The Jon Vickers Exhibit
Celebrating tenor Jon Vickers!
Jon Vicker's birth and childhood in Prince Albert, SK -- see book excerpt below.

Jon Vickers turns 85 on October 29!
Uncharacteristic jollity on the 'Tristan' set for Jon Vickers with Roberta Knie, right, Isolde, and Maureen Forrester, Brangane. "It was a wonderful and unusual time," says Ms. Knie of the 1975 Montreal production. (Photo courtesy Richard Bocking).
Vickers as Aeneas in "The Trojans" , 1950s, Royal Opera House Covent Garden.
A COLD NIGHT: Jon Vickers Born in Saskatchewan

Excerpt from "Jon Vickers: A Hero's Life," (University Press of New England, 1999,2007)
  Jonathan's parents were Canadian, of mingled English and Irish descent. If they had not been driven by poverty to seek a better life in western Canada, but had remained in Ontario, close to Toronto, Vickers might have found it easier to begin his music studies and career. But his drive makes it impossible to conceive of his failing to follow his gift anywhere he might have found himself. And it is certain that the small-town associations and the eleven summers of farm work in his early days nourished the artist he became in many ways.
  His father, William Stewart Vickers was born in Kirkton, Ontario on November 27, 1890, the son of a Methodist carpenter and grain thrasher whose father had emigrated from Englnad in the mid-ninteenth century. A short, burly schoolteacher with a large head, William married the petite 16-year-old Frances Myrle Mossip, known as Myrle (and in early records spelled Merle), born in 1897, the daughter of a dairyman from London Township, Middlesex County, Ontario.
  Bill Vickers (as his neighbors called him) first taught in Dryden, Ontario. The couple began having children almost immediately, and the young family moved west in 1920,  to Melfort, Saskatchewan, some 60 miles southeast of Prince Albert. Bill taught and was town bandmaster until 1925, when they settled in Prince Albert. There, William became principal of the Connaught School. In 1941 he took over as principal of King George School, a grade school, attended by his children, and held that post till he retired in June 1956. He taught briefly after that at a Bible college in Three Hills, Alberta. He also was throughout his life a lay minister in the Presbyterian and Methodist traditions, which had a profound impact upon his middle son.
Jonathan was the sixth in a brood of eight blondly handsome children. His mother spoke of having two families, because she had a break between her first five children and the last three. In that sense, Jon was also an "oldest" child, with all the dominating aspects of that place in the birth order. Myrle's doctor told the couple that she should have no more children after her fifth was born in December 1922. Twenty-four years old at that time, she was small, four feet ten inches and 92 pounds, and the doctor said, "This young woman's body has had enough, but it's not my decision."
 Sterilization was suggested, but after Myrle and Will, as she and family members called her husband, had talked and prayed, they decided against it. "And the next one was you!" Myrle told Jonathan, bursting into tears, many years later.
Bernice was born in 1928, and Arthur Henry in 1932. Myrle also may have had a miscarriage after Arthur's birth.
The older five were Frances Margaret, William David, known as David, John Wesley, known as Wesley, Albert Harvey, called Ab, and Ruth, the last two born in Melfort. (The family recalled their birth order by the memory device "Margaret Does Well At Reciting Jokes By Aristotle.)
 Bill Vickers was at band practice and Myrle Vickers was alone when Jonathan was born on October, 29, 1926. "It was a very cold wintry night late in October. There was no running water or electricity in the old house, only a well in the backyard," Vickers told John Ardoin. That house was a yellow, two-story frame dwelling, probably at 1135 First Street East.
  Myrle would say she must have had a premonition that (Jon) was going into show business, because of the name she gave him, recalled a close family friend, Jean Anderson Turnbull. "Jonathan, instead of John. It just sounds show-biz." Jonathan would grow to look much like his father, with a wide, strong chin, large-domed forehead, massive hands and stocky build. Both had huge barrel chests and bowed legs.
 He described his father as "a steady, velvet-covered rock" and his mother as "a little bubbling bottle of champagne." They complemented one another to give the family "a magnificently happy home life," he said and despite Bill's firm rule and their slim finances, this seems to have been the case.

 Prince Albert was a city in which religion was important, as can be seen in its heavy vote in favor of Prohibition in 1916. It had been settled in 1866 by a Scots-born Presbyterian missionary from Ontario, who persevered even though he was not well-received by the Cree Indians. Prince Albert's economic future would rest on the area's scenic beauties, and on the lumber and agriculture industries that developed.
The city had serious financial problems even before the 1929 Crash and Great Depression, problems tempered somewhat by the opening in 1928 of the Prince Albert National Park, 35 miles north or the city, a major spur to employment.
So while the Vickers family had sturdy religious support in a setting of outdoor splendor - both strong influences on Jonathan, the Depression years were devastating to the area. Jobless farmworkers flocked to Prince Albert, and  in 1930 work camps were set up in the park. By 1939, the city had just over 11,000 residents. Canada entered World War II that year, and one of several flight training schools was set up in Prince Albert; meanwhile, a number of Mennonite objectors worked in the park. The  city was on the road to growth and economic health.
But the 1930s were difficult for the Vickers family. They moved shortly after Jonathan's fourth birthday, in 1930, and in the depth of the Depression had to move again because they could not afford that home. He says at that time his father went to work for a friend, "not so much to earn extra money as to ensure one less mouth at home to feed."
 Jon was just five in November 1931 when Bill's teaching salary was cut from $254 to $119.54 a month. But he remembered his father's dignity when Bill asked town officials for the right to farm a vacant lot adjoining his home. It became the Vickers vegetable garden: "My older brothers pulled up roots, all the sod was broken by hand," Jon recalled. "I remember the happiness in that family when the harvest came in!"
The lot was one of two adjoining the frame house at 305 19th Street East where Jon grew up. The Vickerses had three-quarters of the roomy two-story duplex, with fireplaces and a long veranda, and finally had modern utilities. The other vacant lot was used as a maple-shaded play yard.
Myrle Vickers was a wonderful woman, recalled Eva Payne Furniss, a Prince Albert native and family neighbor. "She never complained. She was hardworking, and honest as the day was long. She would make all these breads, take huge loaves out of the oven. When she came to shucking peas, she'd do mountains of them (to put up for winter meals). They had a small garden that ran into the next block. ...  
 "And there were no wash machines then. She'd have lines full of clothes." Myrle was very kind in helping those who fell ill in the neighborhood. As one might expect of a hard-working, religious homemaker with no money for luxuries, Myrle never cut her hair, and wore no makeup.
 Jean Turnbull recalled, "I can remember the kids all having their chores. I would go home with Bubs (Bernice) after school and there was always an apple in the pantry. And the children all helped, setting the table and getting the vegetables ready," for dinner.
 Myrle was a fastidious housekeeper, and the home always had to be especially clean for Sundays. On Saturdays, the Vickers children helped scrub and polish and wax the floors, while listening to the afternoon radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, which had begun in 1931.
 Vickers specifically recalled the Feb. 26, 1938 "Aida" at which Giovanni Martinelli became ill and collapsed halfway through Celeste Aida, to be replaced by Frederick Jagel. Young Jon was eleven years old, and that season, he also might have heard Richard Crooks as Des Grieux and Don Ottavio; Melchior doing heavy duty as Siegmund, Lohengrin, Parsifal and Tristan; Martinelli as Otello; and Rene Maison as Don Jose.
 Bill Vickers was a strict man; as Eva Furniss recalled, "he was a school principal. He had to be. It went with the job." On occasion he could become "a little angry" with his own children. A dominant community figure, he expressed himself forcefully at teachers conventions, often on controversial subjects. If these became dinner-table fodder at home, he clearly set an example for his brood.

 William Powell, who went through school with Jon, recalled a winter day when they were in a group riding a homemade plank bobsled, racing dangerously down a hill near the Vickers home toward the railroad tracks, where the road curved. "Jon had difficulty sitting down next day in school. His dad gave him a blistering," although probably using just one big hand. Young Jon actually enjoyed the strictures of his life, but admitted later there were "a couple in the family who really did rebel against it."   The family attended First Baptist Church, where Jon sang as a boy soprano and a sister later ran the Sunday school. Bill, although not ordained, filled in as preacher there, as well as at St. Paul's Presbyterian, particularly when it was between ministers, and other area churches. "He had a tremendous voice, which I suppose he passed on to Jon. A bull voice, he would hold forth at great length," recalled John Victor Hicks,  Prince Albert resident and organist who became an eminent poet.
 Bill kept a daily diary, knelt with his family to say grace at meals, and read the Bible through each year. His favorite biblical book was Revelation, and he loved to talk of things to come as revealed there, perhaps imparting hints of life's mystery to some of his children.
 "My father said the responsibility of a human being was to take whatever talent he has - whether to be a gardener or a president - and do that job to the utmost of his ability. That is the fundamental philosophy of my life," Vickers recalled. "Over and over again he would say, 'You will do with your might what your hands find to do. You will do it to the best of your ability.' He pounded that into our heads; no matter what we did in this pursuit of excellence, we did it for the glory of God. I have never lost that."
 Bill took his family on many preaching jobs, with the Salvation Army, the Plymouth Brethren, and the United Church; the children helped provide music. Bill and Myrle played the piano, and Bill the horn in the city band. Myrle also had a pretty voice. Each child played several instruments and all sang, both solo and in duos, trios, and quartets. Jon played a b-flat cornet. This "poor man's Trapp family", as Vickers later called it, helped raise money for war bonds, for the Red Cross, and was heard on local radio.
 "My first recollection of singing in public was when I was about five years old," said Vickers, then "a curly-haired little fella" who did some radio solos. The family sang at the jail and the Saskatchewan penitentiary. "I supposed it must have sounded pretty funny but we gave pleasure," he recalled. "I have a very clear memory of going into a prison on Mother's Day when I was 6 or 7," and the men whistling at his sisters. "I sang, 'Don't Forget the Promise Made to  Mother,'  and couldn't understand why all the men were bawling."  He also recalled a public Christmas concert in which he sang at age three.
 His two older brothers were in the city band and took music lessons, but he never did, although he did pick up a little piano playing. This, he said, was because his chief interest was singing. "I guess everyone thought of singing as a natural talent; you just opened your mouth and sang." Vickers claimed to have been extremely shy as a child,
although this is not how others recall him. Singing, he said, was a way out of that shyness. But he added years later, "To begin with, I sang because I had to sing. It was part of me ... an absolute necessity, fulfilling some kind of emotional and even perhaps physical need in me."