Memories of the Early Years (1950's)
by Elvira (Vera) McKinnon
During the mid-fifties, five courageous young men from Austria and Germany got together and founded a "Schuhplattler - Gruppe" right here in Calgary. They called the group the "Austrian - Bavarian Folk Dancing Group". Four of the young men were "Plattlers", the other was a very talented accordion player. They were Walter Egger, the Vorplattler, Hugo Hoellwarth, Peter Till, Vic La Vica and Max Rieberer, the accordion player.
They introduced the ancient art of Schuhplatteln to the city of Calgary, a dance performed by clapping hands and slapping legs, thighs, and shoes to the rhythm of the old and happy tunes associated with this dance, played on the accordion. They performed locally here and there, but felt they needed a little beauty in the group. Therefore in 1956 they asked Roswitha Galland, Hedi Hoellwarth, and the three Voelzke sisters Ingrid, Elvira, and Sigrid to join the group. By this time more musicians had joined the group, namely: Rudl, Freddy, and Julius, who, together with Max, were quite a band!
Now the fun really began. The group entertained at private or civic functions, conventions, and parties for Canadian audiences. The Calgary Herald and numerous other Alberta newspapers covered the outlandish dancing and the reviews were outstanding. In 1957 the group had their own float in the Calgary Stampede Parade, and the members really out did themselves. In the next few years more ladies and boys joined the group and some left.
The Schuhplattler Group took part in the official opening of the Gasthaus in July of 1965, and the Gasthaus' reputation for good Austrian-Bavarian food grew along with the Schuhplattler's fame. One night, while chopping away at the tree during the Holzhacker Dance, the wood chips were flying right into the audience and landed in a ladies' cleavage which caused quite a commotion, especially when a dancer went to retrieve it.
Sometimes it was hard for the Schuhplattler Group to please all the people at all times, as there were occasions when they were asked to perform at two different places on the same evening. Somehow they managed, shuffling the entertainers and musicians from the Gasthaus to the Petroleum Club, back and forth, with respective intermissions announced at the location where they weren't. The old joke about ten people fitting into a Volkswagen certainly came true here, and it was the middle of the winter with sub-zero temperatures and icy roads.
The group became well known throughout Alberta. A performance for Channel 2 television was most exciting. There were numerous trips to Banff and Lake Louise made on the old Banff Highway in severe weather conditions, but if anybody felt like grumbling, they kept it to themselves.
The group made all their own costumes, since funds to buy outfits form Germany and Austria were not available. Lots of sewing and knitting was required to keep everyone reasonably well attired, and the costumes improved with practice.
Whenever the Plattlers needed a rest, Elvira (Vera) and Vic La Vica were there with their singing and Vic's charm and jokes, providing a break. Vic was the M.C. for the first years. He could capture an audience with his wit and talent every time. In later years, the group put on their own dances, performed skits. When Ann Stollbert joined the group in 1960, Vera and Ann had plenty of opportunities to delight audiences with their harmonized singing and yodelling for about twelve years. To please the English speaking audience, Ingrid, Vera's sister, created English lyrics for the many old German and Austrian fold songs they performed.
The entertainment even included eight of the group's ladies in tight lederhosen performing the men's Schuhplattler to the delight of the audience at the Danish Canadian Club, and it was said that they were, "just as good as the boys.". The group also served Wurstchen and Sauerkraut at their functions, and since they prepared the food themselves, they had no trouble selling their tasty offerings, and served the refreshments as well. By this time the group doubled in members. In 1969 the group folded for a while for all the girls to get married and have children.
The Schuhplattler spirit would not die, and Leo, Bert, and Herman started the group up again in the fall of 1969 as the official Gasthaus Schuhplattlers.
That same year Ann and Vera together with Heinz Schmidt joined the boys again with their singing and yodelling. Heinz Schmidt was their manager and M.C. This small group entertained around Calgary and Red Deer at Folk Festivals and Conventions. They started the idea of celebrating Octoberfest in Calgary at the Stampede Corral. They also performed at the Hays breakfast at Stampede time.
Later, when Ushi, Max and Freddy Bender joined the group, they became the Edelweiss Singers and Dancers. They managed to persuade Max Rieberer to play the accordion once again for the dancers, once he saw the mini dirndl and the go-go boots the girls wore!
Octoberfest and Winzerfest at the Gasthaus became a tradition. Since then many clubs and organizations in Calgary, and other towns and cities in Alberta and British Columbia wanted an Octoberfest with Schuhplattler-Yodellers. Another, such, who had been taught by Freddy Bender, joined the group and now there were four singers and yodellers. The Plattlers danced up a storm and the yodellers sang their hearts out. The group always came up with original ideas to make any Octoberfest memorable. Role reversals were always popular with the audience, boys dressing in dirndls and girls dressing in lederhosen, and laughter and gladness were spread consistently, wherever performances were put on. Audiences delighted in joining the performers in sing-alongs and table-top schunkeln.
With all the name changes the group had over the last 40 years, to the fans and the public they were always the "Schuhplattlers".