Fonds RBSC-ARC-1178 - John Emerson fonds

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John Emerson fonds

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the provenance of the fonds.

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60 cm of textual material.
1 photograph.
2 audio discs.

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Name of creator


Biographical history

John Emerson (b. March 13, 1911 - d. May 2, 1968) was a Canadian musician, arranger, actor, and radio/television host. The son of a lawyer with strong musical interests (after the First World War, the family home became the impetus for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra), he was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C. Emerson attended Lord Roberts Grade School, King George High School, and then the University of British Columbia, where he was an actor with the University Players' Club. As a young violinist he won a gold medal in the B.C. Music Festival, but switched instruments and from his late teens onward he was known as a popular pianist and musical arranger. Emerson was also an actor and a radio personality. In the 1930s he hosted a radio series on Vancouver radio station CJOR and worked on CNR Alaska cruise ships. During the 1950s and early 1960s he hosted several radio programs on CBC Vancouver and the Transcanada Network, including “Emerson Presents,” “Emerson's Digest,” “Emerson's Weekly,” and “Emerson's Noon.” He also wrote and performed in numerous radio plays, and from 1954 to 1956 staged popular 'capsule musicals' at Vancouver's Arctic Club. He hosted the early (1959) CBC television variety show, “John Emerson Presents,” and promoted local talent, among others the singer Mimi Hines, who he is credited with discovering at the age of thirteen in East Vancouver. In 1956 he married Mary McLeod of Vancouver, and their son Jean was born in 1957. Emerson was musical director of the productions “Salad Days” (1963) and “The Fantasticks” (1964) at U.B.C.’s Freddy Wood Theatre. In 1964 illness forced his retirement; he died in 1968. Following his death, an annual scholarship in his name was established by the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), honoring his 'help to his fellow man'.

Custodial history

Items in the fonds were created or accumulated by John Emerson. The material was donated in June 1990 to the University of British Columbia by his widow, Mary Emerson.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of material related to Emerson's career in radio and to his involvement in Canadian (Vancouver) radio and musical theatre, principally during the 1950s and early 1960s. It includes scripts and notes for various radio programs which Emerson hosted and in which he was involved. The fonds also includes musical scores, programmes, manuscripts, and lyrics from his musical theatre work; newspaper and magazine clippings of reviews and articles making mention of Emerson and his acquaintances; and miscellaneous non-textual materials including a photograph and two 45 rpm audio discs.

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It is unknown whether the arrangement of the fonds reflects John Emerson’s original order, or whether it was arranged before or upon its arrival at UBC Rare Books and Special Collections.

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Finding aids

Inventory and file list are available.

Associated materials

Other records of John Emerson can be found at the City of Vancouver Archives and the Royal B.C. Museum and Archives.

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No further accruals are expected.

General note

In December 2009 the fonds was re-described and a new RAD-compliant finding aid was produced to update the original finding aid created by Larissa Parker in June 1991. No changes were made to the arrangement of the fonds during re-description.

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