Ukrainian Male Chorus of Winnipeg

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Ukrainian Male Chorus of Winnipeg

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Biography of Walter Bohonos and the history of the Ukrainian Male Chorus of Winnipeg

Walter Victor Bohonos (1913-1997) was born in St. Julian, Saskatchewan to Ukrainian pioneer settlers. Educated in Winnipeg’s public schools after the family moved to Winnipeg in 1919, and active in youth organizations sponsored by the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, he first thought of establishing a male chorus in the early 1930s after teaming up with Winnipeggers Myron Mason (Marian Masniak), Peter Collins and Ralph Wickberg (Ralph Gerry) to form the “Cavaliers,” a popular vocal group that performed on network radio. The group’s repertoire included songs in 14 languages and they dedicated their radio broadcasts to Manitoba’s many ethnic groups. Later the group changed its name to “The International Quartet” and finally to “The Four Toppers.” Under that name it moved to Toronto in 1939 and gained recognition as “the best of its kind in Canada.” While singing baritone with the quartet and arranging its music, Bohonos also studied music at the University of Toronto. He returned to Winnipeg during the war, and in the fall of 1944 organized the 16-voice Ukrainian Male Chorus. All of the choristers were Canadian-born and they included businessmen, tradesmen, students, and professional men. Although it held its rehearsals in the Ukrainian National Home Association building at the corner of Burrows and MacGregor, the Chorus was not affiliated with any community organization and it was open to men of all religious denominations. By 1946 Bohonos was also voice teacher and instructor of liturgical music at St. Andrew’s College and choir conductor first at St. Michael’s Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church and then at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Greek Orthodox cathedral in Winnipeg. The Ukrainian Male Chorus won local recognition after winning the Manitoba Music Festival Folk Song Competition in 1946, 1947 and 1948. Although it was established to present Ukrainian folk and religious songs to Canadian and American audiences, the Chorus, which soon expanded to 30 voices, also included the folk songs of other peoples (“Blue Bells of Scotland,” “Loch Lomond,” “Annie Laurie,” “The Happy Wanderer,” “Let My People Go”) in its repertoire. The Chorus performed at Ukrainian-Canadian events throughout Manitoba, and occasionally visited Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, and the United States. In Winnipeg it also sang at a command performance for Their Royal Highnesses, Princess Alice and the Earl of Athlone in 1945; at the City’s 75th Anniversary Concert in 1949; with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under Walter Kaufmann in 1951 and under Victor Feldbrill in 1961 and in 1967; at the nationally broadcast and televised 1957 CBC “United Way” spectacular that also featured vocalists Juliette, Robert Goulet, and Joan Maxwell, and comedian Dave Broadfoot; at numerous conventions; and at gatherings of various service clubs including the Rotarians, Lions, Kinsmen, and the I.O.D.E. Performances by the Chorus were also broadcast by the CBC radio and television network, by NBC and by the BBC. Under contract with MGM records the Ukrainian Male Chorus recorded two 78 rpm albums of Ukrainian folk songs and Ukrainian Carols on the Quality label in 1950. At the time, it may have been the first Western Canadian choir to make records in a language other than English. In 1965 the Chorus recorded two 33 1/3 rpm albums produced by RCA Victor Recording Services. During the fall and winter of 1967-68 the executive addressed the issue of growing “complacency” among Chorus members and tried to “find a basic solution to the present low quality of some sections of the male chorus.” Although plans were made to reorganize the Chorus it became inactive. One of its last performances was at the September 1970 “Starburst 100” concert sponsored by the Ukrainian Professional and Business Men’s Club in celebration of Manitoba’s Centennial. Over the years prominent soloists and singers included John Marian and Myron Mason (who had also toured with Serge Jaroff’s Don Cossack Choir), Emile Budnick, Joseph Popiel, Walter Mudry, Cecil Semchychyn, Serge Radchuk and Jerry (Jaroslaw) Schur, and William (Bill) Solomon (Conductor of the Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus).


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Entered into AtoM on September 7, 2017.




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