Decline | Bowing Down Home

The traditional community-dance scene on PEI began to decline around the time of the Second World War (1945), but this decline was uneven. In some parts of the Island, there was no major falling off until well into the 1960s.

The root causes were the same as they had been elsewhere in North America – the end of local isolation and the decay of local community life. The introduction of mechanized agriculture and consolidation of schools lessened the need for community cooperation; the spread of paved roads and automobile travel allowed locals to seek entertainment and social ties at a distance; rural electrification brought television and continuous radio broadcasting; the development of an adolescent sub-culture pressured youngsters to eschew activities identified with the older generation – including fiddling and the kinds of dancing it accompanied.

All these trends in district life affected the demand for fiddling. With farming and other forms of labor now mechanized, frolics were no longer required to harness community labor. With the rural schools gone, the school picnics and schoolhouse dances that had been used for generations to raise funds for their support became obsolete. As neighborliness declined, so did the demand for house parties and other expressions of community good-fellowship. Even wedding customs changed, as festivities were moved into formal halls where music would be generally provided by bands playing “modern music.”

For a while, improvements in transportation made possible the growth of a new venues for fiddle-dances – the commercial dance halls These halls were often plagued by chaotic conditions, and in the long run only hastened the decline of both fiddling and square dancing.

As described by Jackie Biggar and Ernie Gallant, some fiddlers reacted to the decline of district venues by simply joining together with local accompanists, step-dancers, and enthusiasts to create their own music-and-dance parties.

As house parties, benefit dances and rural weddings became less common, young people were not sufficiently exposed to fiddling or square-dancing to develop an appreciation for them, let alone learn them. Youngsters were attracted to rock ‘n’ roll and other youth-oriented popular music. From the 1950s on there was a marked decrease in the number of youngsters interested in taking up the fiddle; by the mid-1970s, Island fiddlers were an aging population with few members even as young as 30.