Live Entertainment Brought Fun To Town
Westman Nostalgia
The Fred McGuinness Diary
Thursday, November 30, 2000
Fred McGuinness
Fred McGuinness Brandon Sun Column: 00.11.30
The Western Union Television Show: Barry, Jake, Bill, Sue-On
Russ Gurr and the Western Union: The Federal Grain Train Show
Sue-On and the Western Union: Bill, Sue-On, Barry Forman
Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame
CD Album No. 12: Bill and Sue-On Hillman
2000: There was a welcome addition to my e-mail recently; a note from Bill and Sue-On Hillman. One or the other, or perhaps both, sprang to the keyboard once they saw a recent column on the old grandstand shows.

I assume this is Bill speaking. "I've had a long love affair with the shows... first as a farm kid, when one of the year's highlights was Brandon Fair and its grandstand show."

He goes on. "Later it took on a different dimension when I was involved as a performer at the fair and in a number of CKX radio and TV live remotes from the fair. (Our guest on one of these shows was an up-and-coming impressionist from Ottawa: Rich Little.)

Bill and Sue-On later took to the road with Russ Gurr and his Federal Grain Train troupe. As such, they appeared as a part of many grandstand shows across the West. They have happy memories of working with vaudeville performers who had worked all over the world, and now were appearing on the big variety shows.

(Hey there, Bill and Sue-On: there once was a time in the '30s when I would go to the summer fair in the morning so I could visit the grandstand performers.

They parked their trailers in the middle of the racetrack. They were always pleased to chat with locals. I was impressed with the number of children with them, most of whom spent endless and tireless hours learning how to juggle, walk the slack wire, or develop some talent that would have them follow their parents in show biz.)

Back to Bill and Sue-On. In the company of Barry Forman they were put under contract by the show promoters, Bardine Productions from the U.S. west coast. Bardine put this trio on their western U.S. circuit of state and county fairs and rodeos. They worked under the name Sue-On and the Western Union.

Alas, the end was in sight. Bill says he has many happy memories of having been in the outdoor show business, even if they were then fading in the face of electronic competition.

Quick! Let's have a change of pace.

As a commercial web-page artist and designer, (Hillman Eclectic Studio) Bill has just finished an assignment with the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame. He directed me to open the site he had created for the Agricultural Hall of 

I did as I was bid. This turned out to be quite a treat. There are pictures and biographies of all 100 Manitobans who have been elevated to this charmed circle.

I could easily spend a weekend reading the citations for these distinguished citizens. They include Jimmy Moffatt, Reg Forbes, Donn and Sylvia Mitchell, plus 97 others, whose good works cover most of the provinces's first century.

Bill Hillman and his talk about performers makes me smile.

In one of the last years in which the winter fair was staged in the Wheat City Arena, the featured guest was Leroy Van Dyke, famous for his rendition of "The Auctioneer's Song."

I thought it would be a helpful promotion for both the Sun and the fair if I could get some local people to meet him. I tracked him down by telephone and asked him if he would co-operate. He said yes, with two provisios: no alcohol, no smoke.

In the paper we asked for persons who would like to dine with Leroy. The mail arrived by the truckload. (Well, almost.)

We had someone pick a number at random, 30 or 40 as I recall, and we all had a dinner at the Canadian Inn with The Man. It interested me that this quiet, self-effacing fellow could exude so much energy when he had a mike in his hand.

Curious follow-up: Occasionally, when I'm at a rural meeting, someone will come up to me and tell me they were at that unusual gathering.

The last one was a bank manager at Neepawa.

~~Fred McGuinness is a Brandon-based freelance writer.
In the next chapter in the Hillman Musical Odyssey, 
singer/keyboardist Kevin Pahl joins the group.
The new Hillman Trio makes three tours of England, 
records four more albums and wins 
Manitoba's Entertainers of the Year Award

Hillman Albums

Embark on the Bill and Sue-On Hillman Musical Odyssey
An Online Career Bio

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Text Copyright Fred McGuinness and Brandon Sun
Photos Copyright 2000/2004/2012
Bill Hillman