Dance Centre of Northwestern Ontario

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912 Donald Street East, as it appeared on Google Street View in August 2009

Northwestern Dance Centre, or Dance Centre Of Northwestern Ontario, or Northwestern Ontario Dance Centre, was a dance school on Donald Street in Thunder Bay, Ontario, active in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Origins

Amelia and Maurice Jackson, circa 1935

As far back as the 1930s, Amelia Jackson with her husband Maurice Jackson taught music and dance in Fort William.

Amelia organized her first "dance revue by pupils of Amelia Jackson" on 7 June 1935 at Fort William Collegiate High School. [1]

Amelia Jackson, with husband Maurice Jackson, were apparently important figures in Fort William, and the subject of a book: "The Jacksons of Fort William" [2] "History of the four unique entertainment experiences created by the Jacksons and presented Canada wide and into the United States. The Kiltie Band, the Dancing School, the Military Band, and the Orchestra were produced by these two tireless workers in the "30's" for the benefit of all interested youngsters in the district". The book was written by Harvey Lambert Smyth (1919 - 2008), a local man who was in one of their groups. [3]

According to a biography of Gladys Sands (born 1923) from 2016 on Facebook, Maurice Jackson ran the Great Lakes Girls Orchestra ("Gladys moved to Fort William where she sang with Maurice Jackson's Great Lakes Girls' Orchestra, a twenty-piece band that toured across Canada and the Northern U.S. in a bus. She also worked in Maurice Jackson's Music Shop and sang live with the Sunrise Serenaders on CKPR radio. At fifteen she sang “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” in her audition for Joe Turner beating forty-nine others.") [4]

Maurice and Amelia had one child: a son, Maurice Henry Jackson (1937 or 1938 - 19 May 2013). [5] [6]

A postcard from 1936 or 1937: [7] [8]

As of 1956 had a school called "Amelia Jackson Dance Studio".

The following year her husband died in Vancouver. It is not clear if they were still together.

Maurice Jackson apparently had no obituary in local Thunder Bay papers when he died in 1957 in Vancouver.

  • Amelia Jackson`s School of Dancing ; Presentation at Vocational School Auditorium Fort William Daily Times Journal, 14 Jun 1956 [9]
  • Amelia Jackson Dance Studio ; Amelia Jackson Dance School ; Amelia Jackson Recital Presented In Hill City; Dance recital at Hillcrest High School" "Fort William Daily Times Journal, 11 Jun 1960 [10]
  • Fort William Daily Times Journal, 4 Oct 1960 Amelia Jackson and Fay Gleeson (dance teachers) [11]

As of 1960, Amelia Jackson was already billed as a contemporary of Fay Gleeson, whose dance studio founded in 1958 still operates in Thunder Bay as of 2020 [12].

In 1964 Amelia established the "Northwest Ontario Ballet Guild" which persisted until at least 1975 or even 1978 when it was listed in the annual Revue program.

Thunder Bay Central Files has files on this organisation for the following years: Arts Northwestern Ontario Ballet Guild 5233-25 1966-75 [13]

Founding of DCNO / McKinnon Era

Although Amelia had been teaching dance since the 1930s, and teaching as the "Amelia Jackson School of Dance" since at least the 1950s, the studio known as the "Dance Centre of Northwestern Ontario" may have been founded by Amelia Jackson and her young student Don McKinnon in the 1960s.[14]). By 1978 the school had a faculty of 8: [8]

Faculty in 1978:

  • Amelia Jackson CDTA Director
  • Don McKinnon CDTA Assistant Director
  • Leslie Almgren (who would, with her daughter Gina, later take over the school in the 1990s)
  • Marg Hadland
  • Mary Evans CDTA
  • Barbara Ann Buie
  • Ilga Suseklis
  • Debra Lee Bechta
A congratulations posting from Amelia Jackson and Don McKinnon to Allan Cozzubbo, 27 September 1987, in the Calgary Herald

On 27 September 1987, Amelia and Don advertised best wishes to their dance teacher friend Alan Cozzubbo for 25 years of teaching dance. [4] Allan may have been married (!) to Lynn Abra [15]

Don McKinnon

Don McKinnon, circa 1980s

John Donald Joseph "Don" McKinnon (1940 or 1941 - 19 November 1989) was a teacher with Amelia Jackson for 35 years from when he was about 13 in about 1954 until his death from a "very bad" car accident in 1989.

In 1964 with Amelia Jackson, Don McKinnon founded the "Northwestern Ontario Ballet Guild".

McKINNON — Mr. John Donald Joseph "Don" McKinnon, age 48 years, of R.R. #5 Arthur Street, died November 19, 1989.

Born and raised in the city, Don was very active in the community throughout his life, and for the past 35 years, had taught dance in the district. All of those years were spend [sic] teaching with Amelia Jackson, and together they founded the Northwest Ontario Ballet Guild Dance Center [possible conflation of the Guild and Center into one name]. Don's whole life had been devoted to the art of dance and to [sic] anyone that was associated with him knew of his dedication. A teacher by profession he had been an employee of the Lakehead District Separate School Board for the past 27 years.

Don's leisure time was spent at the family camp at Sturgeon Bay. He was a longtime member of St. Agnes' Church and also St. Theresa's at Kakabeka.

He is survived by his mother Marguerite; brothers Bob, Bill and John "Jack" and his wife Jane all of Thunder Bay; sister-in-law Pat; numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and other relatives also survive. He was predeceased by his father Bob.

Funeral services will be held on Wednesday evening at 7:00 P.M. when friends and family will gather for Funeral Mass to be celebrated by Rev. Ken Pottie. Services will be complete [sic] in the Church with a private family interment to follow on Thursday in the family plot in St. Patrick's Cemetery. Removal will be made from the Blake Funeral Chapel prior to Mass time Wednesday. Prayers will be offered on Tuesday evening at 7:00 P.M. in the Blake Funeral Chapel.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial fund will be established to carry on Don's memory at the Northwest Dance Center [sic], and memorial cards may be obtained at the Blake Funeral Chapel.
— Obituary of Don McKinnon, Chronicle-Journal, 21 November 1989, page 22 [5]
"Mr. McKinnon, an RAD Ballet Teacher and protege Jazz Teacher of Matt Mattox ( Matt was in the movie"Seven Brides For Seven Brothers"..the axe Dance) Don examined the "Cozzubbo Jazz Exams" for three years and also did "Mock Ballet RAD Exams" for the Academy. Mr McKinnon passed in 1995 [actually it was 1989] due to a very bad car accident. He is remembered fondly by his family & Allan Jerry Cozzubbo, Al Gilbert, Kathy Wood"
— Jerry Cozzubbo, personal website, accessed 2020 [16]
Al Gilbert, circa 1952

Don was apparently a disciple of tap dancer Al Gilbert of California. He administered the exams for the NWSD at the end of many semesters in at least the 1970s.

"Al Gilbert, the legendary “Pied Piper of Dance,” was born, Allesandro Zicari, on July 12, 1921." died of cancer 3 February 2003.

[17]

Thunder Bay's Legendary Ballerina, Amelia Jackson, owned and operated a very strict yet rewarding dance studio here in Thunder Bay, the Northwestern Dance Center. Along with Amelia, were dance Pros Don McKinnon, Lesley Almgren and Leslie Hunt who taught many dancers over the years. Year end exams were conducted by Al Gilbert of Hollywood. Here are some programs with the list of the Guild Members. Lots of names to tag or share with their families.
— Karen Peltonen, Thunder Bay Memories Facebook group, 19 January 2019 [18]

Almgren Era

Gina Almgren, circa 2016

Likely after Don and Amelia's deaths in 1989 and 1990, respectively, the school was taken over by Leslie Almgren and/or her daughter Gina Almgren (born 20 January 1967) Gina Almgren or [19].

Leslie Almgren had been a faculty member since at least 1978 when she was listed as faculty alongside Don McKinnon in their annual Dance Revue event.

Gina Marie Almgren was born in Fort William on 20 January 1967 to Wayne Almgren and Leslie Almgren (nee Niro). [1]

Gina had a sister, Heather Lee Almgren born 28 September 1969. [2]

In 1998 the school was at 912 Donald Street East, at the corner of Donald Street East and Vickers Street South, in Fort William, Thunder Bay, Ontario. Their phone number was 807-622-3444.

In 1996 they performed the Nutcracker.

On 13 April 1997 the school announced auditions for the Nutcracker once again [20].

As of 23 December 1999, a "gala" was to be performed that "pays tribute to our forests", according to Chronicle-Journal, 23 Dec 1999, B1 [21]

The studio may have later moved to 426 Balmoral Street [22].

Gina Almgren later moved away from the Thunder Bay area, according to the owners of a dance clothing business as of 2019 in the basement of 912 Donald Street East - Flair Athletics [23]. The school may have shut down at this point.

Gina is listed on the website for an events company in California as the manager and director, and this company lists many Thunder Bay and dance related companies as clients, including "Northwestern Ontario Dance Center" [sic] and "Northwestern Ontario Ballet Guild" [24]

Notable students

Manuela Michelizzi-Bott, circa 2007
  • Manuela Michelizzi-Bott started dancing at Northwestern Ontario Dance Centre, at the age of 3 (likely in 1984). She graduated from Patrick's High School in June 2000, and Lakehead in June 2004. She was born to Fortunato and Palmira Michelizzi, who married 10 June 1977. Manuela married Owen Bott on 8 December 2007, after having founded a dance studio called "STEPS Dance Studio" in Chapleau, a suburb of Sudbury, Ontario, opening in September 2007. [3] From 1996 to 2000 Manuela was a "company dancer" at the Northwestern Ontario Dance Centre.
  • Linda Kearns, faculty at the Brandon School of Dance. [25] "Linda began dance at the age of 7 under the direction of Amelia Jackson. It was Amelia who instilled in her not only the love of dance but the discipline and work ethic needed not only in the world of dance but in life in general. Amelia encouraged her love of teaching, performing and choreographing and it was through Amelia and Don McKinnon that she began a lifetime friendship with Al Gilbert “the Pied Piper of Dance”."
  • Maeghan Tofinetti, owner of Fresh Air, coach at Giant Gymnastics, teacher at Fay Gleeson Dance Centre, "which has been her dance family since she was 9", and partner of Dr. Mario Nucci in the "Dancing with the Docs" competition in 2020. [26]
  • Michael Currie took his first dance lessons at this studio. He began in September 1998, taking one fall semester and one winter 1999 semester. In Spring 1999 he performed with his team at the Thunder Bay Community Auditorium.
  • Heather Syvitski was an instructor from 1991 to 2001. She worked for Equipment World for another ten years, and now has a wedding dance instruction business. She married her husband Gene in 2008. It is possible that she is Gina's sister but this is not confirmed; it is unclear what her maiden name is.[27] [28]
  • Emily Schulte, who was from Grand Marais [29]
  • Leslie Almgren (nee Niro) and her daughter, Gina Almgren
  • Don McKinnon

Sources

[1] Fort William Daily Times-Journal, birth notices. 24 January 1967, page 16. [30]

[2] Fort William Daily Times-Journal, birth notices. 10 October 1969, page 20. [31]

[3] Chapleau Express (a newspaper for a suburb of Sudbury, Ontario), 18 August 2007. [32]

[4] Calgary Herald, 27 September 1987, page 20.

[5] MCKINNON, DONALD (MR.) 19/11/1989 chronicle journal: 21/11/89 P. 22 times news: 22/11/89 P. 30

[6] "Senior Salute": Amelia Jackson. Chronicle Journal, 23 June 1988. [33]

[7] JACKSON, AMELIA (MRS.) 20/12/1990 chronicle journal: 21/12/90 P. 26 times news: 22/12/90 P. C4

[8] 11 June 1976; Selkirk Auditorium, Galaxy of Dance for '76, dance program

[9] Google Street View Google Street View

[10] "Local dance centre to produce 'Nutcracker' this Christmas" Thunder Bay Post, 18 Jun 1996, p. 12 Dancing ; Thunder Bay Community Auditorium ; Nutcracker Ballet ; Northwestern Ontario Dance Centre ; Gina Almgren ; Clint Kuschak ; photo. [34]

[11] Facebook [35]

[12] 1997 Nutcracker http://news.ourontario.ca/2231665/data?n=112

[13] https://www.fortwilliamgirlsmilitaryband.ca/

[14] Thunder Bay Museum Articles: "Maurice Jackson's All Girls' Band", XXX (2002), 39-46 [36]

[15] Ethel Duffield (1931 - 2011) Obituary. "As a member of Maurice Jackson's All Girl Band, she travelled from coast to coast and met every troop train, entertaining the troops during the war years." [37]

[16] Fort Frances News 2000


Local dance students shine Wednesday, Apr 26, 2000 Category: News Dancers at the Fort Dance Studio took their Al Gilbert Tap and Jazz exams April 16 at the Northwestern Ontario Dance Centre in Thunder Bay.

They also participated in workshops the previous day.

The following are the exam results:


< *c>Grade 1 Tap

•Katie Blais (100)

•Jazmine Gauthier (100)

< *c>Grade 2 Tap

•Borka Gauthier (100)

•Michele Gilbert (100)

•Kathryn Pierroz (97)

•Susan Ploegman (100)

•Jennifer Coats (97)

•Armando Gauthier (100)

< *c>Primary Jazz

•Joelle Barron (98)

•Jazmine Gauthier (99)

•Riley Keast (98)

•Jenna Nowak (96)

•Lauren Krueger (100)

•Brooke Fontana (97)

< *c>Grade 1 Jazz

•Pam Cherry (100)

•Borka Gauthier (100)

•Armando Gauthier (94)

•Michele Gilbert (100)

Congratulations to all exam students!

[38]