At this year’s SOCAN Awards, 24 visionaries will be recognized for the roles they played in boosting made-in-Canada content nationally and internationally.

Fifty years ago, they understood the need to protect and amplify Canadian music, giving rise to CanCon. These trailblazers will be awarded the SOCAN Guardian Award for their efforts in preserving and boosting Canadian culture.

The SOCAN Guardian Award was created to pay homage for the service of these proud thought leaders, whose original efforts have had direct impact on more Canadian music creators than ever gaining national and worldwide stature.

As the Baby Boom generation came of age, young Canadian artists dreamed of joining the global musical and cultural revolution, but home-grown music was considered inferior to the foreign records that dominated the charts. For Canadian artists, the doors to Canadian radio and television were essentially locked. They were forced to make a choice between abandoning their dreams or leaving the country.

The situation was so bad that, in 1965, in a desperate attempt to get radio play of their single “Shakin’ All Over,” Winnipeg’s Chad Allen and The Expressions hid their Canadian identity by changing their name to The Guess Who, daring disc jockeys to figure out who they were. Not realizing they were Canadian, the DJs played the record and made it a hit, but assumed the pseudonym was real. To sustain visibility, the band kept their new name.

By Canada’s centennial in 1967, a chorus of music industry voices harmonized with a group of strong-willed entrepreneurs, journalists, and artists who refused to believe that Canadian creators were second-class. Together, they stood up and called on the federal government to mandate fair airplay of Canadian music.

Not everyone was happy with the idea of quotas for Canadian music, with some even questioning if Canada had enough talent to meet the proposed quota. Others wondered if there was even a Canadian culture to protect. One foreign record industry spokesman was attributed as saying, “a single container of yogurt has more culture than the entire country of Canada”.

In June 1970, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) declared a new regulation that required radio stations to devote at least 30 per cent of their playlists to Canadian music, and CanCon was born. Now, in today’s online world, the role of CanCon and the CRTC is again in the spotlight.

“CanCon regulations created space for Canadians in broadcast media, but in the new digital streaming world, it’s déjà vu all over again,” said SOCAN Interim CEO, Jennifer Brown. “SOCAN’s data shows that the future of Canadian culture is once again in jeopardy as the consumption of streamed Canadian music by Canadians has fallen off a cliff. It’s clear that we need the music industry to unite once again to fight for the future of Canadian music, this time working with our partners in digital services to find a solution that works for everyone.”

SOCAN Awards, 2021, Justin Trudeau“Investing in Canadian content is not only a smart thing to do for our economy, but it also has a personal connection for me,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a special video message for the SOCAN Awards. “I learned the importance of promoting and supporting Canadian content in large part from my father. My dad always knew that broadcasting Canadian content was important to maintaining and promoting our country’s unique culture and heritage. Together, we will build on this legacy and create a better future for our creators.”

Accessing music is easier and more prevalent than ever, but being introduced to new Canadian creators has lagged. The discoverability advantages that CanCon brings to radio and television has not carried over to borderless digital streaming platforms. Networks that have disproportionate control of the content introduced to their customers have little motivation to introduce regional creators to their customers. Once again, many Canadian artists are faced with bypassing their home country to have their work heard.

The 2021 SOCAN Awards will be the second year that the annual event will be held online due to pandemic safeguards. During the week of May 24, more than 50 SOCAN awards will be presented to the year’s most successful music creators and publishers, in an event that’s often cited as a crowning achievement in the careers of songwriters, composers, and music publishers.

Sadly, many of the CanCon Guardians have passed on, but their legacies remain through their profound efforts to promote and protect Canadian culture. The following list was determined through research and interviews with those involved at the time.

CanCon Guardians (alphabetical)

  • Terry Brown, Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder
  • Paul Clinch, Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder*
  • Frank Davies, Love Productions / Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder
  • Don DiNovo, Lighthouse*
  • Bob Ezrin, Nimbus 9 / Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder
  • Bernie Finkelstein, True North Records / Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder
  • Tommy Graham, Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder
  • Walt Grealis, RPM Magazine*
  • Greg Hambleton, Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder
  • Kelly Jay, Crowbar*
  • Pierre Juneau, CRTC chairman*
  • Stan Klees, RPM Magazine / Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder
  • Betty Layton, SOCAN / BMI Canada*
  • Allan MacMillan, Nimbus 9 / Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder
  • Alexander Mair, Early Morning Productions
  • Ben McPeek, Nimbus 9 / Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder*
  • John Mills, SOCAN / CAPAC*
  • Harold Moon, SOCAN / BMI Canada*
  • Skip Prokop, Lighthouse*
  • Jack Richardson, Nimbus 9 / Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder*
  • Mel Shaw, music manager
  • Art Snider, Canadian Independent Record Production Association co-founder*
  • Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada*
  • Ritchie Yorke, Billboard / The Globe & Mail journalist*

* posthumously awarded