Skip to content

Canadian icon cleans up at Algoma Fall Festival

Fred Penner entertained Saultites at the festival in 1984
Fred Penner Picture
Saultite Danno O'Shea and Fred Penner after a show they performed together

The Algoma Fall Festival has been a staple of our community since 1972. It brings inhabitants together to enjoy all that entertains us, including food, art exhibitions, dance, and musical acts of all kinds.

Picture this. You enter White Pines Collegiate and Vocational School, go to the auditorium and settle into your seat.

When eventually, there enters stage left, a custodian cleaning the stage as if preparing for the show to come. As he does so, he croons a classical number as though nobody is there, which leaves the crowd in amazement and awe.

When the custodian turns around it becomes clear that the man in question is none other than the Canadian icon himself, Fred Penner!

The beloved performer had the audience engaged and engrossed from the start of the show, filling the auditorium with sounds of what we would call amusement and people having a jolly good time.

The relationship that Penner was able to build with children of all ages, adults included, was unprecedented. A part of this was his desire to have audience involvement throughout the performance, including getting a young member of the crowd to help get him out of the custodian uniform to reveal the more whimsical attire for which Penner is known.

As the Juno award-winning artist sang, he required the audience’s imagination to run wild. Whether it be wondering what instrument he was pulling out of his battered suitcase, to picture a scene, or nabbing a ‘scare’ from the air above them, he had the crowd enthralled.

Fred Penner certainly had a manner about him that made the audience feel like he was a beloved member of the family. Through the power of song, whether it be an original or otherwise, Penner had the ability to tap into emotions that everyone innately has within them.

Occasionally, this ability moved the audience to require tissues, other times be filled with joy and happiness. But what makes this Canadian icon so special, is that he cared for whomever he had the opportunity to entertain, and it was evident by the audience response and engagement.

Needless to say, the 1984 installment of the annual festival had one performer have a half-filled auditorium ‘in his hands' as he sang about a ‘cat that kept coming back’.

Originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Fred had proven himself as a versatile musician and entertainer. Penner had sung as part of an ensemble, a member of a musical group, and performed as a part of a theatrical production. Being likened to “your favourite uncle’, Penner started working with children, using music as a way to interact, connect, and entertain.

Thankfully this Canadian legend is still actively performing and entertaining people today at the age of 73. Case in point, the picture provided is one taken by Sault Ste. Marie native, Danno O’Shea after a show where they performed together.