CBC Digital Archives

Concert in Toronto raises money for victims of 1950 Manitoba flood

Floods, famine, fire and drought — when disaster strikes at home and around the world, Canadians are ready to help. For musicians and actors, helping often means organizing large relief concerts. These shows are great entertainment and have raised millions of dollars. But at times, critics have questioned the long-term benefit of these extravaganzas. CBC Archives looks back at some of Canada's disaster relief concerts.

May 1950: Winnipeg is a city under siege from rising floodwaters. About 100,000 residents have evacuated the city and the cresting Red River has damaged over 10,000 homes. But the crisis isn't over when the water subsides. Manitobans need help to rebuild, and that's where variety show Flood the Fund steps in. On May 26, 1950, CBC Radio broadcasts the concert from Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens to raise money for the Manitoba Flood Relief Fund.

Flood the Fund features Canadian, American and British actors, singers and musicians before an appreciative live audience. Musical performances by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, comic George Formby, Fred Waring and his orchestra, and the Leslie Bell Singers are punctuated by appeals for funds. In this clip, Manitoba-born film actor Jack Carson arrives to perform as emcee after a harried flight from New York, and singer Gisèle Laflèche addresses Manitobans in French. 
• The Manitoba flood of 1950 happened due to a specific combination of circumstances. Wet conditions the previous three summers left the ground saturated with water, and the winter of 1950 was extra cold, leaving a thick layer of ice on the rivers. With a cold spring and sudden thaw, towns all along the Red River -- through Minnesota, North Dakota and into Manitoba -- were deluged.

• The river crested on May 13, 1950. Half of the city of Winnipeg was under water.
• By May 25, cleanup had begun. Damages were estimated at $100 million ($855 million in 2004 dollars). The death toll was just one: a man who drowned when water rushed into his basement after the near-simultaneous failure of a nearby dike and his basement pump.

• The Flood the Fund variety show was a 90-minute program hosted by CBC hockey announcer Foster Hewitt. In between musical performances, actors Jack Scott, John Drainie and Beth Lockerbie read accounts of the damage wrought by flooding and asked listeners to send money to the relief fund.

• Jack Carson, the Hollywood character actor heard in this clip, was born in Carman, Man., in 1910. During his 25-year career, from 1937 to 1962, he had roles in nearly 100 films, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Mildred Pierce. In 1954-55 he hosted The Jack Carson Show on NBC-TV in the United States.

• Gisèle Laflèche, later known as Gisèle MacKenzie, was a Winnipeg-born vocalist and violinist. She became a regular on TV's The Jack Benny Show and Your Hit Parade before hosting her own variety show for a season in 1957-58. As a singer she had a number 1 hit with Hard to Get and released several other singles and albums.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: May 26, 1950
Host: Jack Carson
Performer: Gisèle Laflèche
Duration: 6:05

Last updated: August 13, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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