Almost 400 people watched Stephanie Gartshore and her boyfriend, Steve Baker, as they strolled down the runway arm-in-arm in the J.A. Mathieu Auditorium.
With each step, they became a piece of long-standing Fort Frances tradition known as the “Grand March”--a heritage that saw her parents walk those same steps, and one that took its final walk in old Fort High last Friday evening.
Jim and Maureen Gartshore vividly remember their last “Grand March” in 1974. They were high school sweethearts; in fact, they had gotten engaged on July 3, 1973.
Maureen wore an exquisite white and pink organza dress while Jim sported navy pants, a spiffy grey sport coat, and finished the look with a bright white tie--just slightly wider than his lapels.
“It was kind of like going into a fairy land . . . . You came in from the back of the auditorium,” she recalled. “There was a trellis that you walked through and the principal, vice-principal, and their wives were there and you shook their hands.
“For me, I was in grade 12 and he was already in university and he was home and he was taking me to my prom,” she added, remembering she rarely got to dance with Jim because he played bass guitar in the school band.
Jim, not being quite as sentimental as his wife of 25 years, found it funny to watch the principals dance to swing music played by a band from nearby Thunder Bay.
His memories are more like a “to do” list but like any fresh-faced young man, he knew almost all the prom essentials.
“I remember ordering flowers, making dinner reservations, and cleaning the car. I don’t think I got a haircut,” he remarked, referring to his bushy ’70s do.
But Maureen insisted Jim should get his “wings” clipped before they got married later that year.
The boys at Stephanie’s prom had anything but “wings.” Their short-coiffed, dyed-blond hair was held tightly with handfuls of gooey gel.
Only one man--with more chutzpah than fashion sense--dared sport wide lapels. And many guys did the un-doable and out-dressed their female counterparts by dropping as much as $200 on a tuxedo, with matching shiny black shoes.
All new trends to the Gartshores.
“Some people have to have a limo and they have a dress that was $500 or $1,000. Much more emphasis is put on what you’re wearing,” stressed Maureen.
The same woman that stitched each seam on Maureen’s dress 25 years ago also sewed Stephanie’s navy dress this year. The material for Maureen’s dress cost about $20 while Stephanie’s rang in at just under $60.
And when grandma Anderson donates her time, it makes those $500 mauve dresses seem a tad pricey. However, there were still some hidden costs.
“You stepped out from behind the curtain and you see everyone staring and cheering. I wasn’t nervous. I was a little scared I might step on my dress,” Stephanie explained.
“Everyone in my group had chicken parmesan but I had salad because I didn’t want to get anything on my dress,” she added.
Still, it didn’t go off without a hitch. Her strap broke just moments before the “Grand March” and Steve was so busy cleaning, waxing, and polishing the Gartshore’s 1996 Concorde--just as Jim had done to his 1971 Mercury Comet years earlier--that he forgot the flowers.
Fortunately, mom was standing by with a needle and thread and the potential strap catastrophe quickly came to an end.
In 1974, the Gartshores ate at a small restaurant known as the Gourmet House. Today, it is La Place Rendez-Vous and that’s where Stephanie and Steve were served their main course.
The Gartshores have two other daughters, Jennifer 21, and Amy 13. Jennifer was in the “Grand March” with her boyfriend, Hans, several years ago. Amy will take those steps at the new high school at Westfort in a few years.
The “Grand March” is a part of Fort Frances and a part of the Gartshores. They watched with quiet pride as their oldest girls stepped closer to independence -- just as they had--there on the runway.
And like many other families here, it will be a bitter-sweet day when the doors close for good at old Fort High on First Street East.