August 25, 1885
One form of entertainment that our ancestors looked forward to was the “bonnet hop” an evening of entertainment that included music and fireworks. In August 1885 the talk in St. John’s was all about the ‘bonnet hop’ at the Sea View House, Topsail.
Notice about the ‘Bonnet Hop’ appeared in advertisements in all of the local St. John’s newspapers. Organizers promised a grand evening that included a special train to take guests from St. John’s to Topsail and return. The music for the ‘hop’ would be performed by Professor Bennett’s Band.
Professor David Bennett the former music instructor at St. Bonaventure’s College was a prominent performer and bandmaster, his group was the band of choice for numerous public and private functions.
Music and musical groups played an important part in the social life of the community. Bands like Professor Bennett’s played at occasions like the hauling of firewood , the laying of cornerstones of public buildings, the towing of sealing ships through harbour ice, the arrival and departure of visiting dignitaries were all occasions when music was obligatory.
Traditionally a ‘bonnet hop’ was a dance on the deck of a boat, in which the ladies keep their bonnets on their heads. (The term bonnet refers to a strip of canvas laced onto the bottom of a loose footed jib in order to increase the sail area in fair weather. The bonnet is removed when wind velocity increases again.) Nowadays the ‘bonnet’ is the hood of the car!!
Excursions to ‘Grand Bonnet Hops’ were a regular feature on the social calendar, in some Newfoundland communities ‘bonnet hops’ were called ‘bontops’ now they are referred to as a spree or social at the community hall.
If you missed the ‘bonnet hop’ in Topsail the members of Professor Bennett’s Band promised “a series of Promenade Concerts, Dancing Assemblies and other Amusements, during the fall season at the Parade Rink, St. John’s.”
Our ancestors knew how to party!
Recommended Archival Collection: Explore the many collections that are held at the Rooms – search here: https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections
Recommended Reading: Dictionary of Newfoundland English G.M. Story, W.J. Kirwin, and J.D.A. Widdowson, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, The DNE is a historical dictionary based on evidence taken from printed sources and, in addition, on evidence of tape-recorded speech in the province. After its great popular success in 1982 and widespread published reviews, it has continued in print to the present. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/index.php