Priorities of 1944: Variety Review


Jim Anderson calls them ephemera. They’re the kind of thing people throw away after a play or musical event. And, yet, programs, program notes, cast lists, summaries, advertisements are important because they are often the only record we have of past events, the only record of who participated, who supported these events.

When my cousin, Dilla Narfason, showed me “Priorities of 1944 Variety Revue” sponsored by the Gimli Women’s Institute, I was immediately curious. I was held a the Parish Hall, the very Parish Hall where we held our school drama night and where I danced in a circle dressed as an elf. It, the revue, not my being an elf, was held on Monday, the eleventh day of September nineteen hundred and forty four. It was produced by Mrs. W. H. Zimmerman. We know, or at least can guess, that Mrs. Zimmerman was married to W. Harry Zimmerman. Harry, if I may be so bold, has an ad in the program in which he encourages fathers to invest in a policy for their sons’ educations. No word of any daughters. The illustration is of a father handing his son a golf club. Don’t be incensed. It was, after all, 1944, one year before the end of WWI. Harry was representative of Great-West Life

Dilla was a teenager at the time. She and her friends attended the revue. I expect it was a big event. Famous stars from the city coming to perform, stars that people heard on the radio every day. After the event was over, Dilla’s friends dared her to go up to the front and ask the performers for their signatures. She did and the result is a program covered with autographs.

The variety show was supported with a whole page ad from Armstrong Gimli Fisheries which resided at 807 Great West Permanent Building. Phone numbers were still short: 93 047.

In 1944 C. B. Johnson operated Gimli Photo and Dr. K. I. Johnson was one of the local Physicians and Surgeons. Gimli Garage provided a taxicab service at all times. You could phone them at 23.

Greenberg’s coffee bar provided light lunches and H. P. Tergesen was the local general merchant. Tergesen’s is still around seventy years later but the Gimli Bowling Alley on First Avenue is long gone. I have fond memories of it. It was a steady summer source of income because I spent my evenings setting up pins.

T. Eaton Co is long gone. So is Lakeside Trading Co. Harold Bjarnason operated United Stores Ltd, a general store, with deliveries made. I remember those deliveries because Harold Bjarnason, the younger, was a friend of mine in high school and I sometimes went with him delivering groceries from the store’s panel van. I had an accident in that van because of distracted driving. I was distracted by a very attractive girl so much so that I was kissing her and driving at the same time. I ran into the rear fender of a truck parked on the road.

H. R. Tergesen was the local druggist and Dr. F. E. Scribner had come to town. Dr. Frank’s wife, Margaret, was Icelandic but he was of German background and there were rumours that he was a spy. WWII had been going on since 1939 and there were prison camps all across Canada filled with men whose only crime was their name or nationality. The war effort had recruited everyone in defence of Canada. Dr. Frank became our family doctor and friend. G. H. Thorkelson was jeweller and watchmaker. The Marlborough Hotel took an ad even though it was in Winnipeg. A lot of Icelanders stayed there. It was a favorite of my father’s.

The Hotel Como’s proprietor, H. Dougloski promised friendly and courteous accommodation. The Como was located directly across from the train station where the Co-op gas station is now. Manitoba Hydro promises to share the fruits of “our labour”. They were probably better liked then than now.

Grey Goose Bus Lines took a full page ad. Buses in those days were packed. Few people owned cars and the airport was thick with young men traveling back and forth to Winnipeg. I know. Although I was a little kid, I was shipped by bus to Winnipeg on a regular basis, mother to grandmother, grandmother back to mother. The buses were so packed that the driver put folding seats in the aisle.

Dr. A. B. Ingimundson was the dentist and Arnason’s Dairy promised milk from government tested cows. Einarson’s Dairy promised pure, wholesome milk. Was this a suggestion that someone might be providing unwholesome milk?

Brown’s Bread from Selkirk must have sold bread to the local stores because they have an ad. There’s an ad from a Dr. and Mrs. M. Rady. They are a complete mystery. Dominion Business College has an ad and you can tell local fishermen sell fish to Independent fish Co. on Sherbrooke Street.

The Dutch Grill, and I felt clever because I knew about the Dutch Grill. Anne Chudd had told me how they started a café and how she made pies for the OBU (One Big Union) camp just north of Gimli. Then they moved to Centre and Third as the Dutch Grill Central Bakery and bus depot. John Chudd was the proprietor as well as being a blacksmith and, later, a Chrysler dealer and garage owner. Insurance was provided by Anna M. Jonasson. If you wanted a meal you could go to the Gimli Café on First Avenue. They provided hot meals and lunches all day. Gimli Transfer also rented out cottages and provided ice and wood. And, if that wasn’t enough, they also provided taxicab service that was courteous and prompt.

Keystone Fisheries was big. Along with Perfection Net & Twine Company they took a full page ad. They “extend our congratulations on your splendid achievements and accomplishments in the War effort. We sincerely hope that permanent Peace will soon be restored, with complete Vicotray.”

Mrs. Zimmerman was a powerhouse with good social connections. She got Monty Halparin (Monty Hall) from CKRC to be the master of ceremonies. She got Jean and Joyce Salel, the popular juvenile entertainers to come, along with Audrey Gardiner, the Personality Girl, along with Ed. Winnick, CKY Baritone plus the Whistling Billy Mack. There was the “Manitoba Quartette” and CBC concert pianist Beatrice Robinson from Montreal.

There was the Great Haldane, a magician, comedy tumblers, “Boogie Woogie” with Bernard Golsdoff plus Jean Ramsay, Manitoba’s “Snow White” There was a trumpet Solo by Gail Hall and a dance by Gladys Forrester, Canada’s leading dance exponent. It all ended with Harold Green CBC orchestra leader at the piano.

This was a family project because the stage manager was W. Harry Zimmerman and the producer was Mrs. W. Harry Zimmerman.

Which leads to the question who was Mrs. W. Harry Zimmerman? Cousin Dilla said, “She has to have been a local Icelandic girl.” She picked up the phone and confirmed yes, she was Icelandic, her mother and father lived on third avenue two doors down from the Benson house. The Benson House in those days was on the corner of third beside the artesian well where Moscow Gunna hung around handing out propaganda pamphlets from a shopping bag. Our source thought Mrs. Z’s first name was Elsabet, so Betty, but we were unable to unearth her family name or her parents’ names.

1944. There is still a year to go before WWII is over. The town is jammed with air force personnel being trained to go overseas and defeat the Axis. The Gimli Women’s Institute is raising money for the war effort. This revue is a big operation for a small town. However, the co-presidents of the Institute, Mrs. H. R. Tergesen and Mrs. N. Stevens, representing the upper end of the retail and fishing business are quite capable of getting out an audience. It sounds like it was a fun evening but it also was a serious cause.

(If anyone can identify Mrs. Zimmerman, I’d appreciate an email or a phone call, 204-642-7235.) or a message on my blog.