On this day in 1972, Edmonton polka master Gaby Haas was releasing an album, another addition to a discography that would make him one of Canada's most recorded musicians.
Haas and his family fled to Canada in 1939 to escape the threat of war looming over Czechoslovakia. When he arrived in Saskatchewan, it was with "little more than his lederhosen, a little Czech accordion and 20 78 rpm records," the Edmonton Journal would later recall.
Haas had grown up with a love of music and words — he was trained in classical music, played the violin, piano, and accordion, and spoke six languages. It wasn't long after arriving that Haas was playing his accordion at dances and on local radio. When the family moved to Edmonton a year later, he reached larger audiences, joining the King's Gloom Chasers band and becoming a regular fixture on CKUA radio.
It was a start of a record-breaking career with the radio station. After the end of the war, Haas began hosting a handful of shows that highlighted his boundless knowledge and passion for the music of continental Europe. He started with The German Show and The Sourdoughs, both of which would have long runs. But it was Continental Musicale, the weekly show where Haas would play his accordion and old-time records from Europe, that he is best known for. It would start in 1946 and run for more than 40 years — making it, at the time, the world's longest-running radio show in the same time slot with the same host.
Haas found that audiences were thirsty for music from Europe, but he had trouble finding record stores to import it. So he started his own. The European Music Shop on 97 Street would import tens of thousands of records over the next 25 years.
In addition to being a record-store owner and radio host, Haas was a prolific musician, Haas recording 50 albums and 60 singles, in addition to playing more than 12,000 dances, earning him the nickname of Canada's Mr. Polka. He frequently appeared on television and radio, and would later host TV music shows for both CFRN and QCTV.
Haas was diagnosed with brain cancer and saw his health decline through the 1980s. In 1987, he signed off from Continental Musicale for the last time. That same year, he was inducted into Edmonton's Arts and Culture Hall of Fame and was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alberta Recording Industry Association. Less than a year later, Haas passed away. The city named a park in Highlands after him in 2003.
Want to hear the man in action? Rev Recluse, whose blog inspires this column every week, shared a recording of the Edmonton Polka by Gaby Haas and His Barndance Gang on the Vintage Edmonton Podcast.
This is based on a clipping found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse — follow @VintageEdmonton for daily ephemera via Twitter.