Len Fairchuk, The Western Hour and the Rex Theatre

  Go here for an expanded and updated version of this post !!!

The Western Hour, The Rex’s last owner

I’ve been thinking a lot about Len 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 owner, (he rechristened the place The Opry Grand.)

I remember watching the Western Hour growing 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 Fairchuk a couple of times away from the show walking about town with his art portfolio under his arm, but didn't really know anything about the man.
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 to 60s Manitoba radio show called “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 12-year run on VPW (Winnipeg's Cable Access Channel) in 1979 based out of the Rex, which was then called he Epic Theatre.

Soon, the show went on the road and long before live satellite feeds and "palm of your hand" camcorders, Fairchuk and wife, Sandra, would rent a single television camera for the weekend and travel to towns and reserves throughout Manitoba to showcase Aboriginal talent, including jiggers, fiddlers and country music bands. He gave more ordinary people their 15 minutes of fame than any Manitoba television production ever 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. From about 1979 to 1981 the Rex was home base for The Western Hour, but he did not own it.

In 1987, The Western Hour Ltd., a non-profit group, purchased the theatre, which by this time had become a XXX cinema, from the owner. It was rechristened the Opry Grand with the hopes of becoming a counry music hub for the city.

I recall media stories about Fairchuk fundraising by selling his art to keep the place going. 

In 1991 the theatre closed 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.


- Go here for an expanded and updated version of this post !!!
- For more photos of the Rex before demolition.


April 7, 2004, Winnipeg Free Press

April 8, 2004, Winnipeg Free Press


Unknown 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.

Unknown 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.

Christian Cassidy 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.

Unknown 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.

Anonymous said...

A good number of years ago I was a member of the Winnipeg Police. Len frequently visited the P.S.B. with his portfolio of prints. After purchasing a good number of them, I asked Len if he would sell originals? Reluctant at first, he agreed to sell some originals in sets of 2, a trade mark of his works. I believe these never had prints made from them. A fellow officer and I bought the sets and shared them. Years later, some of the others have been passed on and now I have but one complete set, Wasgo's. Our family also has 1 carving of a kneeling man holding/presenting a peace pipe. I am surprised that as prolific as Len was, he remains virtually unknown to many of the art dealers in the city. His place in Winnipeg history deserves more. We look at his work and I often think of his visits and our conversations.

Unknown said...

I have two of his prints I would like to sell as they are still wrapped in a plastic coating, but I think so done else car frame them and care for them better. Email me at jessieblackstarr@gmail.com

AngelEdwards said...

Great positive childhood memories of mine watching the Country Western hour show, my grandmother, parents, and other relatives use to watch this show with all together, good entertainment. I wish I could rewatch all the episodes. Is there a a way to get a copy of episodes or series, or a site to watch them.