“Don Messer and His Islanders” became the most popular show on CBC, next to “Hockey Night in Canada.”
The New Brunswick native moved to P.E.I. in 1939 to work at CFCY Radio.
He began his music career by playing in bands for dances, and by 1929, he was performing on the radio in Saint John, N.B.
Shortly after moving to P.E.I, he formed Don Messer and the Islanders group. It was formed around two of the original members, lumberjack-vocalist Charlie Chamberlain from Bathurst, N.B., and bass player Julius (Duke) Neilson from Woodstock, N.B. Others would be added throughout the years and Don Messer and the Islanders would later be changed to Don Messer and His Islanders.
The band’s popular program aired three times a week on the radio from 1939-1958 and moved seamlessly to television. Peaking in popularity in 1961 when ratings were higher than the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
Generations of Canadians remember the opening line of the song “Goin’ to the Barndance” that started every show.
The show was cancelled in 1969 in favour of a “younger look.” This brought such a storm of protest that the CBC board of directors decreed that in the future, such popular shows were not to be cancelled without justifiable reasons.
Messer eventually moved to Halifax, and in 1973, died of a heart attack.
Johnny Forest, who played with Messer for a decade on his TV show, said “[He was a] fantastic little person, very quiet person and humble. He knew what the people of Canada wanted as far as music was concerned. That’s why he was so popular.”
The home sitting on 15 Belmont St. in Charlttetown was built in 1950. Messer bought the home in 1960 and lived there for several years. The house is currently owned by Melvin and Debbie Ramsay.