Tribute to Chris Dafeff
Holiday Inn, Wynford Drive Sunday October 21st,
Edited version of an original biography by John
On September 7, 1894, in the Macedonian town of Radovish,
a son was born to the poor meat-peddler Daffe Antonoff and his wife
Gona. They named him Christo and as he was always called Christo
Dafeff (Daffe's Christo) that became his name in after years.
Christo was a sickly but talented child. At six he started school
and was an exceptionally good student, but was forced to stop school
because of his health ... Young Christo couldn't take his studies
easily, he was too intense.
At seven he started to play the flute-. His father couldn't afford
a musical instrument, so Christo "borrowed" 15 Turkish
coptseta from his father's meagre store and went into partnership
with a neighbour's boy, who also put in 15 coptseta, to buy a mandolin.
One week, Christo had it, the next his partner.
One day his mother sent the boy up to the attic to fetch something.
There, among things left in storage by an uncle who had gone to
Canada, Christo found a violin! He tuned it. He drew the bow. And,
in that dusty attic, his errand forgotten, on his first try Daffe's
Christo played a popular Macedonian air.
There were no two ways about it. Music was his vocation. Poor as
they were, his parents determined to do what they could to help
Fortune smiled. Two brothers who entertained in a local saloon took
lodgings in Daffe's home. From them the lad took his first music
lessons - some theory, notes, chords.
When his father died, Christo took his place in the butcher business,
but he couldn't make a living at it.
War was nearing in 1912. Christo was almost eighteen.
He would be conscripted into the Turkish army so decided to escape
In October 1912, the frail teen-age Macedonian landed at Quebec.
The immigration authorities refused entry to the sickly-looking
lad. What Canada needed was broad backs, muscled arms, not weaklings
with music on the brain.
There was a Macedonian who spoke English at the dock.
He went with Christo to the officials, pleaded with them - and they
finally gave way. Christo entrained for Toronto. He couldn't speak
English. Often he lost his way and wandered about the streets. Nobody
offered any help. It was a cold country to the immigrants at first.
His first job was in a brush factory. The pay was 85 cents a day.
He managed to buy a violin for $4.00 (and later acquired a cheap
mandolin) before he quit and started going to night school, to learn
The next job paid better - $1.25 per day. It was in a sheet metal
plant. The work was killing, but what was worse was the brutality.
Nine out of ten workers in this plant had their hands mutilated
- and to a musician the hand is everything. So Chris left to work
in a meat packing plant.
At this time he gathered a group of Macedonians about him, they
established a little dramatic circle and held cultural evenings.
At last Chris Dafeff could afford music lessons. He became a violin
pupil of the French teacher, Georges Vignette.
But Chris was put to work on sausage casings, his hands
in the animal guts all day long. Running sores forced him to give
up his lessons for the time being.
After a stint in the blacksmith shop of the Massey-Harris plant,
he got a job in a glass factory. The work affected his lungs and
the doctor told him to get an outdoor job. He did - building a golf
course, along with a crew of Macedonians from Radovish . The hand
that was so sure with the bow slipped with the axe and he cut his
foot badly. His partner carried him two miles on his back to the
Then came digging ditches, laying sewers, building highways. In
Ingersoll, he laid the cobbles on the town's streets. But the work
was ruining his hands.
When he began to play his violin one evening and saw blood trickling
from his fingers down the strings, he knew that he must either give
up his dreams of becoming a musician or risk his health by getting
indoor work. So he got a job in a cloak factory.
It was in 1918 that Chris Dafeff helped to organize the Macedonian
Education Club, where he built up and led the choir.
This time Chris Dafeff launched his career as a professional musician.
He started his first Macedonian choir from mass singing in restaurants.
They were invited to appear at concerts of other groups, such as
the Ukrainians. Chris began to give private lessons earning enough
to keep alive and even to study elocution, conducting, arranging
pieces for strings, etc.
Then in 1922, the Ukrainians asked him to become their music instructor
in West Toronto. His life's work was opening out before him - the
linking of his musical career with the building of the Slavic people's
organizations and the labor movement in Canada.
A story could be written about those years in West Toronto, where
Chris taught first the children's orchestra (they were tots practically)
and later the choir - the rickety premises with broken stairs and
warped floors, the gas lights that went out every ten or fifteen
minutes, the heatless winters ("the kids practically had to
wear mittens to play their mandolins!"), the heart-breaking,
heartwarming years ....
They bore fruit. The tots grew up and they could play. Their first
tour of the towns in Ontario was a mighty triumph. Nobody was prouder
than Chris Dafeff.
Chris taught Ukrainian, Russian, Jewish and Czechoslovak orchestras
and choirs; he gave concerts for the Polish people, and he never
neglected his own, the Macedonian folk. He gave private lessons.
He married and Sika took care of him. And he never stopped working.
Sika! No story of Chris can be told without Sika. With what devotion
she enabled his contribution to become still stronger. She pasted,
filed and kept track of all the chorus music and books. She attended
all orchestra and choir rehearsals and sang herself in all Chris's
choirs (regardless of language). She kept Chris on his tight schedule
especially on Sundays when half a dozen rehearsals at as many halls
were not at all unusual. What's more, when Chris, who could not
say no, got into difficulty with still more demands on his time
from various groups, Sika would sort matters out. And there was
Chris was virtually helpless in driving anywhere beyond the most
familiar places, so Sika became the trusty navigator.
His dream was coming true - the humble beginnings in damp and freezing
cellars with wee kiddies blossomed into a grand pageant of hundreds
of accomplished singers and musicians performing for tens of thousands
"We dug it out, from the ditches and factories, from poverty
and darkness, we dug out the gold nuggets of talent, of performance,
of music for the people, by the people," Chris said.
Already a graduate of the Canadian College of Music, Dafeff applied
to enter the Toronto Conservatory of Music. There was no answer
for a time. Then in 1940, Sir Ernest MacMillan called Chris Dafeff.
He looked through the scrapbook enumerating the outstanding concerts
Dafeff had conducted, the praises of the critics, the medals, prizes,
and scholarships won by his pupils. Sir Ernest read them all carefully.
"It is an honour to the Conservatory to accept you to membership,"
he said and bowed to the Macedonian Canadian worker-musician.
Soon afterwards, Chris Dafeff was conducting a great concert in
the largest hall in Canada, the Maple Leaf Gardens.
It would take too long to enumerate his pupils who have won a name
for themselves on the stage and over the air - and teaching others.
But greater than what he did for individuals is what he has done
for our people as a whole.
"At first we had to adapt our music to the level of organization,
to the needs of the audience," he said, during the postwar
years. "Then we lifted the level, step by step, both of the
performers and the audiences. Today our level is practically professional."
Chris Dafeff has given all his years to the workers, to their organizations,
to the people. He has won love and respect no musical figure in
Canada can surpass. In bringing beauty from the lands of our origins
and self-respect into the lives of so many of us, he has woven a
large share of the Canadian dream of what this country can be.
THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE WERE PART OF THE TRIBUTE
TO CHRIS DAFEFF
MASTER OF CEREMONIES
BALKAN ECHO CHOIR
Mary & Peter Kondoff
Virginia & Tom Stoymenoff
Violet & Raymond Wells
Virginia & Tom Yaneff