (Bud) Thompson, Bea Weatherup, Art Weadick, Bob White. Many of them are still actively involved, and looking forward to the next twenty years.
Any mention of the people associated with the tradition of the Open must include those local fiddlers who, in addition to playing at many social functions year ‘round, have come out to compete in the contest itself: Chester Dudney, Woodrow Jones, Cecil Junkin, Bruce Kennedy, Jack Kennedy, Roly Kennedy, Sandy McGee, Ross Robinson, George Ruddock, and Jimmy Thompson -Jimmy was for many years the elder statesman of local fiddle making, fiddle playing, and step dancing.
Finally, what really makes the Open is the people -in many cases families spanning three generations -that come back year after year, to compete, to play for fun, or cheer from the audience. You are the people who make it all worth while, the ones who help us sustain the tradition.
Thank you for supporting fiddling and stepping in general, and Bobcaygeon’s Ontario Open in particular.