Tag Archives: Fred Townsend

From Barnardo Home Boy to Don Messer and His Islanders — Fred Townsend

From Barnardo Home Boy to Don Messer and His Islanders — Fred Townsend

The Daily Standard
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
28 Nov 1925, Sat  •  Page 8

read more here–-More Barnardo Children to Document…George Parker — Fred Townsend — Annie McNish–

Hello Linda,

I’ve been doing some genealogical research on famous fiddlers Graham Townsend (1942-1998) and Eleanor Reed Townsend (1944-1998). I’ve been having a difficult time finding out particulars about Graham’s father Frederick until this morning when I came across 1925 and 1926 Globe & Mail newspaper articles on his incarceration for forgery. Shortly thereafter I found your 12 April 2022 Barnardo Home clipping on him (final item on the page). I don’t know if you realized that Fred eventually achieved a measure of fame:


Hans Havermann

Thank you Hans,

I can’t do this job alone and thanks to you I get to document this for generations to come.

Fred and his daughter in law Eleanor

Fred was born in England in 1900. His parents were so poor that they had to send him to Canada in 1908 for adoption. He found a home with the Marks, an Irish family who traveled by covered wagon putting on shows in farm villages across Ontario. Along the way, Fred learned the art of traditional square dance calling and in time became the official caller for Don Messer and His Islanders. Fred taught his son, Graham, the love of old time music as well as its great purpose – “Bringing people together.”

Canadian caller, born 1900, who was the caller for Don Messer’s bands on its many cross-country trips. A three-LP boxed set of his dance calls (Let’s Square Dance) was released (Doncaster DS-3-102). Father of fiddler Graham Townsend.

One Sunday, young Graham was driving in Quebec from Wolf Lake to Quyon with his father Fred, and Ottawa Valley stepdancers, George McKenny and Andy Dougherty. The car broke down, so naturally they put a plywood board on the roadside, and everyone took turns stepdancing. Graham fiddling away while Fred played the harmonica. Soon traffic was backed up for miles. People left their cars to join the fun, along with some provincial police who happened to be fiddle freaks. Nobody liked the fellow who finally got the car working again.

“That’s the way it was in the old days,” 
says Fred. “Everybody was close to the country, and Canadians just couldn’t resist a country dance.

Read more here CLICK

—–Original Message—–
From: Hans Havermann

You perpetuate the very prevalent meme that Fred came to Canada in 1908 (which is, alternatively, at age 8). I believe I know how this misperception came to be. It must have been stated (by Fred, or others) that he went into a Bernardo home at age 8, which is true enough. But people may not have realized that there was a Bernardo home in England as well as in Canada. I certainly didn’t know that until my genealogy research associate, Marlene Frost, found Fred Townsend in such a place in the 1911 UK census. Fred came to Canada in 1912.

I’m contemplating writing a blog on the ancestry of Fred Townsend and of his wife, Enid Rainey, but Marlene and I are still very much in the research phase of the endeavour. I have written an article on the Barrie “Townsend fire”:


… which is very much speculation based on newspaper accounts. I did not like the way Eleanor Townsend got blamed for the arson when she had no opportunity to defend herself. And I certainly don’t understand why reporters at the time didn’t dig deeper.


His son Graham Townsend

The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
13 Dec 1998, Sun  •  Page 11

Canada lost its most prolific and versatile old-time fiddler with the Dec. 3, 1998 death of Graham Townsend in hospital. He was 56 when he died of prostate cancer. When Mr. Townsend picked up the fiddle at age eight and bought for $50 from an Irish immigrant fiddler named Billy Crawford he never put put away. Fiddling became his life. By the time he was 11, he was the youngest person to break into the top three at the 1953 Canadian Fiddling Championships.

With the silver medal in hand, he won the Canadian National Exhibition competition and shortly after started making guest appearances on CFRA’s Happy Wanderers, an institution for country-music lovers in the ’50s and ’60s. read-Looking for Info on The Happy Wanderers etc.

All this, yet Mr. Townsend couldn’t read music. In fact, anything written down was a blurry mess to his eyes. He had a congenital eye problem with an optic nerve condition that glasses couldn’t correct “He learned how to play the fiddle by ear. “He was a child prodigy,” says his ” wife Eleanor, 54. “He would sit with Billy, listen and instantly play what he learned”

His natural ability to play earned Townsend the nickname “Greyhound.” “It was a name that sounded similar to his own and he, like the dog, was very list and could cover a lot of ground. Someone once said that he has at least a million miles of tape in his head. An only child of Fred Townsend and his wife he was born in Toronto in 1942 and spent most of his younger years in the Ottawa Valley, ‘there he was exposed to a diversity of talented fiddlers. “He could play any style,” says Len Grace, the president of the Canadian Grandmasters Fiddling Championship. “Perhaps there are no “fiddlers that are as versatile as he was.” French, Irish, Scottish, Texas swing, Jazz, Ukrainian, the list goes on.

If someone could name it, Mr. Townsend could play it. He was billed by agents as “the most versatile fiddler on the continent.” He also created new styles of fiddling, says his 23-year-old son, Gray Townsend Jr. “He would learn a tune and then make it his own,” says his son, who is a singer, songwriter and pianist.

Mr. Townsend recorded 42 albums and had 400 of his own tunes in his repertoire. “Wherever there was old-time fiddling, you found Graham Townsend,” says Mr. Grace. “We won’t see his like again in our time.” Mr. Townsend fiddled for the Queen, toured internationally and played fiddle back-up for many famous performers, including Anne Murray and Rita MacNeil. When he was 24, he was chosen by Canada’s most popular fiddler, Don Messer, to join his group on the Jubilee coast-to-coast tour in 1967. “He was the only musician that Don ever added to tour with him,” says Ken Reynolds, a booking and touring agent who met Mr. Townsend nearly 50 years ago. “Because it was a long, long tour and because it was a centennial year, our 100th birthday, he wanted to have somebody else along to share the load.”

Mr. Townsend was inducted into the North American Hall of Fame in 1982 and the Ottawa Valley Country Music Hall of Fame in 1989. Both he and his wife were named this October to the newly established Canadian Fiddlers Hall of Fame, which will be built near Shelburne,Ont. It was the fiddle that brought the couple together. They met in 1963 in Shelburne, the birthplace of the Canadian Fiddling Championships, and were married in 1971. “I remember thinking he was a great star and I was nothing,” says Mrs. Townsend. “I started learning from his records before I knew him. I remember adrniring his eyes and his fingers.”

A classically trained violinist, Mrs. Townsend is a remarkable fiddler in her own right. She was the first woman to win a national championship and has written the only Canadian book on teaching fiddling, The Townsend Old-Tyme Fiddling Method. The couple was often called Mr. and Mrs. Fiddle. They both won the national championship Mrs. Townsend in 1979 and Mr. Townsend in 1963, 1968, 1969 and 1970 and they’ve recorded many albums together. Four months ago, Mr. Townsend received a lifetime achievement award at the Canadian Grandmasters Fiddling Championship at Centrepoint Theatre in Nepean. He played two 30-minute shows. “He wanted to perform so badly,” says his wife. “He had to sit down which he didn’t like because he wasn’t strong enough to stand up. He kept himself going for as long as he could, but he wasn’t very well.”

CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada13 Dec 1998, Sun  •  Page 11

Isobel Foster– Fiddler’s Hill –Buchanan Scrapbook Clippings

Stories From Fiddler’s Hill

Dueling Shoes and Fiddles and Step Dancing Contest July 15 1974

Notes of Lanark County Dances and Fiddlers

Dick Shail the 9th Line Fiddler

Fiddler’s Hill— Where the Green Grass Doesn’t Grow in Lanark

June 1957 –Documenting the Happy Wanderers CFRA

He Died Stepdancing in Franktown

Clippings and Memories of Mac Beattie — The Buchanan Scrapbooks

He was a Step Dancing Legend from Up da Line..

Gilles Roy-Step Dancer Extraordinare

Notes of Lanark County Dances and Fiddlers

More Barnardo Children to Document…George Parker — Fred Townsend — Annie McNish–

Another Home Boy has come to Eastern Ontario-CLIPPED FROM
The Weekly British Whig
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
03 Jun 1909, Thu  •  Page 7

There’s a spirit of celebration that spices most reunions but David Lorente doesn’t expect to encounter it Sunday. Instead, Lorente is preparing for and possibly an outpouring of pride when dozens of “Home Children” and their descendants gather here. “I think it will be cathartic,” says Lorente, whose father Joseph was one of the more than 100,000 British “orphans, waifs and strays” who were exported to Canada as farm laborers between 1870 and 1930. “There will probably be a lot of emotion,” adds Lorente, who organized this first reunion of the “little immigrants.” “And I hope some of the stories will come out.”

The stories are likely to be heart-wrenching “A little boy, a big land and not a friend in the world,” one Home boy wrote of his childhood experiences. Besides loneliness, many Home Children endured exploitation and abuse. Another Home boy bitterly recalls being introduced with the words: ” ‘He’s only a Home boy we’ve got.’ It’s a wonder he (the farmer) didn’t say ‘We call him Fido.’ ”

To improve their chances in life, the Home Children were given the option of being sent to a still-in-the-making country that was mostly rural and rough. In return for the children’s work, farmers promised to treat them like members of the family and pay them a small wage. Instead, many farmers gave the children nothing more than stoop labor and the back of their hand.

“I know of one case in which a Home boy got a lump of coal at Christmas, nothing else,” Lorente says. “That’s like something out of Dickens.” Although they were victims, many Home Children have tears and anger hidden their past. “There was a stigma attached to being a Home child,” Lorente says. “They have been very reticent to talk about it. “Other people looked down on them. They were made to feel ashamed.

Many of these kids were denied a childhood and nobody seemed to care.” They came from philanthropic organizations, including the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society, the Fegan Home of Southwark, London and the largest of all, the Barnardo Homes founded by Dr. Thomas Barnardo. Barnardo established a network of children’s homes throughout the British Isles. By the turn of the 20th century, almost every second immigrant child in Canada was from a Barnardo Home.

Lorente estimates about 10 per cent of Canadians are descendants of Home Children, and he is hoping to find somebody who can tell him more about his father. Joseph Lorente came to the Ottawa Valley through St. George’s Home on Wellington Street, which “served as a “distributor” for Home Children. He was sent to a farm near Brudenel, about 16 kilometres south of Killaloe, and eventually worked on a farm near Bells Corners.

Beatings were frequent and brutal. Young Lorente, a runty teenager, was expecting a beating one day after an argument with a farmer. “The farmer was standing on a hayrick, so my father threw a pitchfork at him. He wasn’t seriously injured but my father was so scared, he hid in the woods for two days.” But the incident, and others like it, so troubled Lorente’s father that he spoke of them only on his deathbed. “When he told me, he broke down,”

Lorente says. “But I still don’t know when he got here or on what ship. And I don’t know much about his family life in England.” In her book The Home Children, author Phyllis Harrison, a “former information officer for the Children’s Aid Society in Ottawa; writes of the loneliness that dogged the children, some of whom yere as young as four or five. “Invariably, children were sent from the distributing home alone.

Name tags around their necks, to be met by unknown farmers on unknown railway platforms. It was the loneliest moment of their lives. Loneliness looms as the hardest thing to bear in their letters. But there were other trials.

Michael Driscoll, a Home boy from Essex, told Harrison of his experiences, on an Ottawa-area farm. ‘. “At this farm I was given to understand that an orphan was the lowest type of person on Earth just about, and the insults I had to take even at the age of 10 or 11, have always stayed with me.

“It’s only the bruises on the outside I don’t feel any more. I was horse-whipped, kicked, and belted ground until I got so hard I could I longer feel it. Many nights I went to bed and cried and prayed for what I don’t know.

“This farmer took great pride in telling me that there was no law for an Englishman in Canada.” Charles W. Carver of Winnipeg told Harrison of the seven years he spent on a Manitoba farm near Arrow River. “Those seven years were hell. I was beat up with pieces of harness, pitchforks, anything that came in handy to hit me with I got it. “I didn’t get enough to eat. My dinner was put in a 10-pound syrup pail. Not wrapped just a piece of paper to cover it. When it came time to eat it, it was dry as old toast. ‘ “I never had a coat if it was raining. Just a grain sack over my shoulders and no shoes. They made my underwear from grey flannelette. It did not keep out much cold.”

Joe Brown was one of the lucky ones. Brown, a retired priest living in Pembroke, came to Canada in 1929. He was 14. An orphan, Brown was sent to live with Sam and Molly Coyne in Brudenell. The Coynes provided love and kindness to Brown in full measure. ‘ “I was a member of the family,” Brown says in an interview. “And not only me, the Coynes took in five other children.

The Home Children a stronger sense of what they accomplished. “They had to struggle when they were only kids,” he says. -“But they raised families, fought in wars, and built a piece of this country.”

CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada26 Jan 1991, Sat  •  Page 14

The Kingston Daily News
Kingston, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
15 Nov 1886, Mon  •  Page 1

The Daily Standard
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
10 Nov 1916, Fri  •  Page 7

The Daily Standard
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
09 Dec 1925, Wed  •  Page 6

The Daily Standard
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
28 Nov 1925, Sat  •  Page 8


The Kingston Daily News
Kingston, Kingston, Ontario, Canada
26 Nov 1889, Tue  •  Page 4

The Daily Standard
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
22 Jun 1908, Mon  •  Page 8

Home Boy Lawsuits — Pakenham– The British Home Children

The British Home Children — The Trip to Canada

Ernest Kennings — Home Boy — British Home Children

Robert Laidlaw Home Boy — British Home Children–Buchanan Scrapbook Clippings

Did You Know About Dr. Barnardo’s Baby’s Castle? British Home Children — Home Boys

Canadians Just Wanted to Use me as a Scullery-Maid

Laundry Babies – Black Market Baby BMH 5-7-66

More Unwed Mother Stories — Peacock Babies

The Wright Brothers– British Home Children

Home Boys and Family–Mallindine Family — Larry Clark

Clippings of the Barnardo Home Boys and Girls

Lily Roberts of Drummond The Rest of the Story

British Home Children – Quebec Assoc click

Ontario East British Home Child Family click

British Home Children Advocacy & Research Association click