John Avison (1915-1983)

John Avison

Year Born: 1915

Year Died: 1983


Avison, John (1915-1983)

John Henry Patrick Avison was born in Vancouver and while young became a talented piano soloist and accompanist. With the advent of radio broadcasting, he became well known to listeners to pioneer broadcasters CKMO Victoria, and Vancouver stations CJOR, CKWX and especially CNRV, which had been founded in 1925 by Canadian National Railways.

The CNR was adapting its telegraph lines across Canada to connect a network of stations to carry the dramatic and musical programs already being produced in the east. As with the last spike in the railroad, Vancouver was the last major city to be connected. Thus, until December 1928, CNRV employed more Vancouver talent than it would have done as part of the network.

When the CNR radio operations were closed down by Parliament and the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC) bought the CNR stations (CNRV became CRCV) in 1933 and leased the lines for its fledgling network, John Avison and his contemporaries soon came to be recognized all the way to Halifax.

His career really took off in 1938 when the CBC succeeded the CRBC. That was the year John was appointed to the position of founding director of the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, which he continued to conduct as the name was changed first to the CBC Vancouver Orchestra and then to the CBC Radio Orchestra. It was to survive long after other famous broadcasting orchestras in North American were discontinued.

John was principal conductor of the orchestra until 1980 when he was succeeded by John Eliot Gardiner. Under John Avison’s guidance, the orchestra recorded more than 20 albums and boosted Canadian music by performing many new works by Canadian musicians and composers at the same time as the CBC was proving to be the major sponsor of Canadian drama and writing.

There is a story that John was conducting his orchestra live in a national broadcast when he reached too high and a ceiling fan cut off the tip of a finger. A consummate broadcaster as well as musician, he continued to conduct until the top of the hour, when he fainted.

When he was appointed a member of the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame, he was honoured with a plaque in its Starwalk at the Orpheum embedded in the pavement along Vancouver’s Granville Mall. He was also remembered with the CBC’s annual Avison Series presented as three concerts each fall.

In 1978 he was awarded the Order of Canada.

John Avison died November30, 1983 at age 69.

Written by Jerry Fairbridge – April, 2003