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*** My lifelong travel and music journey began in my hometown where I was born in 1943. Strathclair is a small Manitoba prairie town that was much bigger back then than it is now.
Some of my first memories of the town spring from my first day of School in 1949. This was the school that my Mom, Louise, and her two brothers attended back in the '30s. I had no idea at the time that this school would play a major part in my life for the next 40 years as a student and teacher.

*** Mom and little sister, Bonnie, dropped me off at the school for my first day in grade one. Dad was working in the fields that day on our Maple Grove farm a mile and a half south of town -- the farm that my great grandfather had homesteaded back in 1878. That first day was a bit bewildering to a shy 6-year-old farm kid: a classroom with 40 little strangers, blackboards, huge windows, rows of desks, a mass prayer recitation, an O Canada song, and bewildering directions from the teacher. Before noon hour I heard a car horn I recognized, so I stood up and walked out of class to the parking lot. Little sister had pressed the car horn button while she and Mom were waiting to pick me up -- after the noon hour bell rang! It was an interesting first day.

*** It seems like long ago now, but many Strathclair memories are still with me. The first movies I remember were shown in the mid-'40s from a portable projector in the Municipal Hall: musicals, westerns, Tarzans, and comedies -- all of 1940s vintage. It was a thrill when the nearby ultra modern Bend Theatre opened in the late '40s. I shared my memories of the Bend elsewhere on my site. The adventures, fantasies, far off places and music from the silver screen have been a major influence on my life-long love of show business and exotic places.

*** Memories abound of the long line of businesses on main street -- North Railway Street -- west of the school. A very early memory was in one of the first buildings -- the lady who owned it ran a Town Birthing Service. This was where my little sister Bonnie was born -- a beautiful tiny redhead. She was delivered by Doc McKenzie, the town doctor who was paid by the Municipality. This was to be the start of many years of love and companionship as we grew up together in a loving farm family.

*** The next building was Austin's Garage. I was always fascinated by the tall I-H sign on the top of the building -- a lit-up sign that I could see at nighttime from the north bathroom window of our farmhouse. An exciting event was when a huge jet engine was put on display in the garage for a few days. Jet engines were pretty new at the time. Around that time, during a recess, my school mates and I were bewildered when we saw white streaks high in the sky. We learned later that they were vapor trails from jets.

*** Farther west, past a few more garage services, was the Barber Shop and Pool Hall. I looked forward to having my hair cut there so I could watch the men playing pool. I never had a chance to try out the tables, so many years later, Sue-On and I jumped at the chance to buy a full-size snooker table and barbers chair from a Foxwarren shop. We slid the massive stone slabs of the table down our basement stairs and reassembled the table in our music studio. Finally, I had a chance to try my hand at being a pool shark.

*** Across the street was Henderson's Drugstore with a well-used coin operated weigh-yourself scale out front. One of the store's attractions was Mr. Henderson's funny stories and magic tricks. Also a treat was the soda fountain where I had my first milkshakes. The main attraction though, was the magazine and book racks that gobbled up most of my allowance each week. A great bargain was the coverless comic books he sold for half price -- 5 cents. On summer weekends he even took many items out to the booth he maintained at Henderson's beach on nearby Salt Lake. I had my first swimming lessons on this beach and enjoyed jumping off the floating pier that the guys from CJATC Rivers Air Force base had constructed there.
    The Henderson house was one of the many I painted around town to earn money to help my parents save for my planned Brandon College tuitions. This led to many challenging high ladder jobs painting the Anglican church roof, arena, Green Bluff school and further afield where I worked on elevators, huge old barns, and buildings on nearby Rivers Air Force base. One summer was spent working for the Manitoba Telephone System digging holes with a spoon and bar for telephone poles. The tough ones I remember were in sloughs, on rocky hillsides and through dense scrub.

*** The next building I remember along the street was the Electric Shop. In the early '50s when television was new, a major attraction in the town was the TV displayed in the shop's window. Crowds would gather on the sidewalk to watch flickering b/w images of shows such as Jackie Gleason, I Love Lucy, Liberace, wrestling, etc., all beamed from Brandon's CKX-TV tower to the south. Of special interest were the broadcasts of local musicians who were given the star treatment thanks to this new broadcast medium. I had taken piano lessons and my dad had bought me a guitar, so one of the attractions was Brandon's Russ Gurr. Russ wore fringed cowboy outfits and banged out a wild rhythm on his Martin guitar, while he yodelled and sang Hank Snow type songs, after which he donned a more formal suit and sang gospel songs. Little did I know that a dozen years in the future Sue-on and I would be touring Canada with him for eight years and we would invite him to be a guest on our own TV show.

*** Next was the Credit Union. I recall the night that it was robbed. The train had dropped us off at the CPR station in the wee hours of the morning where my dad had picked me up. I learned later that there was a robbery taking place at this time. A fellow air cadet while walking from the station to his home in town passed by the Credit Union. There were some guys just coming out of the Union building and they exchanged good morning greetings. My friend carried on home only to learn later in the day that he had actually witnessed a robbery.

*** The town's second restaurant was a good hangout since it had a jukebox and pinball machine. This had a lasting memory and years later our friend and band-mate Kerry Morris passed along a couple used pinball machines for our studio. Kerry and his family leased a string of arcade games in the area including those a Sportsman's Park in Clear Lake.

*** The Strathclair Hotel was a popular place for men because it had a beer parlour. I was too young to partake but much later, after our marriage in 1966, this was one of the first gigs where we broke in our duo singing act. Ten years after that, just before we left for our first two-month tour of England, we played a street dance while set up in the hotel parking lot.

*** The building next to the hotel was Barradell's Hardware which had Texaco gas pumps outside. This was a well-stocked store at the time. Later in the decade after the owner had died, his wife advertised for a manager to run the store which had fallen on harder times. Our crops had been just hailed out so dad applied and got the job. He had worked in his dad's blacksmith shop back home in Elrose, SK, before joining the Royal Canadian Navy which assigned him to their shipyards in St. John's, Halifax and Esquimalt. He later volunteered to serve as the ship's welder on HMCS Prince Robert on its WWII mission to Hong Kong to free POWs and accept the Jap surrender. He also had years of experience manufacturing and maintaining equipment on our farm. He doubled or tripled the store's profits but when he asked for a raise or a chance to buy the business the owner refused, as she was now making too much money. Dad left and bought and renovated a hardware building in nearby Newdale.

*** Attached to the hardware store was Stothart's grocery and dry goods store. This was a fascinating old fashioned place with a long service counter displaying groceries on the wall behind. Many years before he had bought a large brick house in the north side of town from our Uncle Will . . . and years later our friend Kerry eventually bought this house.

*** Menzies Store I remember for its many frozen storage lockers -- very popular before household deep freezers became more common. We rented one of these to store meat we had slaughtered on the farm. There was a room upstairs that the Air Cadets used for awhile as a photographic dark room. I still have many of the photos that I had taken with the camera that our beloved hired man, retired Bill Shearer, had given me -- paid for out of his old age pension allowance. Many of these photos I had developed myself with the help of Bob McTavish, up in that photo developing room. Obviously, this got me started on a passion for documenting all our travels and music experiences on film and video.

*** I remember Mr. Mayhew, who ran a barber shop west of Menzies, mainly for the unique house he had in the town. Years later Sue-On and I had the chance to bring a few of these memories into our Maple Grove home. We purchased stained leaded windows and a large staircase railing from that house. We used the glass in our bathroom and den and fitted the railing around our hot tub.

*** The Chinese Cafe with its many booths, display counter and kitchen, I frequented quite often. It was a great place to buy 5-cent popsicles and cokes. . . and occasionly to splurge on a 6-cent fudgesicle. Most of all, however, I was intrigued by the Chinese customs, culture and cuisine that were so different from the prairie experience I was raised in at that time. I didn't know it at the time, but this thirst for the exotic would be filled beyond my wildest dreams when I would meet and marry a beautiful, loving and talented immigrant from Hong Kong.

*** Molgat's Department Store, a large brick building at the West end of Main Street, was a shopper's boon in this little town. Most of my memories of the building, however, were of the basement where I and other Little League ball players would gather for pep talks before our games. Sports played a big part in growing up in our little town. I went on to play third base with the men's baseball team, quarterback our high school team, play tennis on the town's Tennis Courts, and participate in high school curling in the old arena. Our school didn't have a gym at that time -- it was built with the new school while I was away at university. Most of our sports took place outdoors in those days. . . during school recesses we even played tackle football in snowbanks throughout the winter.

*** As with many prairie towns, Strathclair's businesses were allowed to build along only one side of the main street. The other side of the street was railway property, which was open land from the station all the way east to Millman's Blacksmith Shop and the Anglican Church. We visited the CPR Train Station many times through the week as we had over 1,000 laying hens and we would send eggs via train to the hatchery in Winnipeg. I was actively involved in maintaining our large henhouses: feed, water, bedding, manure removal, egg collecting and crushing of grain for feed. We had to clean and candle each egg for fertility before packing them in crates to send off by rail.

An exciting event at the station was when the steam locomotives pulled in. The chugging and steam and smell of cinders and creosote brought back memories of travelling with my Mom to visit Naval bases where my dad was stationed during the war. I was thrilled to ride one of the last steam-driven trains in 1958 when I travelled as an Air Cadet to Winnipeg to catch a plane to Cadet Camp on the CFB base at Sea Island near Vancouver. This would be the first of countless airliner trips that Sue-On and I would take all over the world in the many decades to come.

    The train station was a fascinating place and many people visited the grounds to pump drinking water from the nearby well. Luckily, the station building remains. It was moved farther east where it now serves as the central part of the town's museum.

*** South of the tracks were the town's three towering Grain Elevators. Most of my memories of the elevators were of riding with my mom or dad up the ramp onto the scales to calculate the weight of the grain we were delivering during harvest time. Later, while we were still heating our home with coal for our stoker furnace, I made many trips to the coal sheds by the elevators where I shoveled truckloads of coal that I brought home to transfer into our basement coal storage room. Sadly, our elevators are now gone, as are most of the old elevators across the prairies. Sue-On and I have fond memories of our many Canada summer tours sponsored by the Federal Grain Company. The local agents treated us royally with barbecues and parties. The company supplied a motor home and portable stage that we set up at all the major fairs, exhibitions and rodeos. We played to huge crowds on the midways just outside the grandstands. We'd catch the after-show grandstand crowds and perform under lights while the midway people fussed and fumed waiting for the marks to arrive.

*** The United Church was also situated south of the tracks. Our folks raised us as free thinkers in an atmosphere of love, respect and tolerance -- a life free of superstition, so I never spent much time in church other than a period of time in a TYRO boys club hosted by minister Dr. Harland. Dr. Harland also went along as a supervisor for our Air Cadet group to summer camp at St. Jean, PQ. He was later posted to the Rivers church so when Sue-On and I were planning our wedding in 1966 we asked him to marry us at his church. This seemed a good choice since three of our musician friends were also from Rivers and it was close to our hometowns of Strathclair and Newdale. The church visits that we have made since have been mainly to sing for weddings across the country. . . I've always tried to avoid funerals, preferring to grieve privately.

When my grandfather and grandmother retired they bought a lot adjacent to the church where I remember helping to build their new house. My sister and I have many fond memories with them in that house. When Grandpa, Jack Campbell, died in 1955, the house was sold and moved south on HW 354 across the road from Maple Grove. Our family donated the land to the church, which they were glad to have as a parking area. Next to that lot was a house we built for our longtime hired man, Bill Shearer, a beloved friend of the family originally from Scotland. When he passed away that building was moved to the Strathclair Airport west of town.

*** I spent hours each week for many years in the Legion Hall north of the main business area. I had joined the 317 Air Cadet Squadron as a junior cadet at age 11. Our instruction was alternated between the Legion Hall and the school. The Legion was popular because we practised target shooting there with live ammunition in a crawl space under the building. Since the first years with the Cadets occured not too long after the end of WWII, our uniforms, manuals, training films and instructors were of wartime vintage -- a unique experience.

    As a cadet I looked forward to our many bus trips to CJATC Rivers Air Force Base where we used the gym facilities and shooting range,were given drill instruction and experienced many flights in a variety of aircraft. Even the military bus trips were a learning experience as we were taught and sang bawdy military ballads during the trips. During my eight years as a Cadet I was never allowed to take pilot training courses. My family had too many sad memories of having lost three of my uncles who were RCAF bomber pilots brought down over Europe during bombing runs. There was a sense of deja vu a few years later when Sue-On and I performed many times in the messes on the base.

*** An incredible amount of the area's history can be gleaned from the Strathclair Cemetery situated east of town. In fact, during my 30 years as a teacher at Strathclair Collegiate, I often led classes to the grounds where I had them search for information to complete assignments I had prepared. We even conducted this research a few times in the Bend Cemetery north of town near the original town settlement on a bend of the Little Saskatchewan River. The town had been moved south to gain access to the CPR rail line.
The names of our parents and ancestors going back to 1878 are inscribed on a large granite family headstone in the middle of the Strathclair cemetery.

*** I left Strathclair after high school graduation in 1961. I moved to Brandon to obtain three university degrees and to seriously begin a music career. After Sue-On and I were married in 1966 we moved back to Maple Grove where I resumed a 30 year teaching career at Strathclair Collegiate with most of the teachers who had taught me a few years before.

This was when our lifelong adventure in love and marriage, travel and music, was really launched.
Life is good.


A Hometown Strathclair related excerpt
from our Music Memoirs

Our connection with Strathclair has played a major part in our six-decades-long musical career. Much of my inspiration came from my parents, Jerry and Louise.
My Mom and her brothers, Don and Bill, had teamed up with the Christie family kids to form the Campbell-Christie Orchestra in Strathclair back in the '30s. During WWII, after my birth in Strathclair, my mom and I followed my dad to his Royal Canadian Navy postings in Newfoundland, Halifax and Vancouver Island. My first memories of music were my parents' jam sessions at those locations. . . and then later in the '50s on our Maple Grove farm south of Strathclair. There was always music in our house from a stack of 78 records, radios and later, TV. After Dad bought me my first guitar and showed me a few chords, my first appearance on stage was with the family in the Strathclair Hall. When Sue-On and I married in 1966, we formed the Western Union band and some of our first appearances were in that same hall, and in the Strathclair Hotel pub, and much later in the Strathclair Arena and Strathclair Collegiate.

Through the years, Strathclair was home base for us as we played countless major gigs all across the prairies, USA, and England where we were billed "The Hillmans From Canada." The English audiences were a bit leery of our "Yankee Accents" at first, but we were met with overwhelming acceptance when they learned we were from Canada -- "O the Colonies! -- Welcome home!" :) We even had many of them convinced that Strathclair was a major centre in Canada.

Our trio's succession of "third men" for these International tours were all from Strathclair: Kevin Pahl, Kerry Morris and our son, Robin. In fact, Robin's debut on drums was in Strathclair Hall where the little 8-year-old joined us on stage for some rockers, including his spirited interpretation of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." Robin went on to join us as the third man in our trio playing drums, bass and trombone. Our daughter China-Li has joined us for a series of Folk Festival appearances playing harp, bagpipes and keyboards. Son Ja-On is an accomplished saxophonist and has taught the instrument for a number of years. All three of our kids, Ja-On, Robin and China-Li owe much of their success in music to their early years in Strathclair.

The 100 songs on our 12 music albums were recorded during our three tours in England and in a modern Westlake studio in Winnipeg. But they were all rehearsed in our Strathclair home -- and half of them I wrote there . . . many of them about our experiences growing up on our farm and in our little town. Many of the photos that we used on our albums, books, promos, press releases, etc. were taken at our beloved Maple Grove home.

All during our music years while based in Strathclair we were visited by a constant stream of well-known musicians, journalists, TV reporters, etc. -- especially after we were presented the Manitoba Entertainers of the Year Award by MACA. This carried on even after we moved to Brandon to open our restaurant and join Brandon University to work as professors. When CBC National Television filmed a feature documentary on us we invited the film crew back to Strathclair for half the filming. We were pleased to see a blurb on us in the local history books, although for some reason lead singer Sue-On, who also plays keyboards and is our dynamic drummer, was credited as “playing castanets and maracas in a band.” Wow! we're going to have to find some castanets somewhere so Sue-On can take some Flamenco dance lessons :)

We have fond memories of our Strathclair years.

Excerpt from a Chapter I Wrote
for a University Textbook

"The glory years of Strathclair and many other similar prairie communities reached their zenith in mid-twentieth century -- the '50s decade. The excitement and spirit generated by these towns was perhaps best epitomized by the Saturday Night "event." Following the Saturday evening supper hour, families would prepare to "go to town."

The first cars to arrive would get the best seats. This meant finding a diagonal parking spot along the north side of main street (North Railway Street) in the well-lit, high-traffic area extending from the pool room at Minnedosa Street to the modern 'self-serve' department store at Campbell Street (Figure 3) '50s Town Map. Between these termini, people of all ages walked a jostling gauntlet along a strip of thriving businesses.

Three favourite spots were the drugstore with its soda fountain and magazine rack, the Chinese cafe‚ with its booths for socializing, and a rival eatery which featured a jukebox, pinball machine and lunch counter with stools. Many of the men gathered in one of the two male bastions -- the beer parlour and the pool room; while a favourite routine for the women was to peruse the line of parked Fords, Chevies and Dodges -- each vehicle demanding a nod, wave or a detour off the sidewalk for a chat.

When the week's discussion lagged out on the street, there seemed to be no end of open doors to shops to provide diversion: bakery, grocery, dry goods store, newspaper office, garages, butcher shop, hardware store, restroom, shoemaker, and tinsmith. In the winter there was always skating, curling and hockey at the rink. The routine for some was to go to the 7 o'clock movie at the Bend Theatre, delaying the sidewalk promenade for later. From a thirty-five cent allowance, kids could eke out a full night's entertainment which included a movie (complete with newsreel, Three Stooges short, cartoon, serial, previews, and draws for prizes), popcorn, "coke" or popsicle, double bubble gum, jawbreakers, and a fifty-two page comic book.

Later in the decade, many people gathered outside the electric shop which provided an outdoor speaker connected to the twenty-one inch television in the window, few realizing that this box with its flickering black and white pictures was a harbinger of drastic change to this weekly social phenonemon that everyone took for granted." . . . MORE

A song we wrote and recorded for Album #6 / CD #12
Featured in Section V of our Music Odyssey book:
A Prairie Saga in Song

Mother's mother on the porch where she's makin butter
Grandfather's out in the yard where he loves to putter
Screen door slams -- sister runs in crying
Skinned a knee out where the collie dog's lying
Memory take me back just one more time

Daddy's in the field where he keeps the prairie dust flying
Rain don't come but the clouds keep on trying
Though drought and hail made times a lot tougher
A mother's love saw that we didn't suffer
Memory take me back just one more time

Saturday night Daddy takes us into town for a movie
Late night shopping and farm talk swapping on Main Street
Old men standing by the pool hall talking
Young folks out on the sidewalk walking
Memory take me back just one more time



A University Textbook featuring a Strathclair Chapter by Bill Hillman
Strathclair: A Prairie Town with a Past, Present & Future
William G. Hillman, B.Sc.(Hons), B.Ed., M.Ed.
Assistant Professor ~ Brandon University, Brandon, MB  Canada


PDF Version
1. Gig Notes: 1-10
2. Album Notes
3. Guitar Tales
4. Prairie Saga
5. Roots
6. Photos
7. Media
8. 100 Songs