A History of the Niagara Barbershoppers’ Corn Roast

By Bob Laing

It started in l971. Members of the St. Catharines Singing Saints put together an evening of singing, fun and good food, highlighted by all the corn on the cob you could devour. Ted and Barb Schwenker graciously volunteered the barn on their farm on Third Street Louth. It proved to be so successful that it has been going on annually ever since. So, when August rolls around each year and the corn is ripe, put this event on your calendar. You’ll be glad you did.

The Corn Roast eventually outgrew the barn at Schwenkers and in 1988 the event moved to John and Beth Wilson’s spanking new large barn on Kottmeir Road near Fonthill and Welland.

Did I mention that Ted and John were also members of the Singing Saints? We are indebted to them for providing a venue with a great hoedown atmosphere. Although Ted and John are no longer alive at the time of this writing, their generosity will never be forgotten. The Wilson farm was the venue until 2014 when John’s widow Beth and family decided they could no longer host the event. During the latter years at this venue, the Singing Saints asked for help to keep the Corn Roast going and A Cappella Niagara (ACN) responded. When the Singing Saints decided not to continue running the event in 2014, ACN assumed responsibility and has run the Corn Roast since 2015.

Many people were involved in this transition, but it was initially spearheaded by Linda Hilko, Derek Stevens, Kerry Russ, and Gus Medina. For the next two years the Corn Roast was at the Market Square in downtown St. Catharines. In 2017 and 2018, a more suitable venue was found at the north end of St. Catharines beside beautiful Lake Ontario. This was at Club LaSalle and drew many visitors from near and far. In 2018, the local women’s chorus Sing Niagara partnered with ACN in sponsoring the event.

In 2019 Club LaSalle was not available so once again, the Corn Roast moved to its 5th location at the Lions Club in picturesque Port Dalhousie. In 2020, we were planning the 50th Annual Niagara Barbershoppers Corn Roast. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic the corn roast and 50th anniversary celebration was cancelled.

Assuming we can once again gather to sing in a large group the Corn Roast and 50th anniversary celebration will take place August 21, 2021 at the Port Dalhousie Lions Hall at 201 Main Street, St. Catharines. Arrive by 5:00 p.m. to enjoy hamburgers, hotdogs, and all the corn you can eat until 6:30 p.m. The free show follows from 7:00-9:00 p.m. The barbecue is just $15 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. There will be a cash bar. To avoid the lineup, pay in advance at the Eventbrite website. You are invited to bring your family and friends to this annual Niagara tradition.

All quartets, choruses and mixed ensembles are invited to perform on the show. Be sure to RSVP to NiagaraCornRoast@gmail.com to ensure your spot on the programme.

Some past Corn Roast anecdotes:

One year at the Wilson Farm, the Circle of Harmony women’s chorus from Oakville was performing when a storm hit. The rain on the tin roof of the barn was so loud that it drowned out the 40 women singing! They stopped but resumed singing when the rain eased up and didn’t miss a beat. Real troopers!

Why does Trio Corn Brio usually have 4 in their trio?

In 2017 a contingent from the gold medal winning Toronto Northern Lights Chorus came south to sing for us at Club LaSalle in St. Catharines. The audience was thrilled!

OFF insect repellent was a good idea after dark in those years on the farms.

While the latest venues don’t have the ambiance of the barns, they do have some advantages such as indoor washroom facilities, air conditioning, and a lot fewer bugs!

Due to the drought in 2017 here in Niagara, our regular supplier of corn didn’t have enough for our event. Timothy Healey drove all the way to Aylmer to get enough corn to fulfill our needs. Thank you Timothy!

Humbly submitted in 2019 by Bob Laing on behalf of the Singing Saints and A Cappella Niagara. Many volunteers, too many to name, have contributed in various ways to make this event so popular year after year. Many thanks to everyone for all that you do.

 An earlier version of this article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of The Trillium (Volume 73, Issue 7).