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Canadian History for Kids: Don Messer

March 26, 1973 – Music – Don Messer dies at age 63.

This Canadian History for Kids exclusive, looks at the amazing career of Don Messer and his Jubilee.

Don Messers’ Jubilee consistently ranked in the top 10 TV programs nationally throughout its long run. In 1961 it drew higher ratings in Canada than the Ed Sullivan Show, and throughout the mid-1960s it was second only to Hockey Night in Canada.

Its cancellation in 1969 in favour of programming with more youth appeal met with great protest and even raised questions in the House of Commons.

Don Messer was born in Tweedside, NB, and began playing the violin at age five. He learned fiddle tunes from local players and Scottish and Irish songs from his mother.

At seven he was performing at barn dances, weddings and other social gatherings in the area. After studying with Henry Davis and Edith Hurter for three years in Boston (his only formal training), he began his radio career in 1929 on CFBO Saint John. A local merchant subsequently sponsored regular radio programs by Messer’s small band.

In 1934, Messer and his band began a radio show for the CRBC (the early CBC), broadcasting from CHSJ Saint John under the name the New Brunswick Lumberjacks.

Charlie Chamberlain, Messer’s long-time bilingual vocalist — and the only band member who had worked in lumber camps — joined at this time. The studio band grew to as many as 19 performers, including Chamberlain, Ned Landry (harmonica), Julius “Duke” Nielsen (bass, banjo) and Eldon Rathburn (piano). His band became known as the Islanders.

Once the Islanders’ radio program was established as one of the most popular in Canada, Messer and the band began to perform outside the Maritimes, making their first tour of Ontario in 1949.

In 1956, the group began to appear regularly on CHBY-TV in Halifax. A nationally broadcast CBC-TV series, The Don Messer Show, began on 7 August 1959 as a summer replacement series for the country and western music show Country Hoedown. The Don Messer Show was immediately popular and continued in the fall as Don Messer’s Jubilee.

The straightforward, no-frills formula and down-home sincerity of Don Messer`s Jubilee set the standard for the Canadian music variety program. It was emulated by Tommy Hunter, Rita MacNeil, George Fox and many others.

And that’s this week’s Canadian History for Kids, exclusive!

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