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
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
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 places as far away 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.
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.