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Sunday 19 January 2020

The music of Manitoba's centennial - Part 2

© 2019, Christian Cassidy

This is post two of two about the songs of Manitoba's centennial year of 1970. Part 1, Moody Manitoba Morning, can be found here.

Whilst Moody Manitoba Morning became a radio favourite and the unofficial song of the musical caravan that travelled the province that summer, there were a number of official songs funded by the provincial government that also hit the airwaves.

The Manitoba Centennial Corporation held a nation-wide song contest in 1969 to find what would be crowned Manitoba's "official centennial song". The grand prize was $1,500 in cash and having your song professionally recorded. Second and third place winners received prizes of $500 each.

There were 164 entries submitted from across the country and read by an impartial jury of members of the local music industry.

"Manitoba" by Gordon P Watson and Anne M. Collier (Listen here)

Source: Discogs

In November, it was announced that the winner was a song titled Manitoba submitted by two Portage la Prairie residents. Gordon P. Watson, who wrote the tune, was a musician and music teacher in Portage. Anne M. Collier, who penned the lyrics, was an author and historian. Verna Solmundson of Edmonton Street and Richard W Carr of Crofton Bay came in second and third.

On January 1, 1970 the public got their first listen to the song when a choir of 85 kids from the Portage la Prairie school division sang it at the Legislature during New Year's Day celebrations.

After the initial hubbub, news about the song died out prompting some complaints that the contest was just for show and a waste of $2,500. In April, Maitland Steinkopf, president of the Manitoba Centennial Corporation, announced that the song would be recorded on April 25, 1970 at the Centennial Concert Hall by Century 21 Records.

Three versions of Manitoba were recorded.

On the "A" side was the English version sung by a 160-child choir composed of the Daniel McIntyre Madrigal Singers, Portage la Prairie Indian Students Glee Club, and the Rossburn Collegiate Girls Choir.  It was followed by the French version sung by Daniel McIntyre's Madrigal singers and La Choral de l'Institut Collegial Louis Riel.

The "B" side of the record was the pop version recorded by local band The Fifth, (also see.)

The record was launched on May 29, 1970 in Portage la Prairie. There were 11,000 copies pressed and they sold for $1 each. Proceeds went to the Daniel McIntyre and Portage la Prairie choirs to offset the cost of their trips later that year to Osaka, Japan to sing at Expo 1970. (After December 31, 1970, any royalties from the song reverted back to the composers.)

Though this was the official song, there were others that were funded by the Manitoba Government:

"The Spirit of '70" by Neil Harris (Listen here)

Image: CitizenFreak

In January 1968, two years before the centennial year, the province announced that Manitoba's Department of Industry and Commerce was releasing Spirit of 70, a song it had commissioned from Manitoba composer Neil Harris.

Sung by the Neil Harris Singers, the song was recorded in three styles: as a march, a dixieland version and a Tijuana brass version.

"Manitoba Hundred" by Bobby Gimby (No audio)

Gimby at Lord Roberts School, June 1970

There was controversy when it came to the third centennial song composed by bandleader Bobby Gimby, the man behind the popular Ca-Na-Da Canadian centennial song.

News broke in April 1970, just before the recording of Manitoba, that the Manitoba Centennial Corporation has also hired Bobby Gimby to write a Manitoba centennial song, a deal which had apparently been struck in the autumn of 1969.

What was controversial, and not supposed to be released, was what the song would cost. Gimby was to receive $4,500 for the song and another $17,500 to go on a province-wide tour that summer. The amount caught people off guard considering there was already a centennial song and a centennial musical caravan that would be touring the province in the summer. Some also felt that having a Torontonian write the song and record it in Toronto didn't sit right.

Source: 45cat .com

The 7-inch special release would have two versions. The "A" side would be the rock version and the "B"side by a choir of children. Gimby came to Manitoba in May 1970 to do auditions.

The children, (S. Lanyon, D. Adams, A Beckman, A Leydier, P. Drummond, S Harrison, C McNabb and C Barstead), and band, Sugar N Spice, were flown to Toronto at the Centennial Corporation's expense to do the recording.

Gimby's 30-site tour kicked off on June 15, 1970 at Lord Roberts School. The bandleader was dressed in his trademark Pied Piper costume and led schoolchildren through a series of songs, including teaching them the lyrics to his. The tour wrapped up July 5 in Portage la Prairie.

There were 10,000 copies of the record cut and they were sold for $1 each.

It is hard to gauge the popularity of the songs. They were all sung at numerous public events and concerts that took place that year. None, though, achieved the staying power of Moody Manitoba Morning, the song that became the unofficial anthem of the centennial.

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