How the Canadian Officer Training Corps Ball brought sparkle to Hart House
The advertisement was enthusiastic: “Grand March! Pipe Band! Monte Carlo!” In what is believed to be January 1948, the student cadets of the U of T chapter of the Canadian Officers Training Corps (COTC) dressed in their formal best to parade past a floodlit tank display, play roulette with fake money and dance the night away at Hart House. This was no ordinary celebration. It was the first time U of T’s COTC had gathered socially for six years.
The COTC had been launched in 1912 as an army reserve program; members trained as officers while completing their university studies. The U of T chapter followed two years later and, in 1931, cadets began throwing a lavish ball each winter at Hart House – featuring military traditions such as buglers to announce the dances. But in 1943, as the wartime mood grew more serious, the dance was temporarily cancelled.
The COTC subsidized the balls to keep costs low. In the ’30s, members’ tickets were $2 per couple – the same price as a tuxedo rental and less than a pair of fancy evening gloves. The schedule was formal – foxtrots and waltzes – though in 1938, the Varsity reported, students snuck in the latest dance craze: they were “granted the dancing floor to indulge in an orgy of ‘Truckin’ and Shag.’” Other entertainments, such as square dancing, comedians and even a synchronized swimming exhibition, were featured in the ’40s and ’50s.
The last dance was called in 1968, when COTC was disbanded, ending the ball tradition along with the regiment.
Watch: No Country for Young Men, a documentary about the COTC