The City of Charlottetown recently installed a plaque to recognize the former home of Don Messer for his contribution and presence in the community.
Don Messer and His Islanders became the most popular television show on the CBC next to Hockey Night In Canada. Messer was born in New Brunswick but moved to Prince Edward Island in 1939 to work at CFCY Radio. He had begun his career as a professional musician by playing in bands for dances and by 1929, he was performing on radio CFBO, Saint John, N.B. By 1934, his band, The New Brunswick Lumberjacks, was being broadcast from CHSJ, Saint John. When Messer came to the Island to continue his career at CFCY Radio, he formed the group, Don Messer and the Islanders. It was formed around two of the original members, lumberjack-vocalist Charlie Chamberlain from Bathurst, N.B. and bass player Julius (Duke) Neilson from Woodstock, N.B. Others would be added throughout the years and Don Messer and the Islanders would later be changed to Don Messer and His Islanders.
The popular program aired three times a week on radio from 1939-1958 and moved seamlessly to television as well in 1956 with the show, Don Messer's Jubilee. It was very popular and in 1961, its ratings were higher than the Ed Sullivan Show. Generations of Canadians remember the opening line of the song "Goin' to the Barndance" that started every show - 'Got my dancin' boots on, got my Sunday best / Goin' to the Barn Dance tonight....' . The decision to cancel the show in 1969 in favor of a "younger look" brought such a storm of protest that the CBC Board of Directors decreed that in the future, such popular shows were not to be canceled without justifiable reasons.
Messer eventually moved to the Rockingham area of Halifax and in 1973, at the age of 63, he died of a heart attack. Johnny Forest, who played with Messer for a decade on his television show described him as a "Fantastic little person, very quiet person and humble but he knew what the people of Canada wanted as far as music was concerned. That's why he was so popular."
The home at 15 Belmont Street was originally constructed in 1950. Don Messer purchased this home in 1960 and lived there for several years. The Don Messer House is currently owned by Melvin and Debbie Ramsay.
Photo 1: Councillor Terry MacLeod and Mayor Clifford Lee present a plaque of recognition with current homeowners, Melvin and Debbie Ramsay, to acknowledge the home formerly owned by Don Messer.
Photo 2: Historic photo of Don Messer and His Islanders from the collection of Captain Greg Gallant of the PEI Military Museum.
City of Charlottetown