Len Fairchuk, The Western Hour and the Rex Theatre

originally posted April 30, 2008

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

Len Fairchuk (1932 - 2004)
Image: Aboriginal Music Hall of Fame Fairchuk Page

When I was in The Rex I found remnants of Len's Western Hour which was the theatre's last tenant. Since he was the last guy to give a damn about the place, and no one listened to him, I thought I'd look into him a bit !

The Western Hour, The Rex’s last tenant ( mrchristian)

Fairchuk was born in 1932 in St. Boniface and raised in Horad MB (north of Elphinestone). Len’s day job was as a mechanic but eventually 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 designer and then a job at a Hollywood movie studio as a set designer.

Image: Fairchuck’s art from http://www.canadianplains.ca

Upon his return to Manitoba Fairchuk wanted to continue on 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.

Generations of Manitobans know "The Western Hour". In the 9 channel universe it was hard not to miss it on a Saturday afternoons. It was an extremely - almost shockingly - low budget, low production value show that travelled to towns and reserves filming powwows and talent shows throughout Manitoba. It showcased local aboriginal talent ranging from jiggers to fiddlers to country music bands. I still can't hear the Red River Reel without having flashbacks.

If the embedded version doesn't work go here

Though the quality of some of the acts may have been as questionable as the show's production value, the Western Hour was quite ground breaking for its day. Well before satellite feeds and "palm of your hand" camcorders, the show with a budget of nothing and a single camera that Fairchuk would rent for the weekend, covered more ground and gave more average, ordinary people their 15 minutes of fame than any Manitoba media outlet has, or likely ever will.

In the end, Fairchuk's The Western Hour had an impressive run of 19 years ! It began as a VPW (Winnipeg's Cable Access Channel) program in 1976 and ran for 19 years on VPW, then CKND and MTN. It still lives on today, back in radio format, on NCI-FM.

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

Rex Theatre in the 70's (AMHF)

Sometime in the 80's the Rex became an adult movie theatre and then, again, closed it's doors. In the early 90's the dream for Opry Grand was revived. I can 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. The signs of Fairchuk's failed dream can be seen in discarded posters and the Opry Grand Telethon backdrop on the stage.

Country music event poster in Rex Theatre (mrchristian)

The Rex's final performance - a telethon for the Opry Grand. (mrchristian)

Fairchuk died from 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 artist 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.


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.