The day Dame Gracie Fields came to Port Alberni was an exciting one for the Alberni Valley’s first female drill team.
Fields was a British actor, singer and comedian, and was one of the top film stars in the United Kingdom in the 1930s.
The Elks Valleyettes were part of the welcoming committee when Fields came to town in April 1950, during a ceremony in front of CJAV Radio.
The drill team was formed in 1949 when Cliff Lee, Grand Exalted Ruler of BPOE Lodge 101, found out it would cost $200 to bring a marching drill team to town for the annual Empire Day (now known as Victoria Day) celebration in May. Lee decided it would cost less to form a local team.
The first team was made up of 32 members and they made their first appearance on May 24, 1949. They quickly gained a reputation and performed at numerous Elks conventions across Canada during their eight-year stint. The Elks sponsored Fields’ visit to Port Alberni, so it was only natural that the Valleyettes would play some role in her visit.
Fields was a star of music halls at the time, and popular with servicemen and women. Her arrival in Port Alberni meant Valley veterans were able to see in person the star they had fallen in love with on the silver screen. The old army camp drill hall was filled to capacity—nearly 2,000 seats—with servicemen and their families for Fields’ performance, one of three in British Columbia during her Canada and United States tour that year.
Fields was presented with a key to the city, according to historian Jan Peterson. She wrote about Fields’ visit in Twin Cities: Alberni-Port Alberni.
The online digital archives of the Alberni Valley Museum comprise 24,000 historical photos chronicling Alberni Valley people, places and events. To see more, go online to https://portalberni.pastperfectonline.com.
Author Jan Peterson has written a number of books on the history of the Alberni Valley, including Twin Cities: Alberni-Port Alberni.