Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians are back (or will be soon?)

Aug 17th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Now that the new Harper Conservative majority government (still elected by less than 40% of the Canadian people) has restored the pre-1968 “abject colonial” names of “Royal Canadian Navy” and “Royal Canadian Air Farce,” related new rumours are heating up in Ottawa (aka “the last lumber village before the North Pole”).

Sooner than anyone may think (these as yet still unconfirmed rumours suggest) Diane Finley, minister responsible for Service Canada, will be announcing that, after June 19, 2012 all those who wish to qualify for Canada Pension Plan payments must first submit to a means test of heritage questions on the sweetest music this side of heaven, as performed by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (or, as some prefer, merely “the Royal Canadians” — and I like this second option better myself), during the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

According to various deep-throated sources, this new policy is designed to compensate for the great injustice and so forth perpetrated by Joyce Hahn and Wally Koster when the much-loved CBC TV series “Cross Canada Hit Parade” was cancelled in 1959. The policy also fits with PM Harper’s “ambition … to foster a national identity that is more conservative and more aware of its historical roots.”

Guy Lombardo and the almost Royal Canadians in Port Stanley, near London, Ontario, summer 1923 — a few months before their fateful journey across Lake Erie to Cleveland, in the USA.

Guy Lombardo, as the online Canadian Encyclopedia explains, was born in London, Ontario on June 19, 1902. (Thus the June 19, 2012 starting date for Mrs. Finley’s rumoured new program.) A musical group formed by Guy and his brothers Carmen and Lebert, and a piano player called Freddie Kreitzer, “fulfilled its first significant engagement at an outdoor dance pavilion at Grand Bend, Ont, during the summer of 1919. With an expanded group, the Lombardos spent the winter season 1922-3 at the Winter Garden in London and the summer of 1923 at Port Stanley, Ont. Curtailing its second season at the Winter Garden late in 1923, the Lombardo Brothers’ Orchestra … went to Cleveland. It remained in the USA, thereafter, although it toured in Canada in later years.” (It was apparently in Cleveland in 1924 that the group decided to call itself “Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians” — establishing a tradition that subsequently enriched Canadian culture much more than anything Margaret Atwood has ever done?)

* * * *

The Royal Canadians in 1937 : they managed to work right through the Great Depression.

There is a small problem in Quebec, of course, which has had its own Quebec Pension Plan instead of the Canada Pension Plan since 1966. But rumour has it that the Harper Conservatives, with their newly concocted parliamentary majorities in both the House and the Senate, will be passing a law which makes the federal NDP caucus responsible for ensuring that new Quebec Pension Plan recipients after June 19, 2012 (Guy Lombardo’s 110th birthday, if he hadn’t already died in 1977) display some requisite knowledge of the Canadian conservative historical roots in “the sweetest music this side of heaven,” before receiving their pension payments.

Government and politics in Ottawa being what it is these days, needless to say, I can’t be dead certain that the rumours I’ve heard about all this are absolutely true. But the people who are spreading them include some pretty attractive young female journalists, who are free with their pay checks in capital city bars.

Guy and his Royal Canadians recorded what had already become their annual New Years’ Eve favourite of “Auld Lang Syne” — broadcast from the Roosevelt Grill in New York City — for Decca Records in 1939.

They have also passed along cheat sheets for the exact questions prospective pensioners will be asked, based on You Tube recordings of music by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. Pension candidates will have to correctly identify at least five of two sets of eight samples of the sweetest music this side of heaven — when played to them by red-coated federal bureaucrats (or again, in Quebec, by members of the federal NDP caucus).

The first (chronological) set includes: “Sweethearts on Parade” (1927) ; “Baby” (1928) ; “You’re Driving Me Crazy” (1930) ; “Too Late” (also featuring a vocal styling by Kate Smith,  1931) ; “How Deep is the Ocean?” (1932) ; “You Ought to be in Pictures” (1934) ; “Red Sails in the Sunset” (1935) ; and “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” (1938).

Many younger people in the early 1960s thought the Royal Canadians were corny, at best. But as this LP from the era suggests, Guy was still laughing all the way to the bank. What would younger people today think, even if they actually knew who Guy Lombardo was?

A second (alphabetical) set will apparently include: “Auld Lang Syne” ; “Boo Hoo” ;  “Little Coquette” ; “On A Slow Boat to China” ; “Peg O’ My Heart” ; “Sweet Sue Just You” ;  “Tennessee Waltz” ;  and “Wedding Bells are Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine.”

Again, I can’t be dead certain about all this. But who can really say anything for certain in the current Canadian federal political climate? The latest decision to restore the pre-1968 monikers of “Royal Canadian Navy” and “Royal Canadian Air Force,” eg, has prompted a quite bemused reaction from no less heavyweight a figure than “Historian Jack Granatstein, who headed up the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa from 1998 to 2001.”

Canada Post put out a Guy Lombardo millenium stamp in December 1999 : but it didn’t have a very good likeness. Maybe the Harper government actually should do the complete Royal Canadians on a stamp — though it would no doubt be difficult to fit all 16 eventual band members on.

The usually rather stuffily elitist Mr. Granatstein has told CBC News that he thinks the move reflects nothing less than “abject colonialism … I find it very odd in the 21st century to be reverting to royal titles for the navy and air force … It smacks of the days when Canada was an Anglo society, which it is not anymore. and when our armed forces followed British models, which they do not do anymore … I just find this very puzzling indeed.”

So … if you are thinking about starting to collect your CPP (or QPP) anytime soon — and certainly after June 19, 2012 — it’s probably better to be safe than sorry.  Start studying the sweetest music this side of heaven, from what some apparently still see as the good old days they don’t really remember themselves. It will give you a better idea of your country’s “historical roots.” And whatever else, it will certainly make you a better Royal Canadian (as strange a thing as that may seem to Jack Granatstein, and many others of us, in the second decade of the 21st century!)

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