Haliburton resident Bill Gliddon performs, providing entertainment to the people, who attended the St. George’s Anglican Church 81st annual Pancake Supper at the Royal Canadian Legion in Haliburton. The free admission evening event, which was held from 5 to 7 p.m. with the help of 52 volunteers, drew 408 guests, and helped to raise $3,025.35 for Places for People Haliburton County. /FILE

A bittersweet ending to ‘Pancake Tuesday’ dinner

By Vivian Collings

Members of St. George’s Anglican Church have made the tough decision to end an almost-century-old tradition in Haliburton.

The Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner had brought together generations of Haliburtonians with lively music, delicious flapjacks, and candid camaraderie for 84 years.

“This would’ve been our 85th, and I feel sad, but we can’t do it anymore, so we just have to bite the bullet and do something different,” said Shrove Tuesday organizer Louise Sisson.

At their last dinner in Feb. 2020, just weeks before COVID-19 shutdowns reached the Highlands, 52 volunteers served over 400 meals to the community and raised $3,000 for Places for People.

“That’s a lot of pancake flippin’,” Sisson laughed.

With a smaller in-person congregation since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about a low turnout due to caution around the spread of illness, they weren’t able to muster up enough volunteers.

“When I look at our congregation, our average age is 75, and when I asked for volunteers, I only got 15 people that said they would work at it. It’s a very long day and a very stressful day for feeding that many people,” Sisson said. “We just had to rethink how we were doing it. I know they would like to see an actual supper, but you’ve got to get realistic. We can’t do it.”

Instead of raising money for a local charity at a physical supper, the congregation is collecting donations for the 4Cs Food Bank in Haliburton in the name of Shrove Tuesday.

“What they really need is money. They need money to help with the cost of food for so many people,” Sisson said.

Though it was a lot of work to put together a meal to feed hundreds each year, volunteers have an abundance of happy memories.

Amid melting ice cream, the smell of pancakes on the grill, and sticky, syrupy tables, Sisson recalls a Legion filled with joyful chatter and laughter.

“The noise was unbelievable in that hall. But it was a happy noise,” she said.

Bill Gliddon, organist at St. George’s Anglican Church, said although it was usually the only time of the year he ate pancakes, he loved getting to witness the community come together the most.

“I loved the event. It was such a great community event, and we all loved it. The whole community seemed to turn out every time, and there’s nothing like food to bring people together,” Gliddon said.

He would bring his keyboard from home to each supper, and recalled all of the past locations of the pancake dinner.

Gliddon remembers when the supper started out at the town hall and then moved in to the basement of St. George’s Anglican Church, which held very few people.

Sisson began volunteering for the Shrove Tuesday supper in 1976 cutting up pies in the Sunday school room of the church.

It then moved to the Orange Hall for several years before the supper outgrew that space, too.

The final place for the Shrove Tuesday dinner was in the Hall at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 129.

“When the actual dinner came, I would go there about half an hour early and just play background music on my keyboard just to give a nice festive atmosphere to the event. People seemed to like it, so that’s what I did,” he said.

Gliddon laughed and said he went without eating anything until the very end each year because his fingers were so busy playing favourite familiar tunes.

“I was sure ready to eat my pancakes by the end,” he said.

In an article written by Martha Perkins in 1998 about the 58th anniversary of the tradition, she highlighted the origin of Shrove Tuesday.

Historically, the customary ringing of the “shriving bell” called people to the church to be shriven: to confess their sins at the beginning of Lent.

Certain foods weren’t eaten during Lent, so eggs, milk, butter, and meat were finished beforehand, which resulted in delicious meals of special pancakes.

After the savoury and sweet meal, some would get up to sing and dance.

The church relied on volunteer students in the past to help push dessert plates and serve tea and coffee.

“As of right now, I can’t see it happening again because we don’t have the young people to do it, and I know we’re not alone that way,” Sisson said.

To donate to St. George’s Anglican Church fundraiser for the 4Cs Food Bank in Haliburton, you can E-transfer office@haliburtonanglican.ca.

Be sure to add in the comments that the donation is for Shrove Tuesday, and a name and address must be provided if a charitable receipt is required. 

Donations can also be made through Canada Helps: www.haliburtonanglican.org/how-to-donate.

“We’re going to miss it so much,” Gliddon said.