Blowing his horn: Father’s Day 2022
It’s been sixteen years since my father, George Campbell, passed away. A natural storyteller, Dad would often share his memories of growing up in a small town in southern Saskatchewan. Recently, I was thrilled to find his written words in this book of Whitewood community history that my cousin gave me. Dad’s story pairs well with this music selection. So listen, read and enjoy.
Listen to “A Beautiful Lady in Blue”
One day after school in January 1936 — temperature minus 40 degrees on either scale — I was getting a haircut at the White Lunch Café and watching the sun dogs cavort over Knowler’s Store. The barber, Dan Burgess, was new in town. (He never could reconcile a barber shop in a café and soon moved about five doors south to the front of the old power house.) During my haircut, he mentioned that he intended to start a Boys’ Band, moreover, he just happened to have a Beuscher alto saxophone that he would like me to take home, learn to play, then join the band. I told him that I was not a success at music, having taken piano lessons from Mrs. Horrocks and violin lessons from Percy Millward in Moosomin. He was convincing so I finally agreed to try it until my next haircut. To my surprise I found that I really liked the sax and would practise on it without being forced. I was on my own in this endeavor anyway but by my next haircut I felt I was as good on the sax as I had been on the piano or violin. An asking price of $60 was countered by an offer of $50 and finally a price of $55 was agreed upon and the sax was mine — underwritten by my dad.
This was the era of Amateur Hours à la “Major Bowes.” In May of 1936 I entered such a contest in the Town Hall and played “A Beautiful Lady in Blue” with my sister Agnes as my accompanist. We managed to win third prize and as “Major Bowes” (George Lamont, the Ford dealer) handed me the prize he whispered, “Tell your dad he needs a new Ford.” Actually, the next car that my dad bought was a 1938 Chev Master Deluxe from Foster’s Garage!
During my high school years I played saxophone in the school orchestra. After completing Grade 12, I left Whitewood in 1939 to attend Radio College in Toronto. My first job was a radio operator for the Anson aircraft at #4 Air Observer School in London, Ontario. After a year I became #30 Air Traffic Controller in Canada working at Regina, Windsor, Toronto, Moncton, and Edmonton.
I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a pilot officer in 1951. While stationed in Goose Bay, Labrador, I had an encounter with Royalty when Prince Philip paid a visit to the base. He had been out fishing during the day and upon his return in the evening he called an impromptu party. I was designated to find some music. I called the manager of the Hudson’s Bay Store in Happy Valley. He played the piano, I played my sax, and together we managed to fill the void.
I have saved the best part of the story for last. While at the RCAF station in North Bay, a vivacious new school teacher arrived from Saskatoon. Patricia Murphy. As soon as arrangements could be made we had her last name changed to Campbell and we have been living happily since. In 1956 we moved to Calgary as I had joined an electrical cable company, Pyrotenax of Canada, to introduce their product in Alberta. We have three lovely daughters and three handsome grandsons (so far).
Retired now, I continue tooting my sax at nursing homes, hospitals and seniors clubs. This age group relates to the music of my time warp — the Dirty Thirties. It is a great pleasure for to me to revive some of these old tunes and memories.
by George Campbell, 1992.