Fifteen year-old Toronto youth Leo Bachle had just been dismissed from the Canadian army for lying about his age and through a chum, had taken a job delivering lenses. During one delivery at the Percy Hermont building, Bachle came across a stack of comic books in front of an office for Bell Features. He began to thumb through several, when a middle-aged man stormed out of the office and confronted him. A heated exchange ensued, which led to the gent challenging Bachle to do a rehearsal drawing for him. By the end of the encounter, Bachle was challenged to draw a complete comic strip by the next day, which he did. The new star of DIME Comics, “Johnny Canuck” was born!

Toronto signmakers Cy and Gene Bell started up their fledgling comic book empire when a wartime trade embargo caused a hold on the sale and distribution of U.S. comic books in Canada. Later known as “The Canadian Whites”, (due to the black ink, white pulp format), dozens of all-Canadian titles were created by several publishers during the embargo, which only lasted from 1941 to 1945.

Such characters as “Iron Man”, “The Penguin”, “Freelance” and “Nelvana And The Northern Lights” emerged on the scene. But, the brightest of them all was Leo Bachle’s “Johnny Canuck.” The feature had become such an important national symbol, that when the embargo ended, the Canadian government wouldn’t allow Bachle to get his visa to work for better-paying U.S. publications, until he’d fulfilled all his contractual obligations on “Johnny”.

America opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the enterprising Bachle. He worked for New York comic book publisher Marvel Comics, meandering into stand-up comedy and acting. He changed his name to Les Barker and created one novel nightclub act called “Quick On The Draw”, where he entertained audiences with a stand-up comedy routine and drawing with an overhead projector.  As a performer, he routinely travelled across the country and on cruise ships. For some events, Barker was touted as “creator of the Bugs Bunny comic strip.” While he may have published a comic strip with a character named Bugs Bunny, the intimation that he created Bugs was misleading enough to disappoint more than a few he entertained with his comedy/drawing act in venues ranging from nightclubs to shopping malls.

Developing into something of a celebrity, Barker performed with stars like Marlene Dietrich, Eartha Kitt, Tony Orlando and Loretta Lynn. “Les Barker amazes everybody, including yours truly,” said Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney in a showbiz blurb. “One of the best entertainers I’ve ever seen and had the pleasure of working with.” About this time, he met and married singer Lucy Loring. Their union lasted 49 years and was blessed with two children, Suzanne and Danny.

In 1995, Canada Post commemorated “Johnny Canuck” in its superhero stamp issue and the honour, in Barker’s own words, “thrilled me to death.” By 2003, Barker’s 40-year battle with diabetes landed him in Scarborough Grace Hospital, coincidentally at the same time as the historic SARS outbreak. Without family visiting privileges at the hospital for over two weeks, it was here where the 79 year-old Barker died in May of 2003. No one knew that when this chapter of “Johnny Canuck” ended, yet another was to begin.

Whatever the circumstances, the charming, attractive Barker seemed to enjoy his fair share of love trysts with women during his many travels. About the time of his death, at least 12 children ranging in age from 44 to 66 and raised by 8 different mothers, came forth claiming to be Barker’s offspring. It was suspected there were others, so a website was created for these siblings to connect. For them, the home page of “The Kids Of Johnny Canuck”  declared “…it is expected there are many more children.”

“The Kids Of Johnny Canuck” site contained pictures and biographical data on Bachle/Barker and site contact info. As is typical of Canadian celebrities, It is unlikely Barker died a rich man and there don’t appear to be any estate issues to be settled.  The site was mainly a vehicle for the established Barker children to connect and/or reconnect.

Maybe near his bedpost notches, Barker had also notched up a few feature film appearances. He played a bartender in the 1973 “Class of “44” (sequel to “Summer of ’42”) and a nightclub comic (big surprise) in the 1974 Canadian-made flick, “125 Rooms Of Comfort”, with Jackie Burroughs, Sean Sullivan and Bob Warner. In “125 Rooms”, he displays a sure-fire pick-up technique, plus the onstage form he doubtlessly perfected in his act.

He also appeared as Jack, the Gulf Oil gas attendant in TV commercials with legendary Canadian comedians, Wayne & Shuster, circa early 1970s.

In the words of Johnny Canuck, “…Germans (in other words, all opponents) had better start making stronger rope if they want to hold Canadians captive…”

The website presence the group once had has been dismantled, but the following email address may still put you in contact with them: kidsofjohnnycanuck@hotmail.com

Added by Canada Post for their 1995 superhero stamp issue

Les Barker’s (Leo Bachle’s) Obituary (Toronto Star)