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 !
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
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.
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.