Depression in Calgary

by Tom Serediuk
Royal Reflector
October 1963

Between 12th Ave and 1st St SW there is located The Depression coffee House, founded by John Uren from Toronto. Located in a basement, it has the authentic atmosphere of a coffee house, with photostats of local 1930 papers. No liquor is allowed on the premises and quality entertainment is provided.

John Uren started The Depression because he felt that Calgary needed a coffee house and that this city isn't such a culture-lacking city as it has been made out to be. It appears that he is right. Life membership has sky rocketed up to 2000 in one month. On a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night it will be packed within 15 minutes.

The Depression is open six nights a week at 9:00 pm. The schedule for the week is as follows:

On Monday nights it is closed; Tuesday is chess night; Wednesday is surprise night (anything could happen, you may find a hootenanny or you may find it closed); Thursday is poetry night; Friday and Saturday are folk music nights; Sunday night provides an opportunity for local talent to show itself in that this is hootenanny night.

The Depression offers fine entertainment. It is hoped that its success will result in other coffee houses opening.


Sydney Vallentyne has a very impressive musical background. She has performed in the Houston Opera Company and has been taking voice training lessons from Allan Lindquest, a leading vocal technician in California.

"Music is a universal language," she states, "and I sing songs of all languages and from all countries."

Miss Vallentyne believes that most songs have a meaning and should be "sung from the heart." She does her own stylings of the songs and "shares the songs with the audience." She says that folk singing is very serious music.

Sydney Vallentyne is a serious entertainer who will establish a good following from local audiences. Even those who dislike folk music will find an appreciation for folk songs she presents.


From Taylor, South Carolina, came a very talented individual names Bill Roberts, who recently was featured at The Depression. His performance was blended with ethnic folk songs, blues, and remarkable wit and humour. Although some of his humour may not be approved by the Alberta Censor Board, it kept the audience in hysterics and shouting for more.

After attending college for three years, Bill Roberts began performing professionally almost immediately and has been at it for four years. He plans to return to college to major in Music and minor in Languages. He travelled the coffee house circuit in the States and went to Europe where he performed in the streets and in cafes. He picked up many ethnic folk songs while touring the British Isles. He then came to Canada in which he is currently making a cross-country tour and plans to go on to studying serious music and composition in the not too far future.

Bill Roberts performs with a 12-string guitar and a harp. This is not the type of harp which consists of strings but is an instrument which resembles a harmonica. He describes it as "an instrument which is like a harmonica except you suck in rather than blow out." At some points of his act he combines both harp and guitar as well as doing a clever satirical monologue on the Canadian way of life.

With as many folk singers as there are today, Bill Roberts has an enormous amount of talent as well as individuality which puts him quite a few notches over even the more popular ones.


Billy Bridges, a local guitarist, says "More people are recognizing the guitar as a serious musical instrument than ever before."

He says that "there is still too much association of the guitar with rock and roll and accompaniment and not enough with serious music," but adds, "more individuals are appreciating guitar music such as Classical and Flamenco."

Billy Bridges performs with the concert guitar and plays mainly jazz, classical and Flamenco music. Although just 19, he has come a long way in his chosen career. He does his own renditions and arrangements of the music he plays.

He has travelled extensively and has found the French Canadians to be the best audiences for appreciation of classical guitar music.

Bill Bridges is currently teaching guitar at the Calgary Conservatory of Music. He plans to study piano theory and go on to university for a degree in music.


Reports indicate that Rock 'n' Roll is still going strong. Singles released by Rock 'n' Roll artists are high on hit parades, but LPs by folk singers are riding high in sales. Peter, Paul and Mary and Kingston Trio singles are also number one sellers.

Guitar sales have continued to increase as well as banjos. Nation wide surveys show that over a million guitars have been sold in Canada and United States last year. Locally, banjo sales seem to be increasing.


Will Millar, currently playing at Phil's Pancake House and Motel Village, has been in Calgary and Banff for one year now and in this time has gained fans from 4 to 90.

Born in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, he began his career as an entertainer at the age of ten. When he was twelve and old friend of the family who was blind taught him to play the guitar.

In 1956 Will Millar moved to Canada and settled in Toronto. Here he concluded his formal education and went on to become a folk singer. He formed a group and was featured at the Calypso Club in Toronto. He spent four months in Trinidad where he picked up many Calypso songs.

The travelling bug was in him so he left Toronto to see the rest of the country. On November 13, 1962 he arrived in Calgary. It was not long before he became recognized.

Irish songs are his specialty and he has popularized them considerably in Calgary. His audiences include a majority of the campus set, but many children are fans of Will Millar. There is a TV show lined up for him, which will be directed at the children.

Will is also the local representative of the Guild of Canadian Folk Artists, whose purpose is to spread interest in folk music.


Joni Anderson, a first year student at the Alberta College of Art, is relatively new in the folk music circuit.

Joni Anderson is from Saskatoon where she had her start in folk singing. This resulted from her association with a folk singing group called the Talismen. From this group she acquired the interest and knowledge of folk singing. She has performed in Louis Riel in Saskatoon, but has really just begun in the entertainment field.

She performs mainly with a baritone ukulele and has recently acquired a Maritime Tiplie ten-string ukulele. Her songs are usually tragic or melancholy, but has a pleasant and refreshing manner of singing them.

Although she has been here for a relatively short period of time, Joni Anderson has become popular with the Ivy League set.


Currently featured in the local folk singing limelight is Floyd Ballard. He has been performing for 12 years and although he has been living in Calgary for the past two years, he has not been brought to the attention of local folk singing fans until recently.

Floyd Ballard is originally from Bradford, Yorkshire. He began his career playing jazz songs and travelled considerably throughout Europe. He fought in the Korean War in the First Gloucester Regiment from England. After his service in the army, he revived his interest in music and came over to Canada. He started to take an interest in folk music and spent some time in Eastern Canada singing in coffee houses and then headed West.

He came to Alberta and "became a cowboy." He started singing Western songs and added to his repertoire of songs. He settled down in Calgary and found it necessary to give up entertaining as a livelihood, but he never gave up signing. He performed at the Banff School of Fine Arts and at the now defunct Vicious Circle. It was the opening of The Depression that gave him a chance to perform more actively.

Darlene Schomer, an art student at the Alberta College of Art, and Gary Kohn, an Arts and Science student at Mount Royal College also perform with Floyd Ballard. The group sings mainly "protest songs" and style them in their own way. They prefer the ethnic type of folk music. Floyd Ballard also wrote a song, Dismal Road, which they use.

Floyd Ballard plans to remain in Calgary until 1965 and then travel around the country as a professional entertainer. He says that this is necessary to become successful as a folk singer. Currently Floyd can be seen at The Depression.


When Michel Choquette began his act the audience was not sure what to expect. His quiet monologue and conservative appearance did not give the impression he was an entertainer. He looked more like a college professor preparing to give a lecture. But the audience was in for a pleasant surprise. With the opening song, a French Canadian Gunfighter Ballad, they were for a moment perplexed, but then were quickly taken by the whimsical humour accompanied with fifty percent nonsense.

Michel Choquette was born in Montreal in 1938. His origin is French Canadian and has always been bilingual. He attended McGill and Sir George Williams universities and did graduate work in Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. He plans to return in two years.

He had acquired an interest in writings songs and performing while attending university and in 1959 he released an LP record entitled "Songs of Murray Bay" which satirizes a summer resort in Eastern Canada like Banff. It was distributed to the people that visited this area and became a success. This sparked him to begin a temporary career as an entertainer.

In 1960 Michel Choquette wrote and recorded a French song entitled "La Jeunesse d'aujourd'hui.' It rapidly became a hit in Quebec. It has also been recently released in France. He will be releasing an English LP entitled "Songs for Laissez-Faire Capitalists" which he states does not centre around a single capitalist. He does not do any political satire, and although he satirizes on folk songs, he enjoys doing serious songs as well.

Michel Choquette has been described as an "unusual purveyor of nonsense" and "a satirist of the highest order." He finds Calgary audiences very receptive and appreciative to his form of humour, which ranges from spoofs on philosophy, Socrates, to beat poetry readings. His style can best be described as a blend of nonsense and wit which brings out a classical form of humour.

Michel Choquette is now performing at Chicago's Gates of Horn where he will be spending several weeks.


If an ethnic folk singer is to be defined as a person who sings [?] folk songs, and who is completely down to earth with absolute sincerity, then Peter Elbling would have to be called a true ethnic folk singer.

Peter Elbling started his folk singing career in London, England. He became "fed up with rock and roll" and took an interest in folk songs. He has a style all of his own and knows how to handle a guitar when picking during a blues number. He has written some of his own songs but hasn't sung them to an audience yet.

Calgary is just a stop off for Peter as he is now taking a trip around the world. So far he has found that folk singers are more ethnic in England than in Canada. Peter says he enjoys what he is doing in that he is independent but he is not making much money from it.

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