Unknown Victoria

Victoria: The Unknown City is a guidebook to an eccentric town on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This is the author's blog. Look here for Victoria lore, updates and additions to the book, and hate mail.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Way Out West

Most readers already know about Carolyn Mark, Victoria’s queen of country heartbreak, and the wonderful Hootenanny she hosts (when she isn’t touring) every Sunday afternoon at Logan’s Pub. But what many may not know is that Victoria’s roots in country music are old and deep.

Tommy Hunter, Canada’s “country gentleman,” got his first broadcasting break here in 1952 – at the age of 15 – when Victoria station CKDA hired him to do a half-hour radio show. Ian “Four Strong Winds” Tyson grew up in Victoria, and attended Glenlyon prep school. (Tyson’s family was loaded: his grandfather owned the first drug store on Canada’s west coast, and used the profits to erect the Campbell Building on the corner of Fort and Douglas, where the Royal Bank is today. A terracotta camel from that building is now in the arcade at 735 Yates.) Tyson went to art school but spent most of his time hanging out at rodeos and playing rockabilly guitar, and then moved to Alberta, thumbing his nose at his home town. “Cowboy society is an established society,” he said. “It never was in British Columbia.”

The most curious character in Victoria’s early country scene, however, was Jake Rush (photo above), who performed regularly on CHEK TV’s Ranch Party show in the 1960s, and ran Happy Valley Auto Wreckers for many years in Colwood. In a 1992 article in the Goldstream Gazette, “Smilin’ Jake” said that during his heyday he’d sung with such legends as Ernest Tubb, The Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash, and Loretta Lynn (below right) – who once lived in Victoria, Jake reported.

These stories were so good that I had to check them out. Jake died in 2001, so I called up his wife Anne, and she filled me in. Jake did play once with Tubb, she said, but not with the Everlys or Johnny Cash. He did cherish a letter he got from Loretta Lynn, but she never lived here – although she apparently did visit a relative of hers in the Burnside-Gorge neighbourhood. (She lived in Washington State in the ‘50s, and was first recorded by a Vancouver label.)

Smilin’ Jake ran for the council and mayoralty of Colwood several times in the ‘90s. It’s a shame he didn’t win. He was a better storyteller than the developers who recently proclaimed the commercial feasability of building a 29-storey tower near Royal Roads University.


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