Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame inducts first members

This article marks the first of what we expect will be regular contributions from Bluegrass Canada, the bluegrass music association of Canada, and their quarterly magazine by the same name. Editor Mike Higgins has promised to send us updates from the scene up north, and assures us that things are hoppin’ in bluegrass all across Canada.

The Bluegrass Music Association of Canada would like to thank all bluegrass supporters from across Canada who contributed to the nomination process for this, the very first edition of the annual Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame!

Nominations were submitted from each of five regions of Canada including British Columbia, The Prairies, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. The following inductees have been selected, one from each region.

We invite you to visit the website to find out more about each of the 2023 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees.

Congratulations to all the 2023 Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame Inductees!

Jim Brown – British Columbia

Jim Brown has been a tireless volunteer for the bluegrass community in British Columbia for nearly 50 years. His contributions to the growth of bluegrass music started in the early 1970’s with his involvement with the Coombs Country Opera. In 1978 the first Coombs Bluegrass Festival was held. Jim was instrumental in the success of the festival since its early days, acting in numerous capacities including MC, entertainment co-ordinator, site builder, project manager, parade float builder, and much more. In large part, because of Jim Brown’s tireless efforts, the Coombs Rodeo Grounds, where the Coombs Bluegrass Festival is now held, boasts a large grandstand, numerous outbuildings, a bunkhouse, a rodeo ring, a community hall, and now hosts many events both for the community and the general area.

BMAC is proud to welcome Jim Brown to the Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

 Bob Whittaker (1940-2021) – Manitoba

From the time that Bob Whittaker became interested in bluegrass in the early 2000s, he has been an active performer and promoter of the music in Manitoba. He was a proud, long term member of the Manitoba Old Tyme & Bluegrass Society (MOBS), and was instrumental in helping organize the local jams held by the society for over 20 years.

The jam evenings usually ran twice a month at the Elmwood Legion, and the format that was used was a ‘Jam Sandwich’ where bands would jam with other players, then perform and jam again after the performance. The jams had to be run on a shoestring budget but with Bob’s help they managed to keep them going, and to keep having bands present to both perform and participate in the jams.

As time progressed the jams moved through various Royal Canadian Legions and locations including Elmwood, Transcona, Beausejour, and the Royal George Hotel in Transcona. Bob was an accomplished mandolin player and singer and was a significant contributor to the Manitoba Old Tyme & Bluegrass Society.

BMAC is proud to welcome Bob Whittaker to the Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. Tony de Boer (1939-2020) – Ontario

Tony de Boer (1939-2020) – Ontario

Few people have been more active in opening up bluegrass music in Canada, and especially in Ontario, than Tony de Boer. During his lifetime he held hundreds of concerts, festivals, and shows and was tireless in promoting Canadian bluegrass talent both in Canada and the US.

His initial foray into bluegrass was as one of the initial founders of the Skyway Bluegrass Club in Burlington Ontario; a club that held regular concerts and jams for bluegrass enthusiasts throughout the Golden Horseshoe, and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). He later bought property in Northern Ontario and ran three festivals there each year for nearly 40 years. Those festivals continue today and are run by his three children: Cindy, Patrick, and Doug.

In addition, Tony helped many other Ontario festivals get off the ground, some of which continue to be held, including Palmer Rapids, Woodstock, Cayuga, and Manitoulin Island.

Tony was also heavily involved with the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in the US and organized many trips to their annual convention to highlight Canadian bands to the US audience. He was a board member of IBMA, organized a hospitality suite at the annual conventions where Canadian bands could be featured, and was twice recipient of the Kentucky Colonel Award for his promotion efforts.

In the winter months, in addition to holding regular local jams, the de Boer family’s Northern Bluegrass Committee ran many concerts that always featured a prominent or up-and-coming Canadian band along with a US headliner.

In addition, when the Central Canadian Bluegrass Awards were in danger of folding, Tony took up the mantle and continued to hold the event for many more decades.

BMAC is proud to welcome Tony de Boer to the Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

Bob Fuller (1934-2018) – Quebec

Bob Fuller is recognized as one of the pioneers of bluegrass music in Quebec. In 1965 Bob began hosting the Hillbilly Night sponsored by the Old Time Music Club in Montreal, held at the Blue Angel Café and later the Wheel Club. All the music had to be bluegrass or traditional country and only acoustic instruments (and steel guitar) were allowed. Bob guided the group through those evenings to focus on bluegrass and old time. Those events continue to this day.

Bob was a proficient and prolific guitar player and singer. He was a leader of many bands including Bluegrass Bob and the Bobcats, The Happy Wanderer, and The Cat’s Den lounge band, The Bluegrass Ramblers that played regularly at the Cat’s Den Lounge, Montreal’s Moose Lodge, and numerous other venues.

In 1971 Bob released his LP album, Canadian Country Favorites – Bob Fuller and The Mountain Strings. Featured with Bob: Guy Carpenter and other Hillbilly Night regulars (MMC 1715).

Bob travelled extensively and brought his love of bluegrass to audiences everywhere he went. His knowledge and enthusiasm for traditional Country and Bluegrass music was infectious and he won the genre a great many converts.

BMAC is proud to welcome Bob Fuller to the Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

Serge Bernard – Prince Edward Island

Serge Bernard has been involved with bluegrass music from a very early age. He is a multi- instrumentalist who plays banjo, guitar, bass, and mandolin, and is also a strong lead and harmony singer.

He played with the bluegrass band, Out of the Blue, for six years and has been playing with The Janet McGarry Band since 2001. Serge started the Bluegrass Island radio show in 1998 that aired on CFCY for 24 years, and is now on CFTA-107.9 FM from Amherst, Nova Scotia. Serge has a recording studio and has collaborated on many projects over the years, including recording and producing 13 albums with his wife Janet McGarry.

Serge has been a Director with the PEI Bluegrass and Oldtime Music Society in various capacities, and was the chair and producer of the 1st Annual PEI Winter Bluegrass Festival held in 2023 at Charlottetown, PEI. He is also the Vice President of the Downeast Bluegrass & Oldtime Music Society and is part of the planning committee for the 50th Annual Bluegrass and Oldtime Music Festival. Serge can be seen at many events as the MC who brings the crowd to life with enthusiasm.

Serge is a five-time recipient of the DJ of the Year award and the Emcee of the Year award at the Eastern Canada Bluegrass Music Awards. His latest endeavor is as the founding member of the Island Jubilee Inc. that premiered in February 2023, showcasing the Island’s brightest stars.

BMAC is proud to welcome Serge Bernard to the Canadian Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.