Every day, in 1951, Armstrong’s Albert Boehler would walk by the Winnipeg Piano Company on the corner of Edmonton Street and Portage Avenue in Manitoba’s largest city on his way to and from work and stop to gaze in the window.
There, in all its glory, was the musical instrument that made Boehler drool. Not a piano, no sir. It was a Martin acoustic guitar hanging in the window, the same kind his musical heroes Wilf Carter and Hank Snow played. Cost in 1951, $150 Canadian, a lot of money for that time. Cardboard carrying case sold separately for $12.95.
Boehler was just starting out what would be a 40-plus year career with Manitoba Tel and a couple of other telephone companies in two provinces. Born April 3, 1931, Boehler grew up on a farm in Ridgeville, about 112 kilometres southeast of the Peg. He had a small guitar as a kid, and while he and his siblings went over to the neighbour’s house, the other kids would go outside and play ball. Boehler would stay inside and listen to Wilf Carter records on a crank-style gramophone (record player).
Boehler wanted to be like Wilf Carter, Canada’s father of Canadian country music.
“I just started playing and singing and yodelling, and I’m still doing it,” laughed Boehler, who will turn 90 in a month.
He saved up some money for that Martin and borrowed the rest from his sister, Lil, who, of course, insisted on being paid back.
Boehler still has that original Martin, made in 1948, along with a couple of other guitars, that he still picks and strums. He was a regular on Tuesdays at the Armstrong Legion Jam before COVID-19 interrupted things, singing and yodelling, and telling classic jokes like the difference between an onion and a bagpipe?
“Nobody ever cries cutting up a bagpipe,” said Boehler, who lists Carter tunes such as Strawberry Roan, My Old Canadian Home and the Blue Canadian Rockies among his favourites. He will do Hank Snow and Hank Williams songs, but not Snow’s legendary I’ve Been Everywhere.
“Too many places to remember,” laughs Boehler who, as a young construction worker with Manitoba Tel had to hang lines in the famous Prairie winter months. He and a buddy wanted to move somewhere warmer.
They wrote to Okanagan Tel, which became BC Tel, then Telus, and moved to the Okanagan to Kelowna in 1964. Boehler retired in 1990. He owned horses in Kelowna but wanted to move to a property where he and his horses were on the same property, so he bought some acreage near Enderby on the Trinity Valley Road in 2005. A few years later, Boehler sold the property and horses and moved to Armstrong.
He loves playing, singing and yodelling, especially for fellow seniors, the ones who smile when they recognize a Wilf Carter tune. He’s entered talent competitions, plays jams when not in a pandemic, and does it all on his soon-to-be 73-year-old Martin guitar which now comes in an official Martin guitar case.
That old cardboard original case for $13 Canadian in 1951?
“I couldn’t buckle up that case and close it so I carried it under my arm, which, of course, you don’t normally do,” laughed Boehler. “I went to this guy’s house for a music party, and the basement wasn’t yet framed, so we sang downstairs. Somebody nailed my case to one of the studs. That’s the last I saw of it.”
As he approaches his milestone 90th birthday, Boehler firmly believes music has been a key to his long, happy life.
“Absolutely. Music is good for your soul, for everything,” he said. “Music keeps you going.”