Peter Gargus was born to be a musician.
The seventh of 14 children, Peter was born on June 3, 1922 to Frank and Michalyna Gargus of Wostok, Alberta. He had a passion for music from very young. At 10 years of age, he started playing the drums in the Gargus brothers family band, and switched to playing the violin at the age of 12. For many of his teenage years, he and his brothers played at weddings, dances, parties throughout the Wostok, St. Michael, Andrew, Lamont area.
At age 21, he was conscripted to serve in the Royal Canadian Army and was stationed in Victoria, Calgary and Halifax. Along with his army duties, he joined the military band and learned to play the trumpet and read sheet music. In 1945, Peter’s regiment, Princess Patricia’s 27th Light Infantry Artillery Core was moved to Halifax, where they awaited the order to go overseas. Then word came that the war was over. As the country celebrated, the army band offered Peter a chance to stay on as a full-time musician, but he was needed on the farm and he went back home to Alberta.
In 1947, Peter married Elizabeth Hryniw at St. Michael, Alberta. They had four sons (Charlie, Dwayne, Mel, Chris) and two daughters (Marilyn, Berenice). Peter was a farmer for 27 years in St. Michael, Alberta. He moved his family to Edmonton in 1974. He worked as a finishing carpenter for Nu-West Homes and was very proud of the Quality Service Award that he received for his work with them.
For 24 years, Peter played in various bands with many talented musicians from the Lamont, Skaro, Andrew, and St. Michael area (Peter Malowany, Bill Holyk, Peter Achtemychuk, Peter Guglich, Orest Mendiuk, Leonard Tychkowsky, Mike Gargus, Marvin Luchka, John Kobasiuk, Dan Lopushinsky). In 1956 he formed his own band, called Peter Gargus & The Swingsters. He was very proud that his children (Charlie, Dwayne, Mel, Chris, Berenice, and also his grandson, Jarod) played with him on stage. Serge Lopushinsky, a very talented musician, shared the stage with Peter for many years as did Warren Sembaliuk.
Peter was a versatile musician.
Not only did he excel at the violin, but he also could play the drums, trumpet, saxophone, banjo, and cymbala (dulcimer). He often created new arrangements of traditional tunes, adding fourth and fifth parts to make the songs more interesting and lively. He composed a few of his own songs. He was known for his fast polka. The Swingsters were very popular because they had universal appeal playing Ukrainian waltzes, polkas, fox trots, shotisshes, country music and rock ‘n roll. The Swingsters played for 42 years and recorded four LP records, cassettes and CD’s for our continued listening pleasure.
In October, 1998 Peter Gargus and The Swingsters officially retired from playing on stage. In that year, Peter was honoured for his dedication to music when he was inducted into the Alberta Ukrainian Music Hall of Fame in Vegreville, Alberta by R. J. Tompkins.
During his retirement, Peter continued to play his violin - music was his passion. He loved to tinker with repairing, tuning, restoring violins & dulcimers that were brought to him. He really enjoyed the music sessions with his family members and friends when they visited. Every Sunday evening he enjoyed listening to the Ukrainian Zambava Program, hosted by Stephen Chwok, from Camrose, Alberta .
He passed away on August 12, 2009 in Edmonton, Alberta. He was only 87 years old. As his gift to his children, he gave each of them a violin and a lasting legacy of beautiful music.
On August 1, 2010 Peter was inducted posthumously into the Canadian National Ukrainian Music Hall of Fame in Dauphin, MB. His children accepted his award on his behalf. It would have been one of the 'greatest days' of his life ......... His music will live on with us forever.