Tag Archives: step dancing

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

Dueling Shoes and Fiddles and Step Dancing Contest July 15 1974

Dueling Shoes and Fiddles and Step Dancing Contest July 15 1974


Screenshot 2017-06-26 at 06.jpg

Screenshot 2017-06-26 at 06.jpg

July 14 1974

Susan Gray Perth–Dale Lowe Carleton Place– Bruce Blair Perth

Screenshot 2017-06-26 at 06.jpg


Each time I find these I document them as step dancing and fiddling is like brad and butter to Lanark County so I feel I should record them.



Information where you can buy all Linda Seccaspina’s books-You can also read Linda in The Townships Sun and Screamin’ Mamas (USA)

Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place.





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

Gilles Roy-Step Dancer Extraordinare

Notes of Lanark County Dances and Fiddlers

Good Old Lanark County Music–From the 70s to now

The Musical Talents of Dave Brown

Fiddling in Lanark County by David Ennis

The Dawn Patrol on Local Dance Halls

Dance Hall Days with The Coachmen

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

Down At the Twist and Shout–Wave’s Inn

Straight Outta Carleton Place High School — Wava McDaniel Baker

Architecture Stories: The Hotel that Stompin’ Tom Connors Saved

All About Lorraine Lemay –Mississippi Hotel

Lanark County Dance Halls 1950s, 60s & 70s


Back to The Future — Twisting Your Dignity Away

The Natives of Carleton Place — Violins and Deer

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


unnamed (1)

Notes of Lanark County Dances and Fiddlers



Carleton Place Farmers Market-Photo by Linda Seccaspina

Perth Courier, Jan. 23, 1885 

On Tuesday evening of last week Mr. Robinson Lyon of Lyon’s Hotel, Arnprior, celebrated his 74th birthday.  After his usual custom he entertained his numerous friends.  Though beyond his allotted span of 3 score and 10 the old gentleman is still hale and hearty and draws his bow over his fiddle as vigorously as he did years ago when the name “Bob Lyon the fiddler of Bytown” was well known from Quebec to the headwaters of the Ottawa.

Leahy Music Camp – July 2009
Dancers: Samantha & Katie Harvey, Sarah Robinson, Emily Flack

Perth Courier, Jan. 15, 1909

The good father who celebrated the nuptial mass has long since gone to his reward. Richard Hogan of Bathurst who played the old fashioned fiddle fifty years ago for the young couple and their friends was present on Monday and again displayed his skill with the bow taking keen delight in playing for one set, formed of the bride and groom, bridesmaid and groomsman, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Brady and Mrs. And Mrs. James Balderson(?), all of whom are relatives of the principals and were present at the wedding.

Perth Courier, September 21, 1934

Mr. Quinn could recall many of the old barn dances in Westport which were “great affairs”.  In those days there were some fine clog dancers in the district.  These included John McGlade and his sister Rosie.  Then there was a Miss Trainor who was a splendid fiddler.  She was a blind girl and her services were always in demand.

A story by Harry J Walker

img (11).jpg

The Ottawa Journal28 Dec 1946, SatPage 17



Gilles Roy-Step Dancer Extraordinare

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

Good Old Lanark County Music–From the 70s to now

The Musical Talents of Dave Brown

Fiddling in Lanark County by David Ennis

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


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




Photo from the Pakenham Fiddle and Step Dance Association 2008


Today I bought a picture from Alf Hamilton’s garage sale in Carleton Place. I am proudly putting it on my wall with the rest of my Lanark County collections. This house is home to all Lanark County.

Alf who was a local fiddler and dancer told me he figures the feet in the photo are those of Buster Brown.

So I don’t know much about the history of  local step dancing but I found this online.


From Heather MacCulloch Dancers site.From Heather MacCulloch Dancers site.

The story of traditional step dancing begins with the Celtic people of Western Europe. They shared a common language, Gaelic, which is still studied and celebrated in many Scottish settlements throughout North America today. These early descendants lived in parts of France, northern Spain and the British Isles, spreading into Ireland and later into North America as early settlers and missionaries.

Today Step Dancing in Canada is most predominant in the Eastern provinces, western Quebec and eastern Ontario. Music and dance are an intricate part of the Gaelic culture celebrated by the lively combination of traditional step dancing and the French, Irish and Scottish fiddle. Much of today’s Canadian step dancing has grown from the blended influences of early European settlers.

Step dancing has been passed down through the generations. Traditionally, step dancing teachers hold a repertoire of dance steps passed to them by their dance directors and then build on them – choreographing new dance steps over time. Though traditional, this form of dance continues to evolve as innovative dancers add new movements such as rocking, swinging the leg from the knee and clicking one’s heels in the air. Their creativity is prodded by the lively beats of Celtic music. Arm and feet movements become atypical of different areas, such as, the straight arms by an Irish step dancer’s side or the loose and relaxed style of an Ottawa Valley dancer in Canada or the swinging leg of a Tennessee dancer in the United States.

Even in Canada itself, you can see the different styles of step dancing varying from the “close to the floor” steps of Newfoundland or Quebec to the high stepping performances of eastern Ontario. It’s been suggested that at one time, step dancers did use their arms more liberally for example, by putting them on their hips as many Canadian step dancers do today.

At intermitted times throughout history the churches condemned dancing. It is said that leaders of the church were more open to the use of controlled stiff arms in traditional step dancing. This is probably most evident in the development of Irish step dancing. Another atypical characteristic of Canadian step dancing is the tendency to dance within a small area with little travel. This also goes back to the early years where step dancing was done on small table tops or the confined space of pioneer kitchens.

While step dancing was traditionally performed in soft shoes, today’s Canadian step dancers often attach metal taps to their shoes making the drumming rhythms of the step dancers beat more audible to the audience. Tap dancers will recognize some of the same basic movements with which the rhythmic sounds are produced.

A young step dancer usually begins by learning a basic clog dance done to a slow 4/4 or 2/2 set time. Step dance can be introduced at an early age. As the dancer progresses the steps become increasingly more intricate. Increased speed enhances their presentation. It’s lively and quick rhythms done to the lilting fiddle tunes make step dancing exhilarating to both the dancer and the onlooker.

Today, step dance competitions are held in areas of eastern Ontario and the eastern provinces of Canada. Typically, a dancer performs a Clog, Jig and Reel. They are judged on timing, difficulty of steps, general presentation and stage presence. Dance companies have also developed, presenting step dancing in large group productions, bringing it to high levels of precision and unison. The MacCulloch Dancers celebrate and preserve the culture of traditional step dancing representing Canada at international festivals throughout the world. Their style of step dancing holds its roots the Scottish settlement of Glengarry County, Ontario, Canada. As with much of Canadian step dancing, it is influenced by the dance of early Scottish, Irish and French settlers.


Read about Buster Brown here.