Andy Dejarlis

Between 1936 and 1944 a big white car, painted with signs advertising the arrival of Andy Dejarlis and the red River mates, became a familiar sight on the roads of western Canada. The group toured between Winnipeg, and Vancouver, playing cities, towns and hamlets.Back in the years of drought and depression, when admission was 25 cents, people were glad to forget their trouble, as they swung in a square or waltzed to “When I Grow to Old Too Dream”. Some still came by buggy in summer, and sleighs, vans and cutters were common in the winter. “People loved to dance in those days”, he recalls. “I played every night except Sunday and the halls were crowded”

Sometimes radio fans balked at paying admission because they thought the orchestra had come to town without its leader. It just didn’t seem possible that the person they saw was the “oldtime fiddler” himself. One night there was even a man who boasted that he had stoked with “old Andy Dejarlis” then was embarrassed to find that he was talking to “Old Andy”.

From 1944 on Andy freelanced. He played over various radio stations. He continued to win fiddling contests, (he now has a total of 21 trophies). He composed tunes, 156 to date, his most recent is the Manitoba waltz, which is unique in that its lyrics are not about love in Paris, Mexico, or any of the 50 American stats but right here in Manitoba, Where the red river flows.” Meanwhile, he performed at a wide variety of functions.

Don Messer of television fame has described Andy as “one of the greatest exponents of old-time music there is in Canada today”. As a man who is a master in his own chosen field, Andy regrets that most young people are not interested in learning the old dances. Not, in his opinion is much of the “square dancing” seen on television today the real thing. “It’s quite modernized. It’s not square dancing as people used to do it”.

From 1962 to 1865 Andy worked in Montreal, where he played in nightclubs, made records and for two years was featured regularly on TV. One of the private channels there has what he considers a more genuine type old time program. “The dances are authentic and so it the atmosphere. They show old men sitting smoking their pipes as part of the background”.

There have been regrets before that old tunes have lost their popularity and dancing has grown effete. According to John Macbeth, a descendant of one of the Selkirk settlers: “Of course, you must understand that when I use the word dancing, I mean dancing, not the dances of the modern days. Oh, no. Instead of pianos and orchestras we had the good old-fashioned fiddle, and always plenty of willing able hands to play it. Instead of the effeminate, easy going and dreamy waltz, we had the always exciting and lively red river jig, which required not only skill to dance but lots of endurance as well. Instead of the modern cotillion and quadrille, we danced the river reliable old scotch reel or reel of four. And instead of the somewhat lazy and languid dance, we danced the ever popular eight hand reel.” <br /><br />The forgoing, which is found among the transactions of the Manitoba Historical society, was written by john Macbeth back in 1893.

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