The first Variety Club Show of Hearts Telethon in 1966 raised $69,000. Since then the yearly fundraiser has now raised over $189 million dollars.
The first Variety Club Show of Hearts Telethon in 1966 raised $69,000. Since then the yearly fundraiser has now raised over $189 million dollars.

After fifteen years of pre-recorded entertainment, Variety The Children’s Charity returns to its roots with live shows to celebrate the golden anniversary of its Show of Hearts Telethon on February 13 and 14.

Broadcasting live from Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre until 2000, the charity that raises funds for B.C. children with special needs, changed its format to pre-taped entertainment as a matter of economics.

“Being a charity you want to keep expenses down and we found that we couldn’t afford to do the live shows at the Queen Elizabeth anymore,” says long-time volunteer and Variety Club past-president Barbara Stewart.

With this year’s Show of Hearts Telethon marking its 50th anniversary, organizers have planned a reunion of many of those that have been involved in the telethon over its five decades. The celebration will take place at both Coquitlam’s Hard Rock Casino, and The Centre in downtown Vancouver.

“Variety looks after kids with special needs from birth to age nineteen, so you become very involved in their lives and watch them grow up,” says Stewart. “With our fiftieth it will bring many of those children back, which is very exciting.”

In addition to looking back at the children and families it has helped, this year’s telethon will also feature an eclectic line-up of Canadian entertainment at two concerts at The Centre. Many of those performing have been part of the fundraiser for years, including Vancouver blues musician, Jim Byrnes.

Vancouver blues musician Jim Byrnes has been part of the Show of Hearts Telethon for 35 years and headlines the February 14 concert at The Centre.
Vancouver blues musician Jim Byrnes has been part of the Show of Hearts Telethon for 35 years and headlines the February 14 concert at The Centre.

“The first telethon I did was back in 1978,” says Byrnes. “I’ve missed a couple of years while I was touring on the road or was sick, but I’ve done 35 or those 38 years.”

Like many of those involved year-after-year, Byrnes not only sees it as an opportunity to give back to a charity that are good stewards of the funds they collect, but also in recognition of what that money does in the community.

“I have a disability myself,” says Byrnes who lost both of his legs in a car accident in 1972. “I know how one second or one tiny moment in your life can change everything. I know what an individual goes through and what it can put a family through. The costs can be enormous, and the work Variety does in helping children and their families is very important.”

Citing a sense of family that has developed with so many volunteers and entertainers returning each year, Byrnes is especially excited that the telethon will once again showcase live entertainment.

“I remember back in the days at the Q.E. when we did all-nighters, there were some crazy people coming in at two o’clock in the morning,” he says with a laugh. “I’m really excited to get back on stage and raise some money. Live performances are at root of what I love to, and to do the live performances again, raising money for a charity like Variety is just wonderful.”

Hosted by ET Canada’s Erin Cebula, Byrnes will be joined at The Centre by the likes of Vancouver rockers 54-40, Shari Ulrich, Barney Bentall and Chilliwack over the two nights. They join a large contingent of musicians and celebrities that have participated in past telethons including the likes of Ray Charles, Bryan Adams, Michael Buble, and Michael J Fox.

Also returning, for what is said to be his final appearance after nearly forty years on the telethon, is singer and actor Bob McGrath. Best known for his 46-year career on Sesame Street, McGrath has becoming synonymous with the Show of Hearts, and became a personal friend to Byrnes after working together on the telethon.

“I remember Saturday mornings with Bob and the kids was always such a special time,” says Byrnes. “You’d bring out some of the kids with their families, and that was such a special moment that stays with you.”

As both Byrnes and Stewart say, the Variety Show of Hearts Telethon really is about the kids. Having raised over $189 million since its inception in 1966, the telethon has helped ensure Variety – The Children’s Charity is able to provide direct help to countless British Columbia children with special needs.

The Variety Show of Hearts Telethon will be broadcast live on Global BC on February 13 and 14 from the Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam.

The two concerts will be held both days at The Centre in Vancouver (Feb 13 at 7pm and Feb 14 at 2:30pm). Tickets for both concerts are now available by donation, with net proceeds benefiting Variety.

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