Len Fairchuk, The Western Hour and the Rex Theatre

Originally posted April 30, 2008 

The Western Hour, The Rex’s last tenant

I’ve been thinking a lot about Leonard Fairchuk recently. Yes, THAT Len Fairchuk - of The Western Hour fame !

Recently I was invited into the Rex Theatre before its demolition to help salvage some chairs that will be used in the expanded West End Cultural Centre. While there, I found some remnants of Len's The Western Hour which was the theatre's last tenant, (he rechristened the place Opry Grand.)

I remember watching the Western Hour grwoing up. It was hard to miss in the 13 channel universe. It was a very low budget, oddly edited, no frills, talent show of sorts featuring pro and amateur singers, jiggers and fiddlers from around Manitoba. I saw him a couple of times away from the show, walking about town with his art portfolio under his arm, but don't really know much about him.

As Len was the last person to give a damn about the Rex, I thought I would take a look back at his life.

Len Fairchuk (1932 - 2004)

Fairchuk was born in 1932 in St. Boniface and raised in Horad, Manitoba, north of Elphinestone. Len’s day job was a mechanic, but the arts would become his career. He was a fiddler, carver and painter, his talent for the latter landed him a job as a sign painter, then a set designer at a Los Angles movie studio. 

Upon his return to Manitoba, Fairchuk wanted to continue in the entertainment industry. He used the format of a popular 1940’s and 50’s Manitoba radio show: “The CJOB Western Hour” and revived it for a television audience focusing on Aboriginal and Metis artists.

If the embedded version doesn't work go here

The Western Hour began its impressive 19-year run on VPW (Winnipeg's Cable Access Channel) program in 1976. Long before live satellite feeds and "palm of your hand" camcorders, Fairchuk rented a single television camera for the weekend and travelled to towns and reserves throughout Manitoba. he showcased aboriginal talent, ranging from jiggers to fiddlers to country music bands and gave more ordinary people their 15 minutes of fame than any Manitoba television production has, or likely ever will.

After VPW, the show continued on CKND and MTN. It still lives on today, back in radio format, on NCI-FM.

Fairchuk's involvement with the Rex theatre seems to have had two distinct periods. In the 70's the Rex, called Opry Grand, was the Winnipeg base for The Western Hour.

In the 1980s the Rex became an adult movie theatre, closed for a number of years, then around 1990 the dream of Opry Grand was revived. I recall media stories about Fairchuk fundraising by selling his art to keep the place going as an aboriginal country music venue. 

In 1991 the Rex closed again for the final time.

Fairchuk died of a heart attack on April 4, 2004 at the age of 71. The following year he was among the inaugural inductees into the Aboriginal Music Hall of Fame for his support of aboriginal artists throughout the province.

Seeing the stage and the old posters I wonder what would have happened if more people had rallied behind Fairchuk and supported his dream to create an aboriginal country music venue and preserve a magnificent theatre ?

Sadly we will never know.

Sorry, Len.


April 7, 2004, Winnipeg Free Press

April 8, 2004, Winnipeg Free Press


amber said...

How do I obtain a copy of the Western Hour Series? Are they available? If these videos are still available, has anyone thought of selling this to the public, maybe make a best of series and use the money from the profits of the dvd sales to help reach Lens Dream.

Mark said...

I appreciate your interest in my dad's attempt to showcase aboriginal talent. If you need anymore information, I may be able to help you.

mrchristian said...

@ mark - thanks for posting !

I have to say that, of the hundreds of posts and historical vignettes I have on my blogs that this one is in the top ten ! There is still a great deal of interest in your Dad and the Western Hour.

Anonymous said...

Mark I was wondering if you or Sandy could put up some videos of the show on youtube or something to that extent my Dad only has 2-3 min segment on tape but 5 hours of jigging.his name is Ed M.

tom said...

i wanted to try get some footage of relatives whom have since passed on, but have no visuals for the family they left behind . all i have to go on is that they were past guests on the western hour.any info on how i could reach the right person i could contact ?thank you mark or sandy

Anonymous said...

Len had a dream and it would have been nice if it still happened.

gds said...

i googled Len Fairchuck because i was researching a signed print i had taken off the wall. We were shocked to see it was the man from the Western Hour. He had multi talents

Anonymous said...

is it possible to see the shows? that would be great.my mom worked for len.

michele ball said...

Does anyone have footage of Susan Ball. My mother has been with creator for years and I would love to hear her voice and share with her 10 grandchildren who never got to meet her. I have few pictures and miss her. Message me on fb michele Mitchell or call me or text 780-232-0706. Thanks in advance

Christian Cassidy said...

It seems that Len and his Western Hour touched many people ! Sadly, I do not know if there is a video archive of the shows. I was hoping that someone would have stumbled across this post and have been the knight in shining armour and say "I happen to have them all here!"

I will ask around, post on a few history sites to see if a show archive exists. The difficulty is that though it was shown on a TV station it was not produced by the TV station - Len did it himself and, presumably, some guy in a studio who spliced the footage together into a 45 minute package to submit to the station for replay.

That leaves a pretty small circle of folks that would have even had their hands on the tapes with an opportunity to put them aside.

If anyone does know, or has any leads, let me know ! If there are any of Len's family out there, I would love to chat with you !

Anonymous said...

Just came across a unique record of Len Fairchuk and his band 'The Pioneers' on a 33 1/3 LP vinyl. Looks like it was put out in Canada's centennial year (1867)

Wonderful piece of vinyl history - produced on Silver Spur Records, Tyndall Ave., Winnipeg. Could have been Len's own label, also refers to him as White Buffalo - the name he used on his art.

All 8 songs written by Len. Album doesn't mention any of the side men or women.

Anonymous said...

I will be passing this album on to someone who's doing a 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017. This person has an incredible number of art, music, books, theatre, misc. put out in 1967. So now Len Fairchuk will become part of this centennial presentation.

Christian Cassidy said...

Great stuff ! Give me a couple of days and I will add to this post. Most of the information I gleaned was from old Free Press articles. I will go back and see if any of them had photos and post the articles.

As for the album, that's great. I didn't know he released albums. I will keep an eye out. A while back I bought a USB record player so that I cold convert records to MP3 files. If you know someone who has one and can do that, please share the music !

Anonymous said...

I have a piece of art he did in 1991 of a log cabin and an owl in a tree. Labelled "Spring by White Buffalo 91". I wonder
If he made this picture of his childhood home he grew up in.