Don Messer’s Jubilee

Donald Charles Frederick (Don) Messer (May 9, 1909 – March 26, 1973) was a Canadian musician and defining icon of folk music during the 1960s.

Don Messer circa 1965Born in Tweedside, New Brunswick, Messer began playing the violin at age five, learning fiddle tunes with Irish and Scottish influences. As a young boy, Messer would play concerts in the local area and later throughout southwestern New Brunswick.

During the 1920s, Messer moved to Boston, Massachusetts for three years where he received his only formal instruction in music. Upon his return to the Maritimes, he began his radio career on CFBO in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1929 when he joined the station staff. Messer had organized a small studio band of musicians by that point and in 1934, they began a regular radio show for the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (forerunner to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation or CBC), broadcasting from CHSJ in Saint John under the name the New Brunswick Lumberjacks. Messer also began to make personal appearances throughout the Maritimes and New England using a smaller group named the “Backwoods Breakdown”.

Messer left Saint John in 1939 and moved to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island where he joined CFCY as music director. Here he formed the “Islanders” and by 1944 the group was airing a show nationally on CBC radio. The show established itself as the most popular on Canadian radio during the 1940s-1960s and Don Messer and His Islanders began to tour outside of the Maritimes.


In 1956, Messer’s music group began to make regular television appearances on CBHT-TV in Halifax, Nova Scotia. CBC television began a summer series called The Don Messer Show on August 7, 1959, which continued into the fall as Don Messer’s Jubilee, produced out of Halifax. Continuing as Don Messer’s Jubilee throughout the 1960s, the show won a wide audience and reportedly became the second-most watched television show in Canada during the decade (next to Hockey Night in Canada).

Don Messer’s Jubilee was cancelled by CBC television in 1969, raising a national protest among viewers and fans and even raising questions from the floor of the House of Commons. Messer and his band continued Don Messer’s Jubilee in syndication on CHCH-TV in Hamilton, Ontario following the 1969 CBC cancellation until Messer’s death four years later.

Regular Cast

Marg Osburne (December 29, 1927-July 16, 1977) was a Canadian country, folk and gospel singer. Recipient (posthumously) of the ECMA Stompin’ Tom Connors award.

Charlie Chamberlain (14 July 1911 in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada- 16 July 1972) was a featured entertainer on Don Messer’s Jubilee, which ran from 1957 through 1969 on CBC Television. Recipient (posthumously) of the ECMA Stompin’ Tom Connors Award.


Source, Wikipedia

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My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date).

John Anderson, Free!

A blow for freedom.

john anderson - portraitOn February 16, 1861, John Anderson, an escaped slave from Missouri, was discharged by a Toronto court, narrowly avoiding a return to the shackles of slavery.Born a slave in Missouri, Anderson was separated from his wife and children when sold to a new owner. His new master refused to let him see his family, so in 1853 he decided to escape to Canada where he would be free and able to raise money to free his family as well. However, during his desperate attempt to escape, Anderson killed Seneca Diggs, a slaveholder who tried to stop him. Anderson made it to Windsor, Ontario, in the fall of 1853, but the next year American authorities asked for his return, charging him with murder. Canadian Governor General Lord Elgin refused. In 1860, however, a magistrate in Brantford, Ontario, learned of his story and arrested Anderson. James Gunning, a Detroit detective, came to Brantford with evidence in hand and a formal warrant for Anderson’s arrest.

On November 24, 1860, Anderson appeared in a Toronto court where the judges considered whether he should be returned to the United States to stand trial for murder. Anderson’s act would probably not have been considered murder under Canadian law, because he was defending his freedom from a man who would enslave him. However, the presiding justices decided that based on Missouri law Anderson had committed murder and so they were required to hand him over to the American authorities.

Osgoode Hall, Toronto. Home of the Law Society of Upper Canada, constructed 1829.
Osgoode Hall, Toronto. Home of the Law Society of Upper Canada, constructed 1829.

But the fight wasn’t over! Many people in Canada were sympathetic to his plight and one petition was signed by more than 2,500 people. They feared that if he was given over to the Americans, no fugitive slave would be safe in Canada. The British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society made an appeal on his behalf in Great Britain since Canada was still a British colony. However, before it could proceed, Anderson’s appeal was heard in Canada and the court freed him. The Canadian and British abolitionists who supported him and his highly publicized story rejoiced!

The Fugitive Slave Movement through which John Anderson was freed is a National Historic Event and Osgoode Hall in Toronto where his case was heard is a National Historic Site.

Norman Lee (1862 – 1939)

The Klondike Cattle Drive


Norman Lee In 1898, Lee set out to drive 200 head of cattle from his home in the Chilcotin area of BC to the Klondike goldfields – a distance of 1,500 miles. He was gambling both his cattle and his life.

Norman Lee was born in England, the eldest son of an English vicar. Not the kind of background you’d expect for a man who would attempt to drive cattle to the Klondike !

In 1882, Lee left a comfortable apprenticeship in an architectural office in London, England for the lure of the Cariboo gold fields of British Columbia, where he became a rancher and a trader.

Lee easily adjusted to the life of a cattle rancher, but the remote Chilcotin made the economics of cattle ranching difficult. So when the rush to the Klondike began, he jumped at what he thought was an opportunity for real money by driving two hundred head of cattle through 1,500 miles of wilderness to Dawson City.

He wasn’t alone. By the spring of 1898 there was a flurry of activity as cattle ranchers assembled herds for the long trek north over the all-Canadian route from central B.C., via Telegraph Creek, to Teslin. Ranchers knew that the first to arrive would have the best opportunity to sell their cattle.

The distinction of being the first to attempt a cattle drive from the Chilcotin to the Klondike was Jim Cornell. He headed north with a hundred head in early May of 1898.

Cornell was followed by Jerry Gravelle with another hundred head of cattle, then Norman Lee with two hundred head and, finally, Johnny Harris with another two hundred head.

cattle drive - ashcroftLee headed out from his Chilcotin ranch on May 17 with five cowboys, nine packhorses, and a cook. There was a keen sense of competition because the first herds over the trail depleted the grazing lands along the way, leaving little forage. The lack of food was made worse by the mud churned up by the hundreds of gold seekers, with horses and mules, who were also on the trail.

Lee and his herd finally arrived at Telegraph Creek on September 2nd, 1898. After more than three daunting months on the trail, he wasn’t even close to the Klondike.

Here he discovered that Jim Cornell, who had made better time with a smaller herd, decided not to go any further. Cornell had taken over a butcher shop previously owned by Dominic Burns, brother of Pat Burns, who would later become owner of the famous Burns Meat Packing Plants. Norman Lee pressed on to Teslin Lake, where the cattle were slaughtered. The plan was to raft the beef products down Teslin lake on hastily built scows, and then on the Yukon river to Dawson.

After two days of good sailing, a gale blew in. The scows were wrecked leaving the beef lying in the shallow water. Lee’s Klondike Cattle Drive was over.

Klondike Cattle Drive: The Journal of Norman Lee (Mitchell Press, 1960; Heritage House, 1991; Touchwood Editions, 2005)


Coming soon: Coming of Age on the Trail, by Gerry Burnie

CoAfinal2medLOOSELY based on a 1,500-mile cattle drive from Hanceville, British Columbia, to Canada’s remote Yukon Territory, this fictional adaptation pits 17-year-old Cory Twilingate against the almost insurmountable 19th-century wilderness in order to save his father’s cash-strapped ranch. Accompanying him on this perilous adventure is ranch foreman, “Reb” Coltrane, a ruggedly handsome cowboy from down Texas way, and together they form a bond that is both rugged and enduring.

Woven into this epic tale, as well, is an ancient Indian legend that prophesies the reincarnation of two star-crossed lovers, cruelly separated by their warring tribes in a time when spirits ruled the land, but who have been promised a reunion by the Great Spirit himself.

Also Lurking in the background is an assortment of treacherous villains intent on doing them harm. These include a homophobic killer, and a vengeful rancher who has threatened the destruction of both Cory and his father.

This is a story of a young boy’s sudden catapult into manhood, and of the man who stood by him all the way, but can their devotion overcome the combined forces of man and nature?

Anticipated release, 2014.



Mary Grannan – “Just Mary”

Canadian pioneer of children’s shows…


 mary rgannon - portraitJust Mary and Maggie Muggins are names that will arouse memories in those who grew up with CBC radio and television in the 1940s and 1950s. The creator of these and other children’s shows, former Fredericton schoolteacher Mary Grannan, became a radio star when she hit the national airwaves in 1939, her popularity peaking when Maggie Muggins moved to television in 1955. Long before The Friendly Giant and Mr. Dressup appeared. 

Mary Grannan was born on 11 February 1900 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the second of three daughters of William and Catherine (Haney) Grannan. At a young age, Grannan’s artistic creativity was greatly influenced by her father, who was fond of drawing and reading, and her mother, who was a rich source of humour and storytelling. Grannan received her education at St. Dunstan’s and Fredericton High School, and then later attended the Provincial Normal School where she graduated in 1917 with a teaching degree.

After teaching for several years at the Devon Superior School outside Fredericton, where she entertained her classes with lively stories, Grannan began writing plays and skits for school productions. She was involved in the St. Dunstan’s Dramatic Society and further explored her artistic nature by travelling to Boston in 1927 to study art at the Vesper George School of Art. Upon her return to New Brunswick, she entered work in the local exhibition and supplied political cartoons to The Daily Gleaner, Fredericton’s daily newspaper.

mary grannan - maggie mugginsGrannan was first introduced to radio in 1935 when the Canadian Teacher’s Federation used radio broadcasting as a part of the first National Education Week. The fledgling radio station CFNB, started by brothers Stewart and John Neill, broadcasted a programme using two local teachers—Gertrude Davis and Grannan. The popularity of the programmes Musical Scrapbook (1936) and Aggravating Agatha (1936) grew, and Grannan began writing twice-weekly scripts. Grannan continued writing part-time for the radio show while maintaining her teaching position until 1937. In that year, Grannan and Neill began broadcasting Just Mary, another children’s radio show that became an instant success. Shortly after, in early 1939, she was offered a position at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Grannan then moved to Toronto to write and broadcast children’s programmes for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio and Television between 1939 and 1962. In all, she wrote twenty series during her career; her most popular works, Just Mary and Mary Muggins (1947), were some of the best-known children’s programmes of their time in Canada. Just Mary ran on national CBC stations every Sunday afternoon for twenty-three years. Grannan’s work was made into bestselling children’s books that sold over 400,000 copies. The character of Maggie Muggins

Maggie Muggins Doll
Maggie Muggins Doll

was immortalized as a doll, and over 11,000 of these toys were sold in 1948 alone. Grannan thus had a successful career in print, radio, and television during the CBC’s infancy. Her work influenced and shaped Canadian children’s culture in post-Depression and postwar periods. For more than two decades, Canadian children grew up being educated and entertained by her work. She was able to capture the hearts of a generation of children.

After living and working in Toronto for over two decades, Grannan returned to New Brunswick, where she died on 3 January 1975 at her home in Fredericton. Grannan received two honorable mentions from the Institute for Education by Radio in 1942 and 1950. In 1951, she was named an honorary member of the International Mark Twain Society, and in 1947, she received the Beaver Award from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for distinguished service to Canadian Radio for Just Mary.


Source: New Brunswick Library Encyclopedia –


My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date).