Submariners Assocation of Canada Easti

It Made a Lot of Scents to Us!

by on Aug.06, 2012, under Stories over the ages

In Memory of and Written By: George Sullivan *

Many years ago in a far, distant land (Halifax) a couple of young sailors inadvertently had probably one of the funniest evenings of their lives. We still chuckle about it.
This would be January/February 1964. My oppo Bill, who I had joined the Navy with in Hamilton, and went through Cornwallis together were sitting around in Basin Lockers (at the corner of then Buckingham and Barrington streets). I was an OD Sonarman on Swansea and he was an OD Stoker on the Bonnie. Naval protocol dictated seaman (dibbydabs) and marine engineers (greasies) did not associate with each other, however, we never paid any attention to that shit. Bill did 3 years and got out joining the Hamilton Fire Department (just retiring after 44 years service as a fire fighter!) He remains one of my very best friends to this day and we are in contact on a weekly basis.
Basin Lockers was one of many establishments for matelots1 to store their civvies as civvies were not allowed on ships back then. It was quite the place; rows and rows of lockers and benches, a wash place and showers …and a rec room … in the rec room there were a couple of sofas and chairs all of which were well beyond their prime, stained with various stains of … well, who knows, with springs and various other objects sticking up out of them, a black and white TV which the horizontal hold wasn’t quite right and a huge stuffed moose head mounted on the bulkhead close to the entrance door. As a result of being in close proximity to people he, the moose, (I knew he was a he ’cause he had huge antlers) would get the odd shot on the hooter as people walked by resulting in the end of his nose was about 45 degrees out of kilter with great bunches of stuffing material hanging out …. it was a great place.
Anyway, on with the story; Bill and I always went to the Seagull Club on Hollis Street every night; there were other places around like the Carpenters Hall, but they didn’t have the class the Seagull Club did. Prior to going we would get a mickey of Wood’s Old Navy rum at the liquor store just around the corner on Buckingham St using our phoney Nova Scotia Liquor Commission cards which were required at that time.
We would then sit in the comfort of the Basin Locker’s rec room imbibing a few wets from plastic glasses … or right out of the bottle if we were in a hurry. It must be noted this was purely a social occurrence simply to get ourselves up on that fine edge of suaveness, couth and culture in the anticipation of meeting the fine local damsels of Halifax.
We would time our social cocktails to last from 7ish to 8:30ish by that time having changed into civvies, leisurely finished off the Wood’s Navy and then head down to the Seagull Club. Arriving a little late was of course the fashionable thing to do, it showed class.
On this particular evening we had to get something at a local store and while in there we noticed they had a jokes and novelty section … and … in that section they had stink bombs! WELL! What is a sailor to do? We purchased a package containing 6; surely they would come in handy somewhere!
Meandering down Barrington Street, then Hollis Street we arrived at the Seagull Club, duly paid our 25 cent entrance fee, checked our coats and made our grand entry. We wandered around the dance floor for a while taking in the sights, now and then commenting how this one or that one really could use our hot blooded talents and how good they would look under our thrusting bodies with their ankles, along with their perfume, behind their ears.
The vast majority of the gals in the Seagull Club every night were student nurses. They all lived in a student nurse’s residence, had a curfew and woe betide them if they missed their curfew! They went to the Seagull Club for one thing and one thing only … to dance, period. They did not go out with sailors. It was cheap, there were lots of panting, drooling suitors to boost their egos and they could dance all night … and disappear. God bless them!
Around 10, 10:30ish it appeared that none of the gals were very bright this evening; they were apparently oblivious to our charms, good looks and obvious potential. What to do? … as it was getting boring. Well! We did have the stink bombs, they should liven things up a bit.
Now the scene has to be set up. The place was packed, it was bitterly cold outside so the heat was quite high in the dance hall. People had been dancing for the past couple of hours so it had that hot, humid, sticky fug you get when a lot of people are packed into a warm hall with an overworked ventilation system.
Enter George and Bill stage left. We walked around the hall in opposite directions strategically dropping the stink bombs on the deck at the four corners and one each on the middle opposite sides. These ‘bombs’ were a little glass vial containing a liquid of some sort; you just dropped them on the deck and stepped on them to crush the vial and release the eau de hooter. We then continued our leisurely stroll around the dance floor and much to our dismay initially … NOTHING! There was nothing at all it seemed; had we been ripped off? It seemed that way.
But then … after 5 minutes or so, the most ungodly stench started to rise from the floor! Yee Haw! Eureka! … and then … and then … it got stronger and stronger! Initially we could see everyone sniffing the air, then sniffing each other. The smell continued to get stronger, things were really livening up! It got even stronger! People were gagging, some puking, geez it was just like coming out of the tear gas hut, eyes watering, snot all over the place, some with the foot long drool streamers hanging off their faces, I never saw anything like it, not in a dance hall anyway.
Bill says to I or perhaps I says to Bill (I don’t remember which), “Holy Fuck! Maybe we used too many” and then we wisely went to the cloak room and got our coats.
At this point the Seagull staff open all the doors, fire exits, windows and order everyone out onto Hollis Street, no stopping for anything, straight out onto the street. It is bitter, bitter cold, a foot or so of snow on the ground, the vast majority don’t have their coats and after being in such a warm place people are freezing outside, especially the girls, most of which have their ‘ballet slippers’ on as their boots are in the cloak room … and a real bonus is the ‘bud’ cold weather reaction on the girls as well! Half the people are covered in drool and that is freezing up as well.
Bill and I are off to one side quietly observing this shambles looking suitably bewildered, doing our very best to keep a straight face. The next thing we know somebody punches somebody else. Guys thumping guys, girls smacking each other, girls jumping on guy’s backs and now we have a full blown riot! It was like being at the movies!
I have to say, Bill and I were quite amazed at how fast the Halifax Police and Naval Shore Patrol showed up with, it had to be, a good half dozen paddy wagons. They put their little ‘Billys’ to good use that night, bonking guys and throwing them into the paddy wagons like cordwood. This went on for a good half hour anyway. In the end 3 chaps from Creighton Street area were arrested for starting it all; I don’t know why, I don’t think they were matelots so they wouldn’t even have been in the place (although in those days discrimination was not unknown amongst local constabularies everywhere) Bill and I, being the unfeeling sods we were at the time, had a little chortle at that as well.
At this point things were beginning to wind down, the paddy wagons were full and people were being allowed to go back in to the Seagull Club and retrieve their coats and boots then leave. It appeared the dance was over!
Bill and I had worked up a bit of an appetite by this point (Did you know that laughter is a major calorie burner???) so we wandered over to Morris Street and the Morris Lunch just around the corner, had a big plate of chips and gravy and a hot chocolate coming through the whole fiasco undetected and unscathed.
For weeks after the old Seagull Club had a lingering, clingy smell that took a long time to completely disappear. T’was a great reminder of just how much fun a guy could have for just a couple of bucks!


EDITOR’S NOTE: I was there that night you ‘son of a sea cook’! I almost froze my knackers off outside on the cold cold night.


1 Matlote – French for ‘sailor’ and sometimes used by Canadian Navy men to instead of the word ‘sailor’


* George Sullivan joined the Canadian Navy in 1962 as Sonarman; he sailed on Swansea (2.5 yrs), Margaree (5 yrs), and submarines 13 yrs, (Okanagan & Ojibwa) – 20 years sea time all told. He also had several prestigious shore postings including NDHQ in Ottawa; he retired in 1991. Sadly, George Sullivan passed away at home in Ottawa 30 Jul 2012, 3 A.M. EDT.


6 Comments for this entry

  • John Tripp

    ’64 was a good year; I was in ‘stad electrical school after a few harrowing months in Gatineau the finest caddy on the best coast. Cheers to all my RCN oppos, wingers and trappers. I cut out for Australia and the RAN after and missed all the tri-service malarkey. oh well eh. yes the Seagull was a classy joint and then some but i did prefer Carpenters Hall and less orgiastic dancing.

  • Jerry Conway

    I joined the RCN…not the Canadian Armed Forces in 1962 and on completion of training in Cornwallis (how many of us were taught the facts of life from Digby Rose or Annapolis Polly) and was posted to “Stad” where I was assigned to the shore patrol. One of my first recollections was going to the Seagull Club. One of my jobs was down in the wet canteen checking ID’s so that underage matlots didn’t take advantage of Mr. Orlando fine brew. Once the club was closed the shore patrol would have a few “wets” for their troubles. After checking for UA’s all night it was a really welcome break…..especially as I was UA myself at the time. The memories of the navy at that time, Barrington Street, the Lockers, Mama Camille’s, Joe Comeau’s and how many of us got our first tattoo at Snows. Many strong and everlasting friendships were forged at that time and in those places.
    My first ship was the Nootka, what a great experience that was for a young OD, learning to sling a hammock and getting to know that the bos’n had no sympathy if you were seasick..go and scrub the slop bucket from the galley after dinner !!! Then I really knew what seasick was I can still see the blueberries floating in the gravy and mashed potatoes.
    On one run ashore in Norfolk Virgina a bunch of us in our best #1’s stopped off at Bunny’s Trade Winds Tavern, one of us , Jimmy Wison was black and the bar tender pointed out a sign over the bar that said blacks weren’t allowed. This was at a time when there was segregation in the U.S. We Pointed out to the bar tender that we were Canadian and that sign didn’t apply to us. After thinking a minute she agreed with us with the bar keep explaining to the other customers our rational for sitting there. No one made an issue (lucky for us) and that’s how we jolly tars spent the afternoon…..we were jolly by the time we left if I recall.
    Joining subs was an entirely different experience, first the OJ then as commissioning crew of the Irish submarine the O’Kanigan. Living at the Kings Arms in Chatham and getting hell from the owner “King Harry” on any issue. What a grand band of warriors we were.
    The many years that followed and the runs ashore, sitting on the casing singing along with Tom McVarnocks guitar as we steamed into Derry …learning the words to “There Shifting Fathers Grave” which I still can remember to this day. Talking of music, the OK was in San Juan tied outboard of a U.S. diesal boat, across the jetty was a U.S. troop carrier which had a band which played music every morning, so what better for us to form a chorus line and dance to the music before “hands fall in”. The CO of the troop carrier didn’t approve and let our CO know. The word got out and in the true tradition of the submariner brotherhood the next morning U.S. Boat crew came out on their casing formed a chorus line and danced to the bands music. Regardless of nation submariners have a special bond that is without boundaries. We are all ” pirates” in fact an admiral in the early 1900’s once stated that all captured submariners should be treated as pirates and hung and so the Skull and Crossbones was adopted.
    We all have some great dits and I could go on but I’ll save them for another day.
    Watch yer bubble boys and its time for “Up Spirits”.

  • Walter Herd


  • Walter Herd

    I was a member of crew of HMCS NIPIGON #266 WHEN SHE wAS a brand new ship May 1964 till June 1966. Sailed under Commander Saxon. I remember the seagull club very well. I wa not there the night of that incident though. I was better known as ABWU HERD

  • Chris (Scouse) Harrison

    My Royal Navy ship HMS Adamant visited Halifax Nova Scotia in 1964. I met a girl called Virginia Hilton in the Seagull Club. She took me home to meet her family and I remember watching Gerry and the Pacemakers on the Ed Sullivan show on her TV.
    She later took me to see a replica of a huge giant she told me did actually exist..
    After my ship sailed we exchanged letters and that was it. I was 16 and she was about the same. I often think of her and which direction her life took..

  • tony Westbrook

    Seagull club was sort of my hangout in the 50’s I was an outcast british upper snob navy chap until I started going there.After a few quarts of Olands I came down to earth literally. great place to be in the winter always fun and great memories.
    Olands and Tomatoe juice. What were we thinking! but never reached the 5 quarts of beer needed to become a Seagull hero. Tony .. use to be called kipper
    or Limey bastard. Either one!

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