Walking stiffly down the runway, (which was really the dock at St. Lawrence Park) I was feeling very self-conscious in my green-striped swimsuit and high-heeled shoes, my hair piled high in curls on the top of my head. My sash fell off my shoulder, but I couldn’t move my hands to slide it back into place. I just kept walking towards the judges’ table. I looked at the one familiar face there, that of Norm, a friend of my sister. I gave a feeble smile. He smiled back. I don’t remember making my way back up the ramp, nor what happened next. When was the judging done? What did we do while we waited? Obviously we changed into our dresses at some point, and must have done the walk again. I don’t remember any of it. I know that I eventually joined the line of other contestants, all anxiously waiting on the runway in front of the judges for the names of the winners to be called – Miss Congeniality, Fourth Runner-up, Third Runner-up, Second Runner-up, First Runner-up, and finally Miss Teen Centennial.
It was the summer of 1967, Canada’s Centennial year. I was a very shy seventeen year- old, greatly lacking in self-confidence. What was I doing here? The pageant was sponsored by the local Kinsmen Club, and my neighbour was scouting for contestants. He approached me once and I was flattered, but declined. The second time, I agreed without thinking about what was involved. I guess even then I knew that I had to push myself to move out of my comfort zone.
My sponsor was to be one of the local pharmacies. We were required to make appointments to have our pictures taken by the local newspaper, and to have our hair done for free at one of the beauty salons. I needed a new dress and swimsuit and shoes. My older sister was recruited by my mother to take me shopping. Why would she not want to take me herself?
We had a fun time doing the stores, looking for bargains. We came home with the modest green and navy striped one-piece swimsuit, a simple, form-fitting shift-style dress in a satiny tapestry of pastel colours, and a pair of white (I think) high-heeled shoes.
Why are there no pictures?
I made my hair appointment. I took myself down to the newspaper office for the photo shoot and interview. A few days later, I got a request to go back. She told me the pictures didn’t turn out very well. When the newspaper arrived with my picture and bio I was very devastated. The picture was terrible! My eyes seemed to bug out from my face. Could it have been better than the first one?! I think Mom might have kept that, but I insisted it be destroyed.
One evening all the contestants had to meet at the park to go through the stage plan. My boyfriend at the time walked me over and proudly assured me that I would be a winner.
On the morning of the pageant, I got my thick, brown hair piled onto the top of my head. The stylist was quite chatty and he commented that only one of the contestants had failed to make a hair appointment. He figured she wouldn’t have a chance. The whole contest was based on looks. I spent the afternoon sitting in the sun at the cottage, working on a tan.
There was a lot of chatter and excitement in the change room before the pageant. Someone didn’t have gloves; someone loaned her extra pair. We fussed with our hair and makeup and offered each other encouragement. We draped our white satin sashes over our shoulders. We admired each other, and silently assessed our own chances. We were asked to fill out a secret vote for Miss Congeniality, and then it was time to line up for our walk.
“Miss Congeniality goes to Miss …” The girl who shared her gloves.
“Fourth Runner-Up, Miss…”
“Third Runner-Up, Miss …” I think this was my distant cousin, Paula, who I thought was most likely my stiffest competition. My excitement began to build. Maybe I could be a winner after all.
“First Runner-Up, Miss …” My heart was pounding.
“Miss Teen Centennial Queen, …” The winner was the girl who didn’t get her hair done; the one who appeared in her everyday plain brown swimsuit, and flat shoes; the one who didn’t fret about how she looked.
Maybe they weren’t judging only on looks. Maybe self-confidence played a role too.
As we walked past the spectators, back to retrieve our belongings from the dressing room, I heard a few comments that helped lift my spirits.
“You should have won!”
But I didn’t and I moved on. I had never before considered myself to be a Beauty Queen anyway, but it was exciting to think about for a short time.
Many years later, when I met Norm again at my niece’s wedding, he apologized to me.
“I really thought you should win, but I couldn’t convince the other judges.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Norm. That’s alright.”