Memorable Manitobans: Roy Wesley Brown (1906-1985)
Musician, historian, inventor.
Born on a farm near Killarney on 14 November 1906, son of Howard Z. Brown and Frances Readman, he worked as a musician until the 1930s when he contracted tuberculosis and had a prolonged stay at the Ninette Sanatorium to regain his health. There he developed a life-long interest in Manitoba history, fostered by the historical work of Sanatorium Director David Stewart. Afterwards, he resumed his musical work. His Roy Brown’s Orchestra, including four of his brothers, was one of the most popular dance bands on the prairies. During the Second World War he played at Danceland in Clear Lake in the summer and the Imperial Dance Gardens and Esquire Dance Gardens in the winter. In the late 1930s and early ‘40s, the orchestra barnstormed throughout the western provinces.
In 1940, he married Elsie May Wood at Brandon, where he resided for the remainder of his life. They had one son, Roy Wayne Brown.
As the Big Band era ended, Brown moved into the television age as producer of the “Roy Brown Variety Show”, the first live production of CKX-TV in Brandon. He also took work as Managing Director of the International Highway Association. In 1969, he was hired as Assistant Manager of the Brandon Chamber of Commerce and given the responsibilty to organize Brandon’s celebrations for Manitoba’s centennial year in 1970. Later, he was Executive Director of the Westman Branch of the Tourist and Convention Association of Manitoba. He helped to establish the Assiniboine Historical Society, the Grand Valley Days Pageant, and the Fort Brandon Museum Committee. In 1971, he was given a Golden Boy Award for his community work.
He wrote three books on Manitoba history. His The Fort Brandon Story (1974) traced the origins of the City of Brandon. Steamboats on the Assiniboine (1981) was based on his studies of the steamboat era in Manitoba, including his discovery of the remains of the SS Alpha in the Assiniboine River. Danceland’s Big Band Years (1983) was based on his musical experiences playing at Danceland, the dance pavilion at Clear Lake. He won two Margaret McWilliams awards for his historical writing.
In 1975, he composed the lyrics and music for the song “Garden of Peace” for a dedication ceremony at the International Peace Garden. Three years later, he wrote “Manitoba Has the Best of Ev’rything” for the Canada Games held in Brandon that year. His “How I hate to say goodbye” won a songwriting contest and was featured in a Hollywood movie. In 1982, he wrote “We’re Proud of Brandon: An Anniversary Song” for Brandon’s centennial celebrations.
Brown was also an active inventor. His most notable invention was the “Rockorol” baby chair sold throughout Canada and the USA, a sample of which the Manitoba government sent to Buckingham Palace in celebration of the birth of Prince Charles. Brown received the Ralph Nader Award for his invention of the “Pre-Vent”. This device helped to stop snow from entering the defrost system of automobiles (at a time when vents were on top of the hood), frosting up the inside of windows and causing accidents. Samples of his inventions, along with an unpublished autobiography and other documents, are held at Daly House Museum.
Roy Brown died at Brandon on 11 March 1985 and was buried in the Rosewood Cemetery west of the city.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
Roy Brown and his Orchestra
Rockorol baby chair invented by Roy Brown
Birth registration, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
“Six receive Good Citizenship Awards,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 October 1971.
“Brown’s sound will be remembered,” Winnipeg Free Press, 8 November 1980, page 43.
Steamboats on the Assiniboine by Roy Brown, 1981. [reprinted 2007 by Daly House Museum]
Obituary, Brandon Sun, 14 March 1985, page 19.
We thank Owen Clark and Roy Wayne Brown for providing information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 18 October 2015
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