Walter Ostanek

Walter (b Ladislav John) Ostanek. Accordionist, composer, b Duparquet, near Rouyn, Que, of Yugoslavian parents, 20 Apr 1935. Raised in St Catharines, Ont, he began playing button accordion at nine and turned to piano accordion at 12.

Walter Ostanek

Walter (b Ladislav John) Ostanek. Accordionist, composer, b Duparquet, near Rouyn, Que, of Yugoslavian parents, 20 Apr 1935. Raised in St Catharines, Ont, he began playing button accordion at nine and turned to piano accordion at 12. He joined the local fiddler Abbie Andrews' Canadian Ranch Boys at 18; the group, popular until 1955 along the Niagara Peninsula, was heard on CKTB radio from St Catharines and, as a summer replacement for Don Messer, on CBC radio from Port Dalhousie. Ostanek formed his own band in 1957, specializing in the so-called 'Cleveland style' of polka music based on the traditional Slovenian style and employing a small ensemble of horn, guitar/banjo, bass, and drums. Like Edmonton's Gaby Haas, he assumed the appellation 'Canada's Polka King,' although he also has played in old time and 'down home' country styles - eg, recording with Graham Townsend.

Ostanek starred in turn on CHCH (Hamilton) TV's 'Polka Party' and, 1975-89, CKCO (Kitchener) TV's 'Polka Time'. He has had his own radio shows on the Niagara region stations CKTB, CHOW, CJFT, CJRN, CHSC-FM, and CJQR-FM. During the 1960s and early 1970s he was seen occasionally with his US counterpart Frankie Yankovic on US TV (eg, the Johnny Carson and Phil Donahue shows). Ostanek also has performed throughout his career in clubs, halls and recreation centres, for Oktoberfests, and at tourist attractions (eg, Marineland, Niagara Falls, during the late 1980s) in south-central Ontario.

Drawing on a repertoire of traditional and original polkas, as well as pop tunes adapted to a polka rhythm, Ostanek began recording in 1963, and by 1990 had recorded more than 35 LPs for Arc, Axe, Boot, Marjon, WRS, his own Soundcraft and WJO labels, and other companies. The albums By Special Request (Soundcraft PRP-249/CBS Select BUT-50162), All Aboard (It's Polka Time), (WRS WRP-10010), and Anytime Is Polka Time (WRS WRP-10012) were nominated for (US) Grammy awards as best polka recording in 1986, 1988 and 1989 respectively. Ostanek was inducted into the International Polka Hall of Fame (Chicago) in 1983 and the National Cleveland-Style Polka Hall of Fame (Euclid, Ohio) in 1988.


Further Reading

  • Pearson, Ian. "The Polka King," SatN, vol 105, May 1990