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Carter. Wilf

The legacy of Wilf Carter is not only cherished by Albertans and Atlantic Canadians, but by country music fans from around the world. Wilfred Arthur Charles Carter, one of nine children, was born in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia on December 18, 1904. His father was a traveling Baptist Minister who was born in Switzerland and his mother was from Aldershot, Hampshire, England. To help earn more money for the family, at a young age Carter took work driving oxen and ploughing fields. This experience helped develop his eternal fondness for rural life but also provided him with the means to experience an event that would change the course of his life.

When he was only ten years of age, young Wilf Carter paid twenty-five cents of his hard earned money to take in a Chautauqua tent show. Tremendously impressed by a performer called "The Yodelling Fool," Carter took it upon himself to develop similar skills of his own. The eventual result was his unique "three-in-one" echo yodel.

At the age of 16, Carter quit school to work fulltime first as a farmhand and then as a lumberjack. In 1920, he left Nova Scotia for Calgary to work in the wheat fields but eventually found work as a teamster and rancher. While working, Carter continued in bunkhouses and camps to hone his singing, guitar playing, and song writing skills. He then began to perform locally at dances and house parties. In 1924, under the tutelage of Calgary Stampede Champion Pete Knight, Carter joined the Canadian rodeo circuit where he not only rodeo'd but sang as well.

In 1929, Carter auditioned for Calgary radio station CFAC as a performer for live broadcasts. He wasn't given the job but was encouraged to try again the following year after he had gained more experience. Carter continued to perform throughout the year and in 1930 was hired to sing on a popular Friday night programme called The Old Timers on Calgary radio station CFCN. His popularity on the programme grew steadily and fan mail poured into CFCN from all across the prairies. This prompted the Brewster Transport Company to invite Carter to become an entertainer for the Canadian Pacific Railways' summer pack trips in the Rocky Mountains.

In 1933, en route to a performance aboard the maiden voyage of a new CPR ship, Carter stopped to audition for RCA Records in Montreal. There he recorded two tracks. One was Swiss Moonlight Lullaby, which RCA subsequently released to much fanfare as a 78 RPM single. Back home on the trails, Carter met an American millionaire named G.B. Mitchell who helped land him an audition with CBS Radio in New York. Carter was quickly hired to star in his own show where he gained the nickname Montana Slim. Between 1935 and 1937 the show was carried on more than 250 CBS affiliate stations and Montana Slim began to receive as many as 10,000 fan letters a week.

By 1937, however, Carter began to long for home. He and his new wife Bobbie Bryan bought a 320-acre cattle ranch near what is now the Spruce Meadows show jumping facility in Calgary. Carter continued regular appearances on both Canadian and American network radio but in 1940 had to discontinue touring due to severe back injuries he sustained in a car accident. However, he had enough unreleased recorded material that his record company was able to continue to release singles during his nine year hiatus.

In 1949, Carter resumed touring and his CBS show. Touring throughout the 1950s went very well. In a welcome back appearance at Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition in 1950, he performed to a record 50,000 people in one week. In 1952 Carter relocated the family to Orlando, Florida but continued to tour Canada and the US extensively. In 1953, he brought his daughters Sheila and Carol into the fold and they toured as The Family Show with the Folks You Know to as far away places as Australia.

Carter's old style of country began to fall somewhat out of fashion during the 1960s but he continued to record and tour at a reduced schedule until the 1990s. He was also a regular guest on CBC television's The Tommy Hunter Show. He was invited back several times to perform at the Calgary Stampede and acted on occasion as Grand Marshall. Carter recorded his last album, Whatever Happened to All Those Years, in 1988 and sold out his Last Roundup Tour in 1991. Only his deteriorating hearing forced him to stop. For many years he lived the summers in Calgary and the winters in Florida and Arizona. Even after he sold his Calgary ranch, he kept an apartment in the city for a few years.

In 1996, just a few short months after being diagnosed with a stomach tumour, Wilf Carter died at his home in Scotsdale, Arizona. He was nearly 92 years old. Wilf Carter was a recognizable country music celebrity the world over but for many in Canada and the United States he was the voice of a generation. Songs like When It's Springtime in the Rockies and There's a Bluebird on My Windowsill were soothing melodies during the hard years of the Depression.

Wilf Carter's memory and accomplishments have been honoured in numerous ways. He was made an honorary citizen of both the cities of Winnipeg and Tennessee and was also made Honorary Chief of the Stony Indians. He is a member of the Nashville Songwriters' Association Hall of Fame, Canada's JUNO Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Association's Hall of Honour, the Horseman's Hall of Fame in Calgary, and was made Entertainer of the Year for 1981 by the Martin Guitar Company.

Wilf Carter

Wilf Carter