Boomtown Garter Girls: Will can can for kicks
From an impromptu talent show in Rafters to champagne with the mayor of Amsterdam–the Boomtown Garter Girls have been wowing audiences for 30 years as Rossland’s unofficial ambassadors.
This weekend, the Girls will be celebrating 30 years of dance with a blowout Red Feather Saloon party at the Miners’ Hall this Saturday night. Over 30 alumni of the group will be returning to join the 15 current members as well as the ten member troupe from Grand Forks.
“All 50 of us will do a kick line together, so we’ll have a 100 leg can-can kick line,” added Lyndsay Fraser, the group’s founder.
From 8:00 PM to 2:00 AM, the Miners’ Hall will be hopping with the band No Excuse accompanying the garter girls as well as playing between shows. The newly established local non-profit theater group headed up by Nadine Tremblay will also be making their first appearance at the saloon.
This week the Telegraph caught up with the group’s founder Lindsay Fraser to learn just how a Red Mountain bartender got to tour the world one high kick at a time.
Can-can dancing is–let’s say–a few years removed from pop culture. How did you first get into it?
The first time I performed the can-can, I was six years old. The lady next door to me had a dance studio in her basement and I used to hang out there all the time. It’s such a fun style of dancing. I’ve done lots of other dance styles as well but I love the can-can. It’s the funnest style as far as the camaraderie of the group goes.
So how did you go from a love for the can-can to getting the Garter Girls together three decades ago?
It all came together after I moved here. I had been dancing professionally up in the Yukon in Dawson City. When I came to Rossland and realized they had the same Gold Rush-era history, and I thought that this town needed some can-can girls. I originally moved here in 1975, danced up north in 77 and 78 and the first time we debuted was during Rossland Winter Carnival at the talent show in 1980.
How did you go about approaching other girls to get them to join a can-can group?
Well I was working at the ski hill bar up in Rafters–or ‘Laughters’ as we called it them. I was trying to get some acts together for the Winter Carnival so I asked the girls on the bar staff with me if they wanted to learn the can-can. So it started out as the ski hill bar staff putting on a very amateur show. We were inspired by the dancing waiters.
We used the standard music our first time out. Our costumes were pretty primitive compared to what they are now. I sewed all of the costumes for that 1980 performance. Now we are definitely way more polished and our costumes are much nicer and more sophisticated in their presentation.
That first show was very well received. It was the first time they had seen a female can-can dance in town since I don’t know how long ago. Everybody was very surprised and pleased. We got standing ovations at that first show. We stole the show and brought down the house that night in the Red Mountain Cafeteria. I was eight months pregnant at the time too.
What does it take to be a great can-can dancer?
It’s brutal dancing, so you have to be tough. It’s hard on your body but we get to play dress up, have fun and hang out with some great women so it’s a lot of fun too.
Back in the days of can-can there weren’t many jobs open to women. It took a lot of courage, spunk and tenacity for these women to be their own bosses and make their own way. It’s part of our mandate to honour the pioneering women of that day. The dancehall queens were like stars. They were wonderful women, hearty, spunky and world travellers. It was that outgoing type of woman that we always try to emulate when we take on our stage characters. We like to honour our fore-mothers.
Are there any particular characters in Rossland’s history that you try and channel in your performances?
The Allan Hotel and Mrs. Allan is what we think of when we perform. The Miners’ Hall has always been our home but Mrs. Allan was her own boss. She ran the Allan Hotel. It was the fanciest joint in town. She had first class entertainment all of the time. She was married five times but always retained her bar and her business.
Back then it was hard for a woman to run her own life and her own business because you and your property became the property of your husband back then so it was really hard for women then to stay independent. She was bucking the trend of society to earn her own living and support yourself without a man in your life. She did all of those things, so Mrs. Allan was a very special lady in town and we try to emulate her spirit in our troupe.
Most people in town are familiar with the Garter Girls. What is one thing about the group that maybe people don’t know or that might surprise some people?
Well, after we finally clean up the Red Feather Salon each year it would be three or four or later in the morning, so we’d take all of the leftover booze down to the graveyard and watch the sun come up. Usually we’d still be in full costume. Our can-can husbands, who we have to thank for sure, were with us as well. They were always very happy to be our chauffeurs, managers, roadies and whatever we needed.
There was one year, a few years after we had been going that we were all down at the graveyard watching the sun come up, and I guess we were being quite loud [laughs]. The neighbours called the cops–and at four in the morning–so the cops had to get dressed, get in the cruisers and come down to the graveyard to try and break up this party. When the cops got there they recognized all of the cars. Lloyd Henderson’s cars, Egbert Plug’s car, Phil Johnson’s car and all of these so called respectable citizens of Rossland [laughs]. When they recognized our cars they got back in their cruisers and headed home. They knew what was going on, knew we were the Garter Girls so they just let us be. We’ve always got tremendous respect from the community of Rossland and that was one funny experience.
Over the thirty years you’ve had a number of opportunities to travel and tour with the group. Tell us a little about your role as promoters for the Golden City?
When were on the road we consider ourselves Rossland ambassadors. We’ve done so much to promote Rossland. In Holland there were 30,000 people that came through our exhibition. We manned the Red Mountain ski hill booth. We lugged that booth to this trade show and besides our performance we worked our butts off at the booth selling Rossland. That’s stuff we all do for free. We collect materials and promote Rossland wherever we go. We’ve drunk champagne with mayors of towns all over the world. We get treated like royalty and the people of Rossland treat us very well. It’s fun to be an exciting novelty act and get treated like the stars from back in the day.
People in Europe love us. People in Japan loved us. They just love the romance of the Wild West. We’ve been on tour in Alaska, Japan, Holland, Germany for a week and all over BC. I think for a long time we were well known more-so outside of town because we were on the road so much. The road trips have always been very special bonding experiences.
Doors will open for the Red Feather Saloon at the Miners’ Hall at 8:00 PM Saturday the 11th. The first show goes on at 9:00 PM. Last call at 2:00AM. Tickets are $15.