Historicist: Mama Chikie Shakes Up the Clubs

Torontoist

culture

Historicist: Mama Chikie Shakes Up the Clubs

Dora Drummond, better known as Mama Chikie, became a go-go-dancing sensation on Yonge Street at more than 65 years old.

toronto mama chikie

The Toronto Star introduced Mama Chikie to the city in 1969. Image from the Toronto Star, August 7, 1969.

Dora Drummond didn’t look like most people’s idea of a go-go dancer.

She was small, just 4’10”, and wore cat-eye glasses, sensible floral dresses, and flat, comfortable shoes.

She was also 63 years old with troublesome arthritis.

“She looks like this sweet, little old lady who should be baking cherry pies for a church social rather than sitting in the Coq d’Or sipping gin gimlets with the under-30s,” wrote Toronto Star reporter Marci McDonald in 1969.

“You shrug it off until this sweet, little old lady takes a healthy swig of her gin gimlet, shoves a wine-dipped old stogie in the side of her mouth, and pulls herself up into the go-go dancers’ cage on the Coq d’Or stage.”

toronto mama chikie

Dora Celinda Drummond was born in Niagara Falls in 1906. She performed a little as a youngster, but it wouldn’t be until late middle age that she decided to become Mama Chikie.

Dora Celinda Drummond was born March 9, 1906, in Niagara Falls to Nellie Drewery and William Drummond, a stationary manufacturer. She had a brother, Stanley, and two sisters, Gladys and Janice.

When she was young, she began performing in St. Catharines—”a little amateur stuff” on the radio, she would later explain, but nothing more.

Drummond later married and moved to the Bathurst and Sheppard area of North York where she worked as a nanny and housekeeper for well-known hairdresser Manny Mitchell and his three kids.

Mitchell worked in-house at CTV and ran several salons in Toronto. In 1967, he was hired to coif Princess Margaret, the sister of the Queen, during a royal visit. His other celebrity clients included Eartha Kitt, Chris Christopherson, and Ann Murray.

In the 1950s, Drummond started singing at birthday parties, just for fun. She loved music and had a natural sense of rhythm. She wasn’t shy with her voice either.

“I start to do the dishes and I start to sing and you’ll hear me at the corner of Queen and Yonge,” she said. “That’s a good range, eh? Too bad you can’t cook on it.”

Drummond’s husband died when she was 53, leaving her his last name. It was Chikie, she told the Star. “Yes, really, honest to God.”

“My first name’s Dora, but I never use it, ’cause I hate it. All the kids on the street where I live call me Mama Chikie.”

Chikie found herself at a crossroads after the death of her husband. Her body hurt from years of work and she was tempted to sit back and wait until she could retire.

“When my husband died I thought I’d had it,” she said. “I had arthritis and I was sitting around and aching and it was terrible.”

It was around this time in the early 1960s Chikie began performing casually at the Brown Derby tavern at Yonge and Dundas with comedian Sammy Sales.

The two could relate: Throughout his career, Sales had struggled to find widespread success, and in 1959 was hospitalized for six weeks after a production he starred in flopped.

“He decided it was just about the end of him and show business,” the Star reported. Then the Brown Derby called. They were opening a “gay nineties” themed room and wanted him to host.

The Brown Derby’s downstairs dining room was redecorated with checked table cloths, the walls covered in old sheet music covers, and the jukebox filled with ragtime records.

Chikie began performing little song-and-dance routines with Sales until in 1966, when he had a beer mug smashed in his face and was severely beaten. “I could never go back after that,” she said.

After the attack on Sales, Chikie began going to the Riverboat in Yorkville on her day off from work at the Mitchell’s, which was usually Wednesday.

A middle-aged woman with dangly earrings and big gold jewelry, she stood out among the typical teenage crowd. She made friends with Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, and all the other big folk singers in the local coffee house scene.

“When Gordie Lightfoot is on stage and I walk in, he says ‘Hello, Mama Chikie, you still smokin’ them stogies?'”, Chikie recalled. “I got pictures and autographs and everything.”

Bernie Fiedler, the owner of the Riverboat, remembered when Drummond would show up with her trademark port-dipped stogie and “blow all the kids’ minds.”

Mama Chikie switched to the Coq d’Or on Yonge Street in the 1960s, and that’s when her celebrity began to truly blossom. She started singing along with live bands like Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks and sometimes appeared on stage.

One night, “for the heck of it,” she climbed into a go-go dancing cage at the Le Coq d’Or and let loose: her arms pointed way out in front, her hips shaking, swaying to the deafening rock music.

“The kids, they loved it,” she said.

Mama Chikie was in her element. Within a few months, a special dancer’s cage at the side of the Coq d’Or stage was set aside just for her, the little old lady from North York.

“In a swirl of psychedelic lights and eardrum-rending rock, her ample hips start to sway and her ample elbows start to jerk and her ample chins start to bob in and out as her whole ample frame, in its little flowered dress and six gold chains, starts to move and groove to the music,” wrote Marci McDonald in the Star.

“Mama Chikie is on.”

In photos, Chikie usually appears in the background among the musicians performing at the Friar’s Tavern or the Coq d’Or, her hands fluttering in the air or gripping the back of her head.

Star photographer Boris Spremo snapped several portraits of Mama Chikie by herself pulling goofy faces with her trademark cigar planted firmly between her lips.

In one Spremo photo, Chikie is on stage, mid-dance, her hands raised in delight, while a young man and woman flail next to her. The whole thing looks like an accidental recreation of the cover of the Doors’ Strange Days.

The Coq d’Or closed in the 1970s and Mama Chikie migrated west to the Brunswick House at Bloor and Bathurst, a bar with a reputation for late nights and beer-soaked antics at its regular open-mic night.

“We’ve had everything and everyone in here,” said general manager Larry Elash. “From worm racing to pie-eating…we’ve done it all. The worst act I ever saw? Wow, there have been so many kinds.”

The regular cast of characters included the Alleycat, Hungarian Leslie, Mister Bones, and Diamond Lil Sheppard—a long-time waitress. The whole thing was emceed by singer “Rockin’ Irene” Laviolette.

“It’s crazy here,” said emcee Aldrich. “I mean guys getting up to play their lips on stage. One night I was bowled over by a soccer player running down the aisle, and then I was on my back but I kept singing.”

It was at the Brunswick House that the Toronto Star caught up with Mama Chikie again in 1979. She was singing and dancing and playing the tambourine three or four times a week.

Once she came in dressed as a Playboy bunny for Easter. “It was almost obscene,” said Alrdich.

Ten years on from her newspaper debut, Chikie was still going strong, wowing youngsters with her effervescent energy.

“Momma looked resplendent,” wrote journalist Bruce Blackadar. “This fabulous 73-year-old, who still works as a housemaid and most assuredly will not go gentle into that good night, sang a blues song.”

“Suddenly the Brunswick was illuminated with good humour and joyfulness, and the innocent essence of small-town fun.”

toronto mama chikie

Mama Chikie spent her final years as one of the regular cast of characters at the Brunswick House on Bloor Street West. Image from the Toronto Star, February 4, 1979.

As it turned out, Chikie was making her swan song at the Brunny in 1979. She died suddenly on October 15, 1980, and was buried at Westminster Memorial Park in North York. Her epitaph reads: “In loving memory of Dora “Mama” Chikie. A beloved friend.”

Her obituary noted that she was lovingly remembered by the Mitchell family and missed by her siblings but it made no mention of her wild life in the bars and clubs of downtown Toronto.

“Today is all you got—this minute. And I’m not ready for my old armchair,” she told the Star in 1969.

“I’m gonna live, live, live until I die.”

Additional material from the January 29, 1941; February 7, 1961; January 28, 1966; October 5, 1967; August 7, 1969; February 4, 1979; October 10, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star, the November 11, 1966 edition of the Globe and Mail, the June 3, 1993 edition of the Toronto Jewish News, and the September 22, 1976 edition of The Varsity.


Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.


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