Is it really that time of year again? We always called it “May Twenty Fourth” with great reverence even though it wasn’t always on May 24th. But now I believe the kids (aged 14 – 45) call it “May Long,” which sounds like the name of a lovely Asian grandmother.
But no matter what anybody calls it, the May long weekend happens every May on account of Queen Victoria – who was the current Queen Elizabeth’s great granny – up and died in 1901 and in honour of her tipping over Canada decided to have a holiday. And the reason it’s not always on May 24 is that the Canuk parliament at the time decided the day would be celebrated on the second last Monday in May. So that’s why it’s always changing in a confusing way and we can blame it on the government, which is always a popular and satisfying thing to do.
And while I may have a terrible memory about things like dates, and Queen Victoria and the formula for finding the side of an Isosceles triangle, I certainly haven’t forgotten many epic May long weekend adventures.
I have dipped into this subject before in past ramblings but let me just reiterate that this iconic weekend was one of the most important events of the year back when we were young and curious and foolish and adventurous and had the whole world in front of us. Back when the Central Alberta Land of Oz was a place called Sylvan Lake and we were too young for the bars and just right for the dance hall. Also, it was really the first party weekend of spring, after many months of freezing Paleolithic tundra.
So May Twenty Fourth was a huge deal. By Friday night the whole gang would gather in convoy of four-door boat-cars borrowed from parents, the odd Austin A40 or Volkswagen Beetle belonging to the guys lucky enough to have their own cars, and a string of us rowdies who had motorcycles leading the way. We would roar off north on Gaetz to the corner of the fantabulous 2-11 Drive-In Theatre, turn left, hit Highway 11 and head for the lake with the wind in our hair (we had lots of hair then), and cold “pops” in the cooler and the promise of magic, music and members of the opposing sex.
We would cross the railroad tracks at the edge of Sylvan, make an immediate left to a row of little yellow half-houses. Pinecroft Cabins. Earlier in the week we would send the one of us deemed to look the most respectable (certainly not me) to book a couple of cabins and tent spots for the weekend. The party has officially started.
Next, the beach. Check out the Boathouse pinball games; take a tour of the long wooden pier. Over onto Lakeshore Drive the The Centre, the funky log building with the best French fries in the universe.
But it was all just a buildup. A palpable hum of teenage electricity ramping steadily in the direction of the epicenter of the May long weekend universe: Varsity Hall.
The legendary dance hall stood on the corner of what the locals called “Sesame Street.” All the best bands played there, and all your now-and-future friends would gather in that dark, warm wooden palace. The built-in stage at the far end, small bleachers and a concession stand at the other. Huge stone fireplace, short wooden fence around the dance floor, benches around the walls for the wall flowers. Girls on guys shoulders when the band played Higher and Higher.
It was a place, as they say, where memories were made. A place where, if you were lucky enough, you’d meet your better self by meeting your Better Half.
I know I did.
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Send him a column idea at firstname.lastname@example.org.