The last dance for the Club Chez Charles
In the bygone era of disco and rock ‘n’ roll, it was a beacon for partygoers and rebellious high school students seeking their first nightclub experience.
Brick by brick, the “infamous” Chez Charles Hotel came down Tuesday depriving the island of yet another popular cultural landmark.
“Everybody knew where the Chez Charles was,” remarked Allumette Island Councillor Gene O’Brien watching as a towering excavator began pulling down the two-storey building located near Demers Centre.
The two-acre property was taken over by the island and zoned municipal commercial and light industry. Vacant since its closure over 20 years ago, council felt the building was unsafe with the roof caving and the walls buckling.
“With evidence of people entering the building in the past to party or pilfer, the municipality would be liable if someone was injured during a cave-in,” said Allumette Island Mayor Winston Sunstrum adding the property will be sold to a buyer that has a business plan for economic development.
While the structure will be demolished, the foundation will be kept intact as it is still in good shape. To construct a similar foundation today would cost $100,000.
The Chez Charles Hotel was opened in 1961 by Jean St-Cyr, a successful businessman from Hull, Quebec, who often vacationed on the island. Boasting a beautiful ballroom and luxurious rooms, the “Chez,” named after St-Cyr’s five-year-old son, became a popular draw among locals and tourists from across Quebec and Ontario.
In its heyday, world class entertainers such as Tommy Hunter, the Hames Sisters, Tommy Common and the Tragically Hip performed there, including acts from Las Vegas. The famous championship wrestler Sweet Daddy Siki once sang his theme song here.
On most nights the ballroom ran at full capacity with crowds as large as 500 people. Despite the $5 cover charge, customers lined up for hours just to grab any available seat.
“Back in the 1970s, they had a cover charge,” recalled O’Brien. “You didn’t have much money but you found enough for the cover charge.”
In 1969, the hotel was sold to Alcide Dubeau and Doreen Berube. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it gained a wide reputation for being a nightclub. Every Friday night, it became the destination for high school teens seeking more dancing after the Ontario-side spots closed for the evening. Daniel Demers and Roger Beaubien operated the establishment until 1989 when the “Chez” closed its doors for good.
Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist