Do We Have Proms in Canada (and Was There a DJ at Yours)?

I was just out for a walk, and I listened to a recent episode of This American Life. It was about prom night, and excellent as usual.

At my high school in West Vancouver, we never had anything called ‘prom’. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what prom is. From Wikipedia:

In the United States and Canada a prom, short for promenade, is used to describe a formal dance held at the end of an academic year…

While proms at smaller schools may hold a school prom open to the entire student body, large high schools may hold two proms, a junior prom for those finishing their 11th grade year and a senior prom for those who are finishing their high school years. The name is derived from the late nineteenth century practice of a promenade ball. The end of year tradition stemmed from the graduation ball tradition.

At Sentinel Secondary (holy crap, high school classes are now 80 minutes?) in West Vancouver, we had three or four dances each year, and then a year end event called ‘grad’. Grad involved the graduation ceremony, a dinner, dancing and the usual after-grad mayhem.

If memory serves, by 6:00am on the morning following grad, I ended up in my friend Lincoln’s hot tub. In a classic high school gaffe, Lincoln, myself and another guy, Ryan, all had grad dates that weren’t our girlfriends. I was taking Lincoln’s girlfriend, Ryan was taking mine, and Lincoln was taking a third young woman (their relationship status is entirely fuzzy in my memory).

If you went to high school in Canada, did you have something called ‘prom’? Is this, maybe, a regional preference?

DJs or Live Bands?

On a related note, did you have DJs or live bands at your high school dances? I ask because on the TAL broadcast, they visit a few proms, and they always seem to have DJs. At my high school, we almost always had live bands.

Was this commonplace back in the late eighties? Is it common now, or are all high school dances now DJ-powered?


  1. We had a prom (also known as “grad night”), which was a dinner/dance/all-night boat cruise entirely separate from the actual graduation ceremony.

    And our prom was a fancy hotel ballroom affair, I think with a DJ if I remember correctly.

    As for school dances (Halloween, Valentine’s, Spring Fling) – going to high school in the 90’s meant we had the omnipresent MuchMusic Video Dance Party: DJ on steroids if you will.

  2. We didn’t call it prom, we called it the “grad dance.” It was a dinner & dance thing (and I honestly can’t remember if it was a DJ or live band – man, I’m getting old!) followed (unofficially) by a bush party. The really stupid thing was that they had it the night before the actual graduation ceremony. And they put the grad ceremony rehearsal at something ridiculous like 8 a.m. Which makes oh so much sense the night after a big party!

  3. All the way up north in lovely *cough* Timmins, Ontario, we had grad, not prom, and I’m pretty certain that of the 2-3 school “dances” we had each year, we never once had a live band.

  4. At the high school in Interior Smalltown, BC, from which I graduated, the final dance of the year was “the Prom”. You could attend if you were in Grade 11 or 12; or if you were a date of same and attending the school. (A number of my peers were “dating” mill workers in their twenties, who I’m pretty sure would not have been permitted to attend unless specially vetted.)

    “Grad” was a subsequent, all-night, locked-up dinner/dance event for the graduating class, held somewhere like the Rec Centre. If you chose to leave during the night, you wouldn’t be allowed back in. I think the organizers threw us a pancake breakfast at about 6 or 7 in the morning.

    I only recall one dance with a live band in my two years in this town — my first Hallowe’en dance, in Grade 11. As I recall, the band made an impression of wankerdom, and I was glad the next dance was DJed.

    FWIW, the school dances I had previously attended in Montreal were all DJed, without exception.


  5. One more vote for Grad. And we had SafeGrad, a alcohol-permitted dance where parents took turns driving the stumbling kids home through the night / morning.

    And this, stripped a little of context — “I was taking Lincoln’s girlfriend, Ryan was taking mine, and Lincoln was taking a third young woman (their relationship status is entirely fuzzy in my memory).” — might well be the dirtiest thing ever written in Barefoot blog country.

  6. James: Dude, that is dirty. I’ll include the term ‘orgy’ in close proximity, and the sex-crazed searchers will come sweeping in.

  7. I went to Handsworth in North Van, and we had the usual three or four dances a year, then we had a senior formal and grad.

    Senior formal was for grades 11 and 12, and was the only dance that took place off school grounds (at the Landmark hotel downtown) and where people dressed in suits and dresses. I recall many people renting limos and that the search for an after-party invite was a big deal. Basically like a US prom, I guess.

    Our grad was more of a dinner and ceremony, and I believe parents attended as well. It was even more formal than formal, with a rented tux pretty much standard. After grad there was a school-sanctioned party, but with no booze, so everybody just tried to get drunk in the limo on the way there.

  8. Hi Darren, (and Carlos)

    No proms for me in Saskatoon, SK. We had dances in high school, but nothing formal.

    For our grad, we had a Grand March and a formal, but I don’t remember any dancing at mine. Following this, we all went to an outside country farm for games, wagon rides, and a campfire, with no drinking.

    One of my goals is to attend a prom party. I would really like to get dressed up in a big poofy dress and go to a prom.

  9. We just had a Grad, and an After-Grad the following night at old Oak Bay High. I’ve always thought of the Prom as an American thing, like lettering in a sport.

  10. For some reason, the former grad dinner/dance is now called “Prom”–at least in certain school districts in the Lower Mainland. Same gig–different name. Outcome of American/celebrity culture, I guess. As a teacher, I can say female students get very excited about magazines such as “Prom” and “Prom Girl”–American but available on stands here, and devoted completely to the event! By the way, in my experience this change in terms has occurred within the last 2-3 years.

  11. At the high school where I work in Vancouver “Prom” is organized by students and their parents. Teachers are not involved or invited. “Grad” is different: a ceremony at the school followed by a night full of “dry” events held at the school. Teachers are involved with Grad, as are volunteer parents.

  12. Hmmm, live band? Well, a little known singing act who at that time went by a single name — Alanis — played our ‘grad’. Sadly I don’t remember too much about it as it wasn’t really my style of music. Too bad really. Having said that, though, we did have a semi-formal dance around Christmas. This was in Cole Harbour, NS.

    I spent the previous year in Montreal where we did have a full formal prom for graduating from Secondary V (Quebec does things a bit differently). It obvious varies by location.


  13. I grew up on Vancouver Island, gradded in ’03. We had a prom where we got into our limos or horse-drawn carriages or what have you with our dates, all decked out in formal clothing, and had a parade through town, then went to the town’s main hall where they had a dance. Before the DJ there was 2 hours of some hippy marimba band from Lasqueti island. At midnight or so, they bussed us across town to another venue where we had “dry grad”, which was full of carnival games and what have you, supervised by parents who wanted to make sure we weren’t going to go out and get drunk and killed or whatever. By about 5, most of us were leaving. Many went to the unofficial wet grad thereafter. I went and watched the sunrise with my date.

  14. I’ve always thought Prom was an american term.

    At N-Dub (New Westminster Secondary) we had Grad. Dinner-dance at a big hotel ballroom, with a band, as I recall. And all-night parties afterwards. Breakfast traditionally finished off the night.

  15. I think it is partially an era thing and partially a recognition who attends. I’m a bit older than Darren, and at Abbotsford Senior we had a Grad. A few years later my sister, who is closer to Darren’s age, was in the first graduating class of Yale Secondary; and they had an all night dry Grad. These were just coming into fashion to discourage the after parties; by attending you agreed to be locked in overnight.

    I see as an important difference if it is just graduates that are allowed to attend. It may be in fashion now to call them Proms, but are they truly a Prom or are they just renamed Grads? My opinion is that if it is just graduates attending, you have a Grad and not a Prom.

    Leah and Airdrie – Are the “Proms” you have at your schools open to any grade 11 or 12 student, or just grads?

    Oh, and mine was DJ’d. Luckily I’m old enough to have forgotten what embarrassing music was played.

    BTW – If the smut continues, I may be forced to set an alert to ensure I know the moment there is a new post.

  16. Like Jarrett, I also graduated in ’03 and it was “grad.” Seems fairly unanimous! I thought for a minute that we had a live band, but I think I’m mistaken. I just remember dancing to swing and jazz at a hotel, and no I was NOT drunk. Parents and grads with dates attended the dinner-dance, but only the grads/dates got to enjoy a boat cruise from Deep Cove to Coal Harbour before dinner. Dry grad was river rafting on the Fraser somewhere, which I skipped out on, then enjoyed a memorable BBQd burger at a small party held at a student’s home. I don’t blame anyone here for fuzzy memory; it’s only been 5 years for me and the whole thing was sober. Personally I’m starting to think “prom” is a stupid word associated with superficial, frivolous stuff for popular kids but that’s just the sense I get from American rom-coms. (Another stupid word thing?) You can be sure, though, that most girls went all out with their dresses!

  17. I get the impression that, while proms and/or grad dances are a reasonably big deal here, they (like high school football) are a much, much bigger deal in the U.S.

    And speaking as the drummer for a band that would play these sorts of events, I’d say the vast majority of them are DJed. In my entire 20-year career as a professional musician, only a few of our gigs have been for high school dances of any sort — live bands seem more likely at colleges, universities, weddings, and parties held for businesses (annual meetings, Christmas parties, etc.).

    I always preferred live music, but I am a tad biased that way.

  18. in the 80s in Kamloops we didn’t call it Grad per se. We had a Commencement Ceremony, since it was during a time when we were doing provincial exams so we didn’t receive the results until the summertime so we couldn’t confirm in June our graduation status.

    We did have a dance which we called Grad Dance, where all the students and their parents attended. There was also a special grad march that we would do through the hall (I don’t remember what it was called), where you would link arms with your parent(s), and link with another grad and their parents. I think it was intended to get everyone to meet and introduce each other.

  19. I gradded in 1996 from Lambrick Park. All through highschool we had DJ’s, never once a band. People like many types of music these days – too many for a band to perform, unless it was say, Weird Al’s band.

  20. I was glad we ended up in the hot tub because I got to show off my pretty pedicure… which I seem to remember the girls admired (though probably only after much prompting) and the guys didn’t even notice.

  21. Graduated high school in 1993 in Toronto – we had prom. It was just an end of graduation year dinner & dance. With limos, corsages, tuxedos, a DJ, covert drinking, hotel rooms afterward… that sort of thing.

  22. James: If only it was as dirty as it sounded…

    Darren: You forgot the part in that sordid tale where everyone else bailed out shortly thereafter, and left me with my drama-fueled love triangle of both said girlfriend and said fuzzy-relationship girl.

    Yet again, not nearly as dirty as it sounds, but much more awkward.

  23. Hmm, well when I was in high school, just a few years ago, we had school ‘dances’ but that really was just a DJ and a giant screen that played music videos or visualizations. Most of the time we had a MuchMusic Video Dance, which involved a lot of equipment, projectors, strobe lights etc. It was like being in a club, except there was no drinking and the kids that were pissed drunk got thrown out. The dancing was more just grinding with girls who wore very little clothing for being under 15. Not sure if this is common place or just some anxiety release from being locked up in the suburbs.

    We also had a grad.. I never understood the word “prom”. It involved dinner and long boring speeches at the Hyatt in vancouver, and then an all night party at some Theme park in Abbotsford. I found it boring, and uneventful. Everyone was dressed up and looking pretty, I had rainbow hair 😛

  24. A little late, but you guys seriously didn’t have formals at your school? At my high school (in Toronto) back in the 50s and 60s, the formal was the only dance the school held, open only to the leaving class! Of course, by the time I graduated in the late 90s, there were at least three or four dances each year. The formal/prom/whatever you want to call it, has been held off school grounds at least the last couple of decades. Girls wear formal dresses (usually long) and the guys are in tuxes. If you’re part of the leaving class, you have the option of purchasing a dinner & dance ticket.

    Maybe US formal/prom-style events are a Toronto thing until recently?

  25. Just wanted to say, we did not have a “prom” as it was called where I am from (A small town in Saskatchewan). We had a graduation ceremony. First thing would be pictures in the morning followed by the grads often drinking a bit then the grad class picture. The guys would be in tuxes or suits while the girls generally wore dresses. Each graduate would have an escort (sometimes two grads would escort each other) who would also be dressed up almost as formal as the grads. They would go with the parents and a few family members to a grad banquet where there were speeches made by teachers, and others.

    Then it would be off to the graduation ceremony in the town hall or school gym, which family and friends would attend. This would be followed by a “grand march” where the grads would walk around the room where the ceremony was held and sort of be presented as a class. Following this there was a dance/social where there were a few special dances (grad-escort, parent-grad dances) that even more family and friends attended. This would be short in duration before everyone would disperse to their homes, get changed into casual clothes, have a drink or two and some food with family, and go to a safe grad party.

    The parents would drive the grads and invited guests to the party held at one of the grad’s homes. Invitation only, with drink tickets used in my year to ensure nobody got too carried away. Previously was the parents bought the booze and took it to the party beforehand. Managed to get a deal on booze for ours since the one girl’s mom ran a liquor store (so beer was $1.50 and liquour was $1, coolers were $1.50 too) – this was only in 2004. We would stay until the parents would drive the grad and their guests home. There were burgers, etc. served during the party which would last all night (though I was puking by 2 am… at my parent’s place where it was held…).

    Cleanup would happen the next day. Everyone who went to the party had to pay a small fee ($10) to pay for food, mix, etc. The party was limited to people in grade 10 and above (grade 9 if it was a sibling of a grad). The cops knew about it but didn’t pay any attention since they knew if they made a big stink, kids would have their own party, get drunk, and drive drunk.

    A few parents would suggest having a chem-free/dry grad party but knew that if they did that, nobody would go and there would be a bush party instead with negative consequences (drunk drivers, etc.). There were parents at a gate that prevented uninvited guests from attending the party. Was a good time, but I don’t remember some of the night (I do remember praying to the porcelin gods as I was screaming for my parents to call 911 in my delusional state… while my parents were struggling not to laugh as my mom held my hair back).

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