60 Years on the Road with Bill and Sue-On Hillman  ::
The '60s Decade opened many doors to pathways that we would follow through the rest of our lives.

A few years before, Dad had given me my first guitar -- a Harmony archtop acoustic that he had bought at Hamerton's Music in Winnipeg. He taught me a few chords and runs and I was hooked. . . no more silly piano lessons. Nannie saw my interest and ordered a Silvertone electric and small amp from the Simpson-Sears mail order catalogue. This brought about a reunion of the '30s Campbell-Christie Orchestra and we played for a dance at the Strathclair Hall . . . where they had played O so many years back. Mom played piano and accordian, Uncle Don Campbell played acoustic guitar, Barbara Christie played violin and I played my electric. I was soon on my way. My guitar would soon help pay my college expenses as I played with a variety on Brandon bands in halls, pubs, arenas and TV.

In grade XI 1960 I took touch typing by correspondence .  . . a skill that would serve me well in my future teaching endevours and the coming age of computers. My love of rock 'n' roll carried on and I still enjoyed the music and dancing during noon hours in the basement of the school.

The final Grade XII exams in 1961 were all sealed Departmentals . . . a stressfull time. One of them was even more stressful. I had studied late into the night and when I went out to start our car I found the battery was dead. In desperation I took off on foot . . . and jogged a mile and a half into the school grounds just in time for the start of the exam. Through the years jogging later became a favourite form of exercise.

1961 also was my final year in Royal Canadian Air Cadets. As mentioned in my '50s memories and in the accompanied Webpage, I had joined as a Jr. Cadet when I was 11 and had earned the rank of Warrant Officer after 8 years with Strathclair 317 Squadron. This experience including the two cadet summer camp exeriences at St. John, PQ and Sea Island, BC bases . . . along with our many visits to the RCAF base at CJATC Rivers really stoked my interest in the military. Little did I know that one of my summer jobs to help pay for college tuition would soon be painting PMQs, hangars, etc. on Rivers Base.

I passed the finals with non-exceptional marks but certainly good enough to graduate. I was chosen to give the toast during our grad supper in the basement of the United Church. Little did I know while bidding farewell to my high school teachers that a few years later I would be teaching alongside most of them when I was hired on to teach high school full time on permit. This was before I had earned by Teaching Certificate.

Two months later I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science program at Brandon College (it later earned University status). Again, little did I know I would be teaching alongside many of the profs when I was recruited to serve as a Professor in BU's Faculty of Education many years later.
Students signed up to stay in Men's Residence had to bunk over in the wartime H-huts beside the Agricultural Building. The new residence was still under construction and we were all bussed to and from the college campus. Some of the classes were even conducted in the Ag Bldg classrooms and we even put on plays in the large upstairs auditorium.

We also made use of Kinsmen Stadium over beside the college where our initiation was held under the flood lights. This was also were we practised and played football on the Brandon Caps team. It was a thrill to visit USA for the first time as we were bussed down to play against the Minot college team.

When the Men's Residence was completed and ready for occupancy I felt lucky when I was able to choose room 317 -- the Squadron number of the Strathclair Air Cadets. Since the courses I had taken in Strathclair were Math, Physics, Chemistry, English and Geography. . . these were the courses I enrolled in for my B.Sc. degree. . .  much to my chagrin I soon found. I loved geography and English but found the other three to be more specialized and had little in common with where my interests lay. I passed the first year but with very low marks.

Music became a priority and I played with three bands The Shadows/Dovermen (rock) ~ The Flamingo Combo (pop/light jazz arranged written music charts from sit-down music stands) and The Country Gentlemen (C/W). . . in addition to this I freelanced with many other musicians and bands. We played in high schools, churches, community clubs, pubs, arenas, Winnipeg clubs and Auditorium (where we backed the Newbeats and opened for Roger Miller and the Everly Brothers), worked as house band in the Brandon Roller Rink, toured SE Saskatchewan, fairs, etc. College buddy Barry Forman and I put together a new version of the Country Gentlemen band to play for Co-Op Neighbour Nights on TV and around the country. As the Country Gentlemen we played a daily live Noon Show on CKX-TV which later morphed into prime time weekly shows. Many of our music memories have been shared elsewhere in this Musical Odyssey series -- The Gig Notes Section is a good place to start.

The CKX-TV daily noon shows posed a real problem since my geography course was slated for the noon hour. Professor John Tyman, who had recently come from England to create a major Geography Department in Brandon was incredibly obliging and lent me his notes and allowed me to miss all these classes. Professor Tyman was a major influence on my life's journey-- he influenced and encouraged me in so many ways. A few years later he inspired me to enroll in a Masters program, become a Professor and even nominated me for a Brandon University Lifetime Achievement Award  in 2013. We stayed in touch after he moved to Australia and we created a whole series of Webpages with thousands of photographs and journals describing the many countries and cultures he had visited:

Our live Country Gentlemen TV shows were quite an adventure. Every noon hour Barry and I used to leave campus to dash over to the CKX-TV studios. We arrived while the live news, weather and sports were being broadcast so we sneaked into a small Graphics Office beside the studio area where we did a quiet acoustic rehearsal. After the three live in-studio shows were completed we rushed out during commercial break to set up the amps and drums. Suddenly, we were live on air for a half hour!

Along the way, we enlisted Jake Kroeger, for rhythm guitar and vocals, Larry Clark to play drums and Audry Lintott to do vocals. Interestingly, Larry later worked as a BU professor, then a forest ranger and when we got serious about recording he played piano, organ and vibes on three of our first albums. Audrey had played piano in the Flamingos band I was in earlier.. . we didn't even know at that time that she was a singer . . . and good one.

The November 22, 1963 show really stands out in our memory. In the middle of our half-hour broadcast the show was interrupted by a special news bulletin. "President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas and he is being rushed to hospital." We were somewhat startled, but went on to finish our show. I remember rushing to the teletype room to follow the news as it came in over the wire. It was not good. The president was dead. Years later, Sue-On and I visited the Kennedy assassination site in Dallas.

Meanwhile, back home.
As I described in an earlier chapter, after our farm crops were leveled by a hail storm,  Dad took a job managing Baradell Hardware store in Strathclair and later bought an old hardware building and business in nearby Newdale. While renovating the building and obtaining a Marshall Wells Hardware franchize he commuted every day from Maple Grove. Business was looking good so he turned the upstairs of the building into a large suite and sold the farmland around our beloved farm home to our neighbours Doug and Pat (Robertson) Pollock who had the old Robertson farm across the road.

During weekends I would often catch a ride home with former classmate Kenny Choy who was working as a lab tech in Brandon. Kenny drove home to help his family in their Newdale restaurant - The Paris Cafe. I had first visited their restaurant during my high school years and remembered Kenny's little sister, Sue-On from those times as being a hard-working bubbly and very pretty young girl. She who had emigrated with her mother from China in 1958 to join her father Soo Choy. Much later, Mom and Dad, who took coffee breaks and occasional meals at the Cafe, were very impressed with this young girl who had grown into a beautiful young lady. As I was painting and working at our store she often stopped by to chat on her way to the cafe and I looked forward to seeing her during our coffee breaks in the restaurant. In 1964, Sue-On who was a classmate of my sister wondered if Bonnie would ask me if I'd like to go on a date with her.

The Choys lived in a house down a street from our store and since her Dad and Mom kept the restaurant open till late at night they let her walk back to their house to do her homework in the evenings. I was very impressed and joined her one night -- at her invitation -- to chat and share cokes and snacks in her living room. This meeting changed my life forever. . . I was totally smitten by this beautiful young lady. I had never met anyone like her -- poised, intelligent, wise beyond her years, yet so very charming, warm and innocent.

We saw each other many times in the many months after that first time: movies in Shoal Lake (Under the Yum Yum Tree) and Minnedosa (McHales Navy), car rides, etc. In spring of 1965 I even drove home during a blinding snow storm to take her to see the Bobby Curtola show in Minnedosa. I had just finished a 1964/65 Canada tour with Bobby a few months previously and Bobby was really pleased to see us. In summer of '65 I was home from BU for the summer and Sue-On would stop in for a good morning and short chat most mornings on her way to catch the school bus.The relationship was special . . . innocent hugs and kisses, we shared our hopes and dreams, family stories and just wanted to be together . . . it was all upstanding and very innocent . . . but O so warm and cuddly. I was very aware  that she was five years younger than myself and became very protective of her.

In the summer of '65 I had to attend summer school at U of M in Winnipeg. I would often walk over to the Fourth Dimension Coffe House to enjoy their great line-up of visiting musicians.  I was taking an Atomic Physics course . . . interestingly, a classmate was Chad Allan . . . I had seen Chad and his band The Reflections (later The Guess Who) many times in Brandon -- mostly at the Roller Rink shows where I was in the house band. He told me that he and his band were playing downtown in the lounge at the Town and Country. Interestingly, their drummer, Garry Peterson, was not 21 and could not play in the lounge with them. . . he could, however, play in the house band upstairs in the show hall.

I caught their show many times that summer. The clientelle was very interesting: media, Blue Bomber players, street walkers, devoted fans, etc. . . . guitar legend Lenny Breau even guested with them a few times. One memorable night, after the show, Chad invited me over to his house where he and bandmate Randy Bachman were unpacking their new special order guitars -- Rickenbakers. They would use them in many shows thereafter, although Randy who was used to large hollow body Gretches was a little disappointed at how small the instrument looked and felt when he strapped it on.

Sue-On and I stayed in constant touch by mail. .. but suddenly my world collapsed. My ring was returned and it was all over... no reason was ever given. Bonnie explained the situation to my Mom and Dad who became very afraid that I would fail my summer school courses over this, but somehow I squeaked through. 1965 was in the middle of the Baby Boomer flood of students. There was a major shortage of teachers and classrooms. I still had some degrees to finish but was qualified enough to work as a high school "Permit Teacher" ... starting at about $195/month. I applied to teach in my hometown with all my teachers of four years before. I was interviewed by a school board member beside his tractor out in his summerfallow field. I had the job.

An unusual situation lay ahead of me. I still couldn't afford a car so I paid to ride the school bus from Newdale to Strathclair every day ... along with my students including Sue-On who was still in high school. I had a homeroom class of over 40 grade 9 students crammed into one classroom and had to prepare a full slate of lessons for a half dozen 9-12 courses. The courses included English, science, geography, business ed and typing. Luckily, Sue-On was not in any of my classes, but it was strange passing her in the hallway.

One of my students posed a real problem. She fainted almost every day -- always in my classes. She would fall heavily out of her desk and I would have to carry her down the hall to rest on the staff room couch until we could revive her with smelling salts. My principal was Commander of the 317 Air Cadet Squadron that I knew so well and his kids were in my classes. I enjoyed chatting with all my former teachers in the staff room . . . they were all very friendly and supportive.

After about a month into this term, Sue-On wanted to talk. We met on a weekend. In tears she pleaded "I want to come home!" A short time later, wanting to do the proper thing, I spoke with her dad to ask if I could see her once in awhile. Not a word. A few days later Sue-On was sent to Brandon to stay with brother Kenny to await a move to Winnipeg. During this time she worked at a Brandon flower shop. We were able to get together a few times in Brandon. . . we even went to a Chad Allan / Guess Who concert in the BU gym. She finally moved in to Winnipeg after plans were made for her enrollment in Winnipeg's Daniel McIntyre Collegiate and the plans were made for her to live with relatives and to work evenings and weekends in their New Canton Restaurant in Winnipeg's Chinatown.

What followed were countless phone calls, daily back and forth letters and parcels and trips to Winnipeg. Looking back, almost 60 years later I still have a hard time believing that our relationship survived that long strange courtship. Hoping to see her in her strange new home I hitch hiked into the city on Christmas Eve '65 but we couldn't get together. I hitch hiked home on Christmas day. . . the only time in my life that I've missed Christmas Eve with family.

Chinese New Year worked out better. Sue-On got permission to invite me to join the Winnipeg family party at their home and we even had photos taken together. Soon after that we had an evening dance date at the Clifton Community Centre followed by a hayride. Another time I was able to join her in the restaurant where she was working. . . had my first lesson in using chop sticks. I was teaching through the week and was tied up with band work on most weekends. By this time CKX-TV were able to pre-tape some of our weekly shows so we recorded each week's show on Tuesday nights. We were chatting regulary all year by phone including Tueday nights. It became very common during our taping sessions for the show's producer to call out from the deck, "Bill. . . your girl friend is on the phone again." The band would patiently take a break while I picked up the phone for a short chat.

Another unforgettable weekend 'visit' took place when a sudden blizzard of historic dimensions hit the city in 1966. We were stranded in opposite sides of the city .. .  and never did get together. Come summer I bought a second hand Rambler station wagon from bandmate buddy, Barry Forman's newly acquired Ford dealership in Rivers. This gave me much more freedom and meant that I wouldn't have to borrow Dad and Mom's car to travel to gigs and to Winnipeg on the occasional free weekend. We even made a day trip to the Lockport area. But our steady stream of back and forth phone calls and letters still carried on.

Sue-On turned 18 on June 3, 1966 and finished her courses at Miles Mac High in Winnipg. She returned home to help in the family restaurant.  Things had not changed -- her dad ruled with an iron hand and ruled out any sort of social life. The poor girl made a very difficult decision. She left home and moved into a room at my parents' suite. It became obvious that there was only way we could really be together after all these ordeals -- Sue-On proposed and we made plans for a wedding.

Since I now had my own car and was starting Summer Holidays I was free to find summer employment.  We started to work together to earn money for a wedding and honeymoon that we planned for the end of August. Dad and Mom gave us Maple Grove to live in after our marriage so we also made plans to move there after two months. Meanwhile, Sue-On had the guest room. . . and I slept on a couch in the living room of my parents' suite. We started work at painting a series buildings in our area -- the biggest one was Elphinstone school, inside and out.

One of my bands, The Country Gentlemen, was at the beginning of a major summer tour contract with Federal Grain Company across the prairies that would eventually last for eight years. Sue-On hadn't gotten into performing yet, but she came along to take photos, sit on our parade float at Exhibitions and to help out on stage. (Two years later we would rename the band, The Western Union, when she became a featured performer in the group.) We played a number of fairs and exhibitions that summer . . . the most memorable one was our gig with singer Russ Gurr at one of the early shows of The Austin's Threshermen's Reunion.

Our performance at the Threshermans event was filmed by the National Film Board of Canada. This footage was later shown hundreds of times non-stop on the large multi-screens of the huge Labyrinth Pavilion at the 1967 Expo in Montreal. When our wedding plans were announced, loyal friends from both communities planned a gala shower for the bride-to-be. It meant so much to Sue-On that her loyal and loving mother, Jade, and my Mom Louise, were by her side for that celebration. The outpouring of gifts and well wishes from our two communities was heartwarming and so appreciated.

On August 29th we were married in the Rivers United Church with Dr. Harland officiating. Before being transferred to serve at the Rivers church, he had been a longtime minister in Strathclair and had even served as a supervisor at our 317 Squadron's Air Cadet summer camp on the RCAF base at St. John Quebec. Another reason for the choice of Rivers for the ceremony was that three of my fellow band members were from that town. The small wedding was attended by my family and the Rivers band members. Barry's wife Bette took photos. Sue-On's cousin Hant Choy was my Best Man and Sue-On's school friend Marci Senko was Maid of Honour.

From our M.A.P.L.E. Series of Photo Collages

Click for full-size Wedding Collage HERE

After the ceremony, a wedding supper was put on in Brandon by my parents. This was followed by an evening send off get-together at my Uncle Don Campbell's home in Brandon before we headed west. We had packed our large family tent into the Rambler wagon for our Honeymoon trip. We were so tired after the Wedding ceremony and celebration that we got only as far as Virden Motel . . together at last . . . it had been a long, frustrating wait. The next stop was Elrose, Saskatchewan for Sue-On to meet my Grandma Hillman. Our destination was Banff where we set up our tent and spent a few days enjoying each other and the charms of the scenic Banff and Lake Louise area. We returned to Strathclair in time for me to resume what would eventually be a 30-year career there as a high school teacher.

Summer '67 saw us on the road to visit Expo 67 in Montreal. It was a super event with massive pavilions spread across St. Helen's Island on the St. Lawrence. There was a major change there since I visted the island almost 10 years before while I was attending Royal Canadian Air Cadet camp at the nearby base at St. Jean. We stood in a long queue to see the film at Labyrinth that was taken of our band in performance at The Threshermen's Reunion a year before. This visit was also a good time to visit dad's young sister, Merna and her husband Lt. Col. Jim Grant and their four kids: Ian, Susan, Gordon and Kelly. Jim was a helicopter instructor at the nearby base.

It wasn't long before we were working at becoming a performing duo. Sue-On had a beautiful voice and had done some choir work . . . she also had taken  many years of piano lessons. We soon transformed these skills into those of a pop and C/W singer and electric keyboard player. We started performing in many local pubs: Hamiota, Shoal Lake, Strathclair, Minnedosa and eventually Brandon. Our third man in those early days was Jake Kroeger. Eventually, Barry Forman, who had been very involved in his Forman Ford dealershiip, joined us to renew our role as a dance band in larger venues. This necessitated a band name change . .  from Country Gentlemen to WESTERN UNION -- a name taken from one of the Zane Grey books in my collection.

In 1968 Sue-On and I moved to Brandon to attend University -- Sue-On was working on her B.A. degree and I was completing my B.Sc. and B.Ed. degrees. Sue-On's brother Kenny and his wife Rebecca welcomed us in their basement suite for three years and we paid our way through university by playing Brandon pubs every night mixed in with one nighters around Manitoba and many CKX-TV shows.

By late 1969 we had pretty much touched all show biz bases: bars, concerts, arena dances, Canada tours, TV & Radio, exhibitions, media coverage, etc. The logical progression now seemed to be to get something on record. We were offered a recording contract with Galaxy Records of Winnipeg. We were to record this first Western Union album in a Winnipeg "studio." Our dreams of recording in a glamorous modern studio were shattered when producer Alex Moodry set us up in front of a portable recording system in a room in the Winnipeg Grain Exchange on Main Street. Each of us rehearsed three numbers: fiddle tunes from Barry Forman, vocals from Jake Kroeger (one of which Bill sang lead to his harmonies), ballads by Sue-On and guitar instrumentals and vocals by Bill. Sue-On hadn't been playing full-time drums at this time so we invited my buddy Warren Hannay from our old rock band -- The Dovermen -- to join us.

When I asked Moodry about what type of reverb or echo were in his recording system. He said it was no problem as echo would be added when the discs were pressed in Toronto. Red flags! The end result was excessive delay echo on everything -- including on poor Warren's excellent drum work - god awful. The album cover that we designed was nice, though: a photo provided by Brandon CKX-TV which their cameraman took of us standing in front of one of the studio's TV cameras. Unfortunately, the back cover, designed by Galaxy, was also a disappointment. Most of the extensive liner notes I had written were left off, including Warren's drum credit, to make room for ads for Galaxy's line of Ukrainian records. This Ukrainian connection did get us some sales in Chicago, however, where apparently there was a sizeable ethnic market.

From our M.A.P.L.E. Series of Photo Collages

Click for full-size collage HERE

We ended the '60s decade and started the '70s full of hope for the future. . . marriage life was incredible, our university degrees and teaching careers were within reach, we were looking forward to returning to our Maple Grove home and making major renovations, we had many travel plans and music opportunites were really opening up.

The Newlyweds


12 Hillman Record Albums
Royal Canadian Air Cadets
 The Gig Notes Section
Dr. John Tyman's Cultures in Context
 Kennedy assassination site in Dallas
Western Union Album #1
Dad's Hometown: Elrose, Saskatchewan
From Pharmacy to Helicopters by Jim Grant
Military Heritage of the Extended Grant Family by Jim Grant


Old PDF Versions

1. GIG NOTES 1-10
old PDF1
old PDF2
old PDF3
8. 100 SONGS
1. Early Years
2. DECADE 40
3. DECADE 50
4. DECADE 60
5. DECADE 70
6. DECADE 80
`7. DECADE 90
8. DECADE 2000
9. DECADE 2010
10. DECADE 2020

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