Ted Lefebure’s ‘Voice’ (in the absence of a photo)

The germ of this post (if one may use such a word these virus-centric days) came from local music/theatre expert, Tom Carter. He found the correspondence that is at the post’s heart in a Gastown antique shop years ago and then forgot about it. Recently, the letter came to his attention again.

Unlike the typical VAIW post, there isn’t a featured photograph showing Lefebure; there simply wasn’t one that I could find. The letter written by E. S. Lefebure — his ‘voice’ — will stand in lieu.

First, however, a few details about Ted Lefebure and his kin.

Madras, India

Edward “Ted” Stewart Lefebure (1895-1946) was born in Madras (today’s Chennai), India to Edouard and Grace.

Edouard was born, studied and spent his early working life in England. Edouard trained in England to become a locomotive engineer. By the early 1890s, he was living in Madras, presumably working as an engineer on trains in that area.

I don’t know where Edouard met Grace. Like Edouard, she was born in England, but the two were married in Madras in 1892. In 1895, Edward Stewart was born to them in Madras; Ted was their only child.

Saskatchewan

When he was about 7, Ted and his parents moved to England. I assume that the reason for moving from India was Grace’s declining mental health. In 1902, Grace was admitted to the mental hospital in Wells, England. Grace died in that institution in October 1931. [1]

When Ted was about 15 (ca1910), he moved with his Dad to Canada. They settled in the vicinity of Biggar, Saskatchewan where Edouard took up a new occupation, that of a farmer.

In October 1917, Ted married Margaret Huggins (of New York State). Together they had two daughters, Rita and Norma. There is evidence that the couple didn’t live in Saskatchewan for all of their married lives. Rita and Norma were both born in Nepanee, Ontario.

The marriage was not to be long-lasting. In 1923, records show that Margaret moved back to the States, together with their two kids. In 1927, she married Theodore Hamilton in the U.S.

Vancouver

About 1929, Ted moved to Vancouver and he was resident at 530 Hornby Street (Hornby Mansions). A year later, he married Phyllis Irene Arnold (on the certificate of marriage to Phyllis, Ted wasn’t entirely honest; he indicated that he had been a “bachelor” prior). Phyllis had been born in England and was working as a maid at the time of her wedding. Ted and Phyllis moved several times over the early years of their marriage, ultimately settling for most of their marriage at 1320 East 11th Avenue.

According to the 1931 BC Directory, Ted’s occupation at the time was “painter”, presumably a commercial painter. But in the final years of his life, he described his occupation as “musician”.

Ted’s ‘Voice’

What instrument did Ted play? Did he perform solo, or was he part of a band? These and other questions will be addressed at the conclusion of this post.

Before we get to those, however, I want to share a letter written by Ted Lefebure to his Dad in 1933. The letter comes from the collection of Tom Carter. He found it in an antique shop several years ago and recently invited me to take a crack at figuring out who the writer was and what was the context of the letter. It offers interesting insights into Depression Vancouver of the mid-1930s and into the lives of the Lefebures.

1320 – 11 Ave. East
Vancouver, B.C.

March 10th, 1933

Dear Father,

I thought I would write a few lines to find out how you are and to let you know we are all well here yet [“all” refers to Ted’s family, I assume: Phyllis, two boys — Phillip and Dennis — and two girls]. We have had quite a hard winter for Vancouver. Had quite a bit of snow and frost, but the weather is improving now and I guess spring will soon be here. I do not suppose you have had any word from Mackinnen’s about the money yet. I have not heard from them for two months now. Well, I’m not fooling around waiting on them any longer. I have turned all my papers and correspondence over to a law firm here to attend to . . . . [He continues on for a couple of pages discussing this apparent family inheritance. Grace died in England in 1930, so it’s my suspicion that this is in reference to Ted’s Mom’s estate].

I am still doing quite a lot of playing, and am busy most every evening somewhere, although the pay is pretty small sometimes. Have great hopes of things being better in the musical line soon. Am getting pretty well known with the professional musicians in the city. Being well known here is half the battle. We are still playing over the air on station C.K.M.O.

The unemployment situation is very serious in Vancouver now. There is rioting almost every week. I have been down amongst them at different times and I think it is disgusting the way the police ride up and down the sidewalks with their horses and trample on people and knock them down with weighted clubs. My sympathy’s with the unemployed people. All they are asking for is a square deal from the rotten government, and they get their heads busted open. Is it any wonder that people are turning red? I’ll soon be a good Bolshevik myself

Well, I guess I had better close for this time. We are still living in hopes of being able to come down and see you sometime in the summer. Hoping you are keeping well. [Edouard would pass away in Edmonton in October 1935; I don’t understand ESL’s reference to his Dad’s location as being “down” relative to Vancouver].

Love from us all,

Ted

Tom Carter’s collection. (Note: I have edited this letter very lightly; mainly editing out Ted’s run-on sentences. Remarks in square brackets are mine).
Nanaimo Daily News. 5 July 1940.

According to the Sun, Ted played the violin. He might have played solo gigs, but I haven’t been able to find any evidence of that. He played with a band, and he was the leader:

Though not a Stadivarius, as violins go, it was a good one.

It once belonged to Ted Lefebure, the “Doc” in Doc’s Old Timers band that played in ballrooms around town in the 1940s.

Doc brought the instrument with him from the prairies in the 1920s. Doc’s son Phil, of Langley, says his dad died in 1946 and his mother, Phyllis, sold the violin to band member, Jack Alexander about 10 years later. [Phyllis died in 1965].

Vancouver Sun. 16 Nov 1993.

“Doc’s Vancouver Old-Timers Band” seems to have been the name of Ted’s band that was most often used. But on at least one occasion (on a gig in Nanaimo), they were known as the “Merry Makers”.

I tried to find photographs which might have included ESL (e.g., CKMO radio orchestras) in various local online archives. But no dice.

There remains for me, one final question: Why “Doc”?

I suspect that the “Doc” sobriquet was to make his surname less of an issue for people to recall. Most local band/orchestra leaders were known by their last names — e.g., Fowler’s Orchestra — and Lefebure doesn’t exactly roll off the Anglo tongue. So I’m guessing that the monosyllabic “Doc” was considered easier for Vancouverites to say and to remember.

Ted died in Vancouver at the young age of 51 in 1946.

Re N2.2 – Unemployed men at Victory Square being dispersed by police. July 1932.

Note

  1. I am indebted to Robert of Westendvancouver.worpress.com for his assistance with some details in this post. He found evidence of Grace’s institutionalization in the Wells mental hospital, as well as other facts.
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