By Gord Bowes, News staff
It’s a celebration so big they need three days to hold it.
The Germania Club of Hamilton, one of the oldest German-Canadian associations in Canada, is turning 150 this year.
To celebrate, the club is holding a dance, a gala and a special anniversary concert the weekend of May 16-18.
Technically, the club is a little younger than 150 years. It is the choir — officially known as Germania Choir 1864 — formed by German immigrants that is a century-and-a-half old.
“The choir started it all,” says Hedda Wagenblast, the choir president. “In Germany, it’s very much tradition when people get together, they sing.”
“When they arrived here, they continued the tradition.”
In the early years, members met at private homes in Hamilton, according to a history assembled by the club.
They eventually found a permanent home at 17 Main St. East, where members could speak their own language and enjoy food, drink and dance from their native land.
That building was sold during the First World War when the club was temporarily disbanded because the country was at war with the members’ homeland.
After public opinion about Germany changed and there was another influx of immigrants, the club reopened in 1929.
But during the Second World War the club was forced by the federal government to close its doors at 80 1/2 James St. North and members were forced to meet in secret.
“Officially, they were not allowed to get together,” says Wagenblast.
The club retained its charter and after the war it reformed. Members started holding dances to raise the money to buy a building at 863 King St. East in 1952. Three years later, the building which was originally a single family home was expanded, with its large hall and other features added.
The main hall, with a stage, sprung hardwood dance floor and balcony, is still in use today.
“They say this is the best dance floor in the area,” says Ingrid Opperman, the club’s vice treasurer.
The post-war years were the beginning of the Germania Club’s heyday.
“In the early days, this place was hopping,” says Wagenblast.
“Of course, like any other group, we shrank. Our membership is declining.”
Many of the members current members joined in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Today, the club has about 300 members, down from 700 in the early 1990s.
The choir still boasts 45 members, down from 50 about two decades ago. There’s a practice every Thursday.
“We get together for anniversaries for special occasions and sometimes for no occasion at all — just because it’s a nice Sunday afternoon and we want to sing,” says choir director Linus Press.
The Germania choir also regularly performs out in the community, at retirement homes for example. It’s annual Christmas concert at First Pilgrim United Church is also very popular.
Full details of the Germania Club’s anniversary plans, including the 150th anniversary concert on May 18 at Mohawk College’s McIntyre Performing Arts Centre, featuring 10 German choirs from across Ontario, can be found at the club’s website, germaniaclub.ca.