When the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to put an end to the Clinton Annual Ball’s status as the longest continually-held event of its kind in Canada, some nimble footwork from the CAB committee kept the ball going with its record intact.
The Clinton Annual Ball was first held on New Year’s Day 1868, when Clinton was a remote outpost in the six-month-old country of Canada.
However, in 2020 the 153rd annual ball — and its status as the longest-running such event in the country — was threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant the ball could not go ahead as planned.
“It was at the beginning of April that we realized it wasn’t going to be able to happen as we got into the pandemic,” says CAB committee chair Charlene Boscott. “Tickets were almost completely sold out, so we offered refunds or holdovers for people who had bought tickets.
“A lot of people said ‘Hold on to my ticket, I’ll be there, let us know what’s going on.’ We thought that maybe it could happen in September. No one expected COVID to go on this long.”
The committee got a lot of feedback from the community about not holding the event. “They said it was a shame, and that we’d lose its status, and couldn’t we keep it going.”
In response, the committee announced that the event was being postponed — not cancelled — for 2020. And while the ball could not take place with a full complement of guests as originally planned, on Sept.26 a “mini-ball” was held, with the CAB committee, a couple of spouses, and Clinton Mayor Susan Swan in attendance.
Instead of taking place in the memorial hall, the ball was held in the basement of the Clinton Legion. Programs were printed, a red-and-white theme was chosen, the tables and chairs were decorated, and the dozen or so guests — clad in their period finery — assembled under the eye of longtime master of ceremonies Wayne Marchant.
“It was important to the community and to ourselves,” says Boscott. Attendees eschewed the usual sit-down dinner, and instead brought a selection of appetizers. All COVID-19 protocols were strictly observed, but Marchant gave a light-hearted speech, and there was dancing to records that people had brought, which were played on a replica vintage record player.
Boscott says that this year’s ball will follow roughly the same format. “I can see us having another small event of some kind, even if it’s just a gathering with a lot of us dressed up in ballgowns and top hats. ”
Despite the current uncertainties, Boscott and the committee are sure of one thing: the traditional Clinton Annual Ball will be back as normal one day.
“We’ll do the same the same as always, subject to any rules that are in place. We already have the theme and colours that were planned for the 153rd ball, and we have the entertainment lined up and are keeping in contact with them. They’ve said ‘We’re coming whenever you need us.’”
However, Boscott says there are concerns that the ball is going to struggle after operating at a loss for two years (so far). “We put money out ahead of time, and there are ongoing costs like bank fees, insurance, post box rental, internet access. That doesn’t go away, and we expect more losses this year. People can support the ball by buying or ordering tickets, and cash donations would be wonderful. Financial assistance would really help. Last year we started reaching out to possible sponsors, and we’re looking for those.”
Boscott says the ball has evolved to anchor Heritage Week in Clinton.
“It’s become such a big event. It takes about five days to set it up in the hall. You have this elegant, beautiful event with a sumptuous meal and everyone dressed to the nines one weekend, and next weekend there’s the Clinton Rodeo, with everyone wearing jeans and having a good time there and at the dance.
“The ball is huge in Clinton; not just for the area, but from a historical standpoint. It’s a reminder of what our predecessors did for fun and to socialize. The discussions we had and the comments we heard when we talked with people after postponing the ball shows how important it is to Clintonites, and how important it is to the village, economically and historically.”
If you would like to purchase or reserve tickets for the ball, make a donation, or be a sponsor, contact Charlene Boscott at (250) 457-2759 or Dina Connon at (250) 459-7069. You can also go to the Clinton Annual Ball website at https://www.clintonannualball.com/ or email the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.