Friendliest Rattlesnakes Ever! @IAMETFOHalton #ETFO

James Shea & Jake Payne When I conceived the Six String Nation project it was intended to start a conversation about Canadian identity that was diverse and inclusive and went beyond the clichés without simply dismissing them. The pieces that went into Voyageur's creation told hundreds - if not thousands - of stories. But in the first flush of media attention that surrounded the project on its debut in 2006, the breakfast shows and news hits didn't have time for thousands or hundreds or even tens of stories. They all wanted to focus on the two or three most famous bits - the ones that most supported the clichéd understanding of Canadian identity. Ever since, I've been looking for a way to tell the story of Voyageur in a more fulsome way, to start more conversations, to inspire more inquiries into the dynamic and evolving nature of "Canadian-ness". And while I have had success connecting to festival and community and corporate audiences, naturally the places hungriest for exactly this kind of conversation are schools. And if I hope to inspire students with this project, I need to inspire teachers first. And I've been especially fortunate to have built a relationship with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario over the course of a few events. Back in the fall, I gave my presentation at an ETFO event in Mississauga and two attendees of that meeting - Dave Buddell and Rob Smolenaars - invited me to come and present to the annual meeting of ETFO's Halton Region membership last night.

Taking the Bronte Rd. exit off the 403, one is struck by the number of directions to golfing facilities. The famed Glen Abbey is not far from there, Deerfield, several driving ranges, Oakville, Angel's View and three courses at Rattlesnake Point, where ETFO's meeting was taking place in the main clubhouse. It was a small group and they had important union business to attend to while Six String Nation photographer Doug Nicholson and I set up in an anteroom to do portraits following the presentation. Spot on 6 o'clock they wrapped up their voting and the presentation began.

As always, I ask event hosts to recruit one or more players to bring Voyageur to life near the end of the presentation. Dave and Rob found two players, Jake Payne (pictured, right) and Jamie Shea (pictured, left). Often, the folks who occupy this role feel compelled to cover some chestnut from the Canuck canon, which is fine - though I prefer to hear a wider range of expression. The best scenario from my perspective is when players play their own music - kind of staking their own claim on the musical map of the Six String Nation. And I was thrilled that both of these players did that in spectacular fashion last night: Jake with an instrumental written on guitar for his then girlfriend (now wife) eighteen years ago in spite of guitar not being his main instrument; and James with a song he wrote called "Home", inspired by the story of Johnny Oovaut and his son Alec, who suffered hypothermia and near death following two days on the ice after their snowmobiles broke down outside of Quaqtaq, Nunavik, QC, in November of 2013. It turns out James had played Voyageur once before: at an impromptu campfire singalong at the farm of our mutual friend Kathy Hill's father following the Summerfolk Festival in Owen Sound back in 2006!

Thanks again to ETFO Halton for inviting us to be part of their annual meeting, to Jake and Jamie for making such great music and to all the teachers who attended and came to get their portraits done after the presentation. Thanks also to Greg for handling tech in the room. And special thanks to Meaghan MacLeod for assisting at the portrait station and Mark Stupple for all his work both at the portrait station and in getting us all set up properly and on time.

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Analyzing the Nation in Cambridge

Teacher Judith Bean and students at Ryerson P.S., Cambridge Doing as many school presentations as I do, I frequently meet teachers who have moved around a bit - sometimes across the country, sometimes just within their own school board, especially as new schools open up in growing communities. But even when they love their new school they leave a little bit of their heart behind with their old ones. That was the case for Kim Gill, the teacher at Groh Public School who initiated Friday's visit to the Waterloo region. And as soon as she got serious about bringing Six String Nation to Groh she knew it was an experience she'd want the students at her previous school, Ryerson P.S. in Cambridge, to have as well. Fortunately, her old colleague there, teacher Judith Bean (pictured here with students from multiple grades and classes), was already a 6SN fan so no arm-twisting was required. Judith even brought her own personal copy of the Six String Nation book for signing and Kim produced a video message for her former students that I slotted into the slide deck at the top of the show.

I'm accustomed to delivering the presentation mostly to middle and high school students or to the older grades at primary schools so I'm always a little nervous that the younger kids will be bored or confused by what is, frankly, a kind of long and kind of complicated presentation. But the students at Ryerson were once again proof that the storytelling aspect of the show - along with the strong images on the screen - is what reaches kids (and adults) of all ages. There's something exciting about being the person who might set them off on a path of knowledge about Haida Gwaii or Rocket Richard and it's always rewarding to see the hands go up with questions or in response to my own questions about whether they've been to Niagara Falls or know who invented basketball or what it is that makes a tree green (it's one of the first big words learned by little kids!).

Teacher Chris Gibson ably filled the performance pocket with Bryan Adams' "Summer of 69" and lead sing-alongs of Stompin' Tom's "Hockey Song" and "This Land is Your Land".

Thanks to Judith and all the staff and students at Ryerson P.S. for being such terrific hosts.
Go Raptors!

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Groh for Gord

Tiana and Sarah with Voyageur In some ways, Friday morning's visit to Groh Public School was a long time coming. After all, I'd met teacher Kim Gill back in 2012 at the UnPlugd teachers retreat in Algonquin Park. But, looked at another way, this presentation - as well as an afternoon visit to Kim's former school, Ryerson P.S. - came together quite quickly after some material from Gord Downie's Man Machine Poem tour wardrobe that Kim had donated to the project became part of Voyageur's guitar strap several weeks ago.

Typically, the presentation I do for schools is aimed at students from about grade 5 up through high school - partly because it's a long presentation and I don't have to change my normal way of speaking within that age range and partly because right near the top of the presentation I mention the impact that knowledge of the residential school system and its terrible legacy had on the formation of the project and it used to be that grade 5 was about the age kids started to learn about that. I'm pleased to say that the issue of residential schools is now being taught earlier and earlier across the country. At Groh, they were starting in grade two and there were kids from that age group in attendance. At the end of the presentation I also went and did a little show and tell with the kindergarten kids so it was pretty much full-school coverage!

The "performance pocket" was handled adeptly by student Tiana Gooray (pictured, left) but Kim and music teacher Sarah McLeod (pictured, right) wanted to do something extra special for this day in keeping both with the Gord Downie connection through Kim and the focus on indigenous issues. So, I prepared two special visual sequences: the first to accompany Kim's class singing Downie's "The Stranger" from Secret Path with Sarah on Voyageur; the second to accompany the Groh school choir - again with Sarah on guitar - singing the Hip's "Ahead By a Century". You can link to the audio below but I'm warning you right now that it's an emotional experience. I know that from both the rehearsal and the performance where they had me in tears!

Thanks to all the staff and students at Groh P.S. for a terrific morning and a great musical experience. GrohPS "Ahead by a Century"

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Amplifying with Shane Belcourt and Cheryl L’Hirondelle #APTN

Shane Belcourt at the DTS Studio No offence to Shane Belcourt, pictured here in session at David Travers-Smith's studio but I am regretting the photo I did not take on this day. The amazing women who were in the room together at that moment were having a bit of a reunion and I didn't want to interrupt. Here's what happened:

Shane is one of the principals of The Breath Films - makers of all kinds of great content including several Indigenous-peoples-related Heritage Minutes. He and producer Michelle St. John are just getting started on production of a beautifully conceived series for APTN called "Amplify", in which a variety of Indigenous artists write a new piece of music inspired by another artist's work. So for the second day in a row I was at David's studio as they shot the recording of Cheryl L'Hirondelle's new song inspired by Robin Wall Kimmerer's book, "Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants" - part of what will become the first episode of the series.

I've known both Cheryl and Michelle for many years through a variety of projects and encounters. We have a great series of portraits of Cheryl taken at the Edge of the World Festival on Haida Gwaii back in 2008. David and Shane asked if maybe I would like to bring Voyageur by and see if we might be able to make use of it as part of the session. When I arrived, Cheryl was recording vocal tracks so I just hung out and met the crew. I was giving Shane a tour of the guitar and he was playing as we talked and man could he play! Director, writer, cinematographer, guitarist - quadruple threat! So he got some ideas for some guitar tracks for the song and we went into the studio - first to shoot a little DVD-extras segment introducing Voyageur and then for Shane to lay down some guitar. While all that was going on, Michelle and Cheryl had invited some old friends to come and add some vocals to the track and they were starting to arrive: the formidably elegant Monique Mojica, who had played Grandma Builds-the-Fire in Chris Eyre's 1998 film "Smoke Signals" (Michelle had played the role of Velma - hard to believe that was all twenty years ago!) and the tremendously accomplished and stylish jazz singer and Native Earth Performing Arts dramaturge Rose Stella. By the time Shane was done recording with Voyageur and I had stepped out to do a FaceTime meeting about an upcoming event, these folks were getting caught up as they got ready to start shooting their singing scenes. I thought maybe I should ask if I could get a shot of everyone with Voyageur but I didn't want to intrude on everyone's process. I regret that as I'm pretty sure that would have been an historic photo.

Thanks to David for being his usual calm self in the midst of a hectic shoot and recording session and to the Breath crew: Adam, Tony and Sean. This was just the first shooting day of the first episode that's going to take them around the country for the next little while but I hope we'll get a chance to reconvene with Shane and do a "Places of Note" podcast with him when he's got some breathing room. In the meantime, I'll look forward to seeing the series on APTN when it airs next year.

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David Leask and the Cameron Connections

David Leask with Justin Abedin at the Cameron House In many ways, the Cameron House on Queen West in Toronto is a nondescript kind of building. Or it would be were it not for the murals and marquees, sculptures and signs that have adorned the outside of the building and the people, events, art forms and stories that have defined and redefined the inside over many decades as a cultural hub. It's hard to overestimate the impact that this humble little place has had on me personally, on the shape of the Six String Nation and on the culture of the city I love.

So it's always a pleasure to be at the Cameron - whether Voyageur is with me or not. But yesterday was very special because my friend David Leask - who'd been doing a Monday evening residency there for the month of March to mark the release of his latest EP, "Six in 6/8", with guitarist and producer Justin Abedin at his side - asked if I might bring Voyageur down to be part of his last night in the series. As you may have read here previously, David had been inspired to write some songs based on stories built into the guitar. I offered to let him take Voyageur home for a bit to do his writing and it proved to be an incredibly productive period - with a few songs completed and a couple of others well germinated by the time I needed it back. We've had a few occasions now, at Six String Nation presentation events, for David to play the main three completed songs in the "performance pocket" part of the show. This was a chance for him to use the Voyageur in the context of his own show and to hear those songs - "The Legend of Joe Labobe", "Spirit Wrestlers" and "Against the Grain" - with the accompaniment of Justin's gorgeous electric colourations.

As usual, the Cameron functioned as a place for multiple threads to come together seamlessly. Apart from David's own history with Voyageur, Justin Abedin had played it in concert a few years ago with Justin Hynes at a gala benefit for Mike & Brenda Neuts' MCBN Foundation. And there in the audience were Henry Lees and Dale Jones who had seen David's first major performance of the three Voyageur songs at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts (and provided the photos thereof for this blog!); Marni Thornton, who had hosted the Six String Nation presentation for her music industry class at Durham College; Bob Reid, who - with Blair Packham - has had me on his show on CFRB more than once to talk about the project; Stephanie Marshall, a friend who last played Voyageur on the recently defunct Graffiti's in Kensington Market a couple of blocks away; and Norine Graham-Robinson, who came up to introduce herself after having seen David play at a house concert where the mention of Six String Nation prompted the discovery of a connection between her and two other guests through my mother!

Thanks to David and his wife Mary-Ellen for inviting us to be part of the evening and thanks to Nigel for the usual Cameron hospitality.

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Places of Note with Justin Lacroix

Justin Lacroix with David Travers-Smith and Cello Just over a week after the debut of Voyageur on Canada Day 2006, we were in Manitoba for the Winnipeg Folk Festival, where we met Justin Lacroix for the first time in our portrait booth. Since we were going to have a few extra days in Winnipeg, Philippe Mailhot, then director of the St. Boniface Museum - material from which makes up the most real estate of Voyageur as the back, sides, binding, and parts of the neck and rosette - pulled together several local performers for a concert in the chapel at the Museum. That was our second encounter with Justin.

Twelve years on and we finally managed to get together with Justin again - that's him, pictured at left with producer David Travers-Smith and studio dog Cello - to record the second episode of our upcoming podcast, Places of Note. Justin came to Toronto with William Prince (stay tuned for more about William in the near future) as part of a Paris-Paris tour. He opened for William in Paris Ontario and - after a show at the Burdock and a few days kicking around Toronto - he's headed for France where, in many ways, his musical identity was forged. It's also a place where his manager, Nathalie Kleinschmit (who also manages William) has decades of experience so it's promising to be a fruitful journey.

It's always fascinating to put Voyageur into the hands of a musician who has played it in the past. No matter how brief or distant an encounter between player and instrument, there remains a kind of sense memory. So even after twelve years, Justin was able to reflect on the way the sound and feel of the guitar had changed over the years as well as his own development as a player and songwriter. You'll be able to hear the results of their musical reunion soon.

Places of Note is in the early stages of production. We're hoping to have about ten in the can before we start releasing them as a bi-weekly podcast. We'll give you a heads up when the series is set to launch. In the meantime, thanks to Justin, Nathalie, David and the too-lovable Cello, on loan from a travelling neighbour. Thanks also to William Prince for an extraordinary show at the Drake Underground last Friday night. Save travels to Nunavut!

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In the Footsteps of #gorddownie @masseyhall with @thistletownTDSB

Donne Roberts with Voyageur at Massey Hall If you didn't read the last blog - the one about the most recent addition of materials to Voyageur's guitar strap - you'll want to go back and read that, just so you get the full impact of how significant this day was. Not that it wasn't significant enough on its own. It's not every day one gets to perform on the stage of one of the world's great concert halls, Massey Hall - the Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street. First opened in 1894, Massey Hall was declared a National Historic Site on June 15th, 1981, my 19th birthday! It has played host to truly legendary events - from speeches by Sir Winston Churchill and the Dalai Lama, to community events and national ceremonies, to the wedding of Six Nations Olympian Tom Longboat, to concert recordings by Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie (Jazz at Massey Hall, 1953), Neil Young (Live at Massey Hall, 1971), Rush (All the World's A Stage, 1976) and Russell Peters (his Netflix comedy special Almost Famous, 2016). You may also have recognized it as the exterior of the "Rialto" theatre in this year's Academy Award Best Picture, Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" (the Elgin, just down the street, played the role of the interiors).

Many of those facts you might know from delving into the story of Six String Nation, since a seat from the upper gallery section is part of the project as Voyageur's headstock. I wanted to include Massey Hall in the project because I have always felt close to this building and inspired by it and I know it's a feeling shared with audiences and artists both here at home and from around the world. My last time on stage at Massey Hall was to emcee a concert by the Afro-Cuban All Stars - an offshoot of the Buena Vista Social Club then touring the world with stops everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the Concertgebouw. As I was interviewing bandleader Juan de Marcos Gonzalez before the show, he said: "I can't believe I get to play Massey Hall" with true wonder and reverence in his voice. It's a sentiment echoed by so many artists as they stand on that stage and when they say those words you can feel a wave of warmth coming back to them from an audience that knows exactly what they mean.

And, of course, it's a stage where Gord Downie stood for 9 performances with the Tragically Hip and at least 2 famous guest appearances with other artists during his lifetime - which made it the perfect place to reveal for the first time the additions in his honour made to the strap. The occasion that allowed us to do that this past Wednesday was part of Massey Hall's educational outreach program. Students from Thistletown Collegiate's Specialist High Skills Major track would be spending the day doing a series of variety of activities around the building and program head Vanessa Smith thought the Six String Nation presentation would be a great way to welcome them to the venue. Having not confirmed whether there were any players from among the attending students to handle the "performance pocket" part of the presentation, I made a last minute call to one of Six String Nation's oldest friends, African Guitar Summit alumni Donné Roberts, who re-arranged his day to come in and grace us with a solo version of his hit, "Malembo".

Apart from being glad to make our Gord Downie announcement in such an incredibly special place, I'm extra grateful that we were able to do this at this time. On June 29th and June 30th, the legendary Gordon Lightfoot will play yet another pair of concerts (he usually does a run of shows there every year) before the Hall closes for two years as part of the massive revitalization project currently underway - which includes the building of a condo tower behind the Hall, restoration of the ceiling and stained glass, revamping of the seating, exits and exterior, expansion of the dressing rooms and the addition of two new stages as part of the complex. It's going to be spectacular when it's all done. And I'm putting the Hall on notice: next time I come I want to use the full screen with a veritable gala of musicians involved!

Thanks to Jesse Kumagai, Mima Agozzino, Vanessa Smith and her outreach colleagues, the Massey Hall security and front of house team and Alex Naylor and the whole IATSE Local 58 tech crew who made it all look and sound so good. Thanks also to the Thistletown students - especially @Spyridoula9311 for her enthusiasm, special guests Kim Gill and Mike and Brenda Neuts and, of course, Donné for pinch hitting.

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In Gord We Trust, Head to Toe

<strong>Jowi</strong> and <em>Voyageur</em> with milliner <strong>Karyn Ruiz</strong> and cobbler <strong>Jeff Churchill</strong> Probably since the first time Voyageur appeared in public, people have been suggesting materials to add to it. Of course, there is no adding to Voyageur itself - it's a finished work of art. But there are small amounts of real estate in the case and on the strap where we can add very small, very special bits of the big wide Canadian story - the question is: given that finite amount of space, what do we decide to accept or pursue?

I cannot tell you the number of people who suggest: "You should get something from Gordon Lightfoot...You should get something from Joni Mitchell...You should get something from Neil Young... You should get something from Rush....etc. etc. etc. I've got a few issues with these ideas:
1. As a guitar, Voyageur ends up representing all of those artists over and over again already by the sheer number of people who choose to play music by those artists when presented with the opportunity to play Voyageur;
2. The whole point of the project is to expand the palette of colours we use to paint the picture of Canada. Those artists are already well recognized so I'd want to make sure lesser known artists were also included. And there would be no satisfying me or anybody else if everyone's favourite artists weren't included - by which time it would be a whole other project that became simply a tribute to musicians and not a vessel for storytelling;
3. The very best way - the richest, most robust, most meaningful way - that musicians become part of the fabric of the project is by playing it themselves or by having others play their music on Voyageur. That's why it's a guitar - so that it can really live and communicate in that way and that's the area where Canada's music artists excel, in that art that is a whole other kind of storytelling that combines with the stories of the guitar so that something truly unique and remarkable is borne of that collaboration.
4. I deliberately chose to represent musicians in the project more by including the places where they have played - materials still humming with the vibrations of a million and one performances: the pieces of Massey Hall in Toronto, the Theatre Capitole in Quebec City and J.R.'s bar in Charlottetown. Each of these places is of significance on its own and together they stand for the venues across the country where musicians have honed their craft and found their audiences.

Having said all that, I decided last year that there is one Canadian musician for whom I would make an exception to this no-musicians-represented-in-Voyageur's-components rule: Gord Downie. And that's not because I believe the Tragically Hip's music towers above all other Canadian music but because of what Gord Downie galvanized in so many Canadians and in the way he chose to live that last year of his life - with such courage, such love, such purpose, such generosity, such commitment, such creativity and such ferocious hope that Canadians would walk the difficult but ultimately rewarding path toward Reconciliation with Canada's indigenous people - a hope that is baked into the idea of the Six String Nation as well.

So it was fortuitous that Kim Gill a teacher whom I'd met years ago at an educator's retreat in Algonquin Park - approached me at an Elementary Teachers' Federation event in Waterloo Region back in November with an extraordinary offer. Kim had purchased a fundraising souvenir for the "Courage For Gord" initiative for brain cancer research at Sunnybrook consisting of seven guitar-shaped key fobs adorned with small swatches of fabric taken from each of seven different coloured metallic leather suits designed by Izzy Camilleri and worn by Gord Downie during the Hip's farewell "Man Machine Poem" cross-Canada tour in 2016. (Smaller fragments of those swatches are the scattered colours you see on the face of the felt-and-feather figure on the left of the photo above). Kim had run the idea past Mike and Patrick Downie to see if they thought a donation to Six String Nation would be suitable and they gave their blessing.

Of course, getting the fabric is one thing but where do we put it on the case or strap and what form does it take and who do we get to do that work? For me, there was only one answer: Karyn Ruiz (pictured, left). Karyn has been a friend for nearly 20 years. She is a tremendously talented artist in the field of millinery - hat-making. Her creations have appeared in the pages of Vogue and Vanity Fair and on the heads of clients famous and not-so-famous all over the world. She also made Gord Downie's signature hats for that final tour. When I called to ask if she would consider handling the task of making something beautiful with Kim's donation, in true Canadian fashion she told me that she had wanted to offer me something from Gord's hats for Six String Nation but didn't want to appear self-important. So not only did she agree to take the job, she also offered to incorporate some felt and feathers (also seen in the assembly at the left of the photo) from the Gord materials left in the workshop. The only catch, she warned, was that her equipment did not include the kind of machine that would be capable of affixing whatever she made onto the thick Levy Leather guitar strap. However, she knew just the person to handle that part of things - another friend I'd met at a Tragically Hip-themed party at Karyn's last year named Jeff Churchill (pictured, right). Jeff is a world-renowned cobbler whose shoes you likely saw in Guillermo del Toro's "The Shape of Water" and will soon see on the feet of Dame Judi Dench in an upcoming film. He also happened to make Gord Downie's shoes for that final Hip tour and offered to incorporate some test cuts of heel and sole leather - the former stamped with the Tragically Hip logo and the latter emblazoned with the lyrics to the Hip's "Ahead by a Century". We all met just a few weeks ago to look at what might work where and talked through some options. I took some pictures of the raw materials - including the fragments taken from Kim's keychain souvenirs - and then left the strap in their capable hands.

This past Sunday we gathered together at Karyn's place to watch the Academy Awards and there Jeff handed me the finished product. I was overwhelmed with how perfectly it all turned out. Karyn's evocatively human assembly was affixed on the front of the strap above the piece from the Vancouver Asahi baseball jersey and the shoe leathers were affixed at the back - almost seeming to step out of the late singer-songwriter Taylor Mitchell's cowboy boot toward the late Myle's Neuts' wool cap (toe-to-head, as it were). We revealed the results yesterday for the very first time in a spectacular setting and that will be the subject of the next blog entry.

Thanks again to Kim Gill, Izzy Camilleri, Karyn Ruiz and Jeff Churchill. Thanks also to Sarah Gillett and Fernando Ruiz. And, of course, thanks to Gord Downie for the inspiration you sparked in all of us in so many different ways.

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Refueling Memories with @4Refuel

Paul Henderson meets Voyageur
On September 28th, 1972, I - along with the rest of my grade 5 classmates at Ranchdale P.S. - was pulled out of class and summoned to the library area where the biggest TV they had was set up for us all to watch game 8 - the tie-breaking finale of the Canada-Russia Summit Series that had the whole country on edge.

The tension continued to build with goals answering goals and tempers flaring among players and officials and supporters. With the game tied at 5-5 as the clock ticked down the third period, it looked like the Soviets would win the series on goal differential counted from the start of the series. But with 34 seconds remaining in the game, Paul Henderson got two stabs at a rebound off of Vladimir Tretiak from a shot by Phil Esposito. The second one made it into the net and thousands of miles away from the Luzhniki Palace of Sports in Moscow, most of an entire country went berserk. That moment was fused in my brain as it fused in the minds of a generation - captured in an iconic photo by Frank Lennon that was on the front page of every newspaper the following morning and has since been immortalized in a postage stamp and a million and one other manifestations and tributes.

Naturally, I wanted to include something of that moment that was both personal and national into the Six String Nation project. My efforts to get something from the Hockey Hall of Fame weren't yielding the results I needed but fate intervened at a 2005 birthday party for rock-it promotions founder Deb Goldblatt. I didn't know Deb well, myself, but she'd been working with my friend Andy Stochansky and I found myself at a table at The Drake Hotel seated next to Deb's father, Marv Goldblatt. Marv and I got to talking and I discovered that he was a retired hockey agent and accountant so I told him what I was trying to accomplish. He said: "Well, I know Paul Henderson - I'll give him a call for you". It was a lovely thing to offer but I don't suppose I imagined it would actually pan out.

So imagine my surprise when - a few days later - my phone rang one morning around 8:30 and the voice on the other end said, "Hi Jowi - it's Paul Henderson calling. I just cut off the top of my stick from '72. What do you want me to do with it?" With a mixture of shock and gratitude, I asked him to send it to me and I sent it along to George to include in the construction. Now, it's important to note that it's not the stick that scored "The Goal" but it was used in that game. Part of that stick fragment now forms part of the stem of the maple leaf motif on Voyageur's pick guard.

While I did thank Mr. Henderson at the time, I never had the chance to do so in person - until last night. Paul was a guest of his friend Larry Rodo, CEO of 4Refuel at their annual national company awards gala. Last year, Paul had been the guest speaker but this year that was my role and we were seated at the CEO's table and Paul watched my presentation with the rest of the audience. What a thrill it was for me to see him just a few feet away as I told the story. Afterwards, he let me know that he saw Marv just last week and I asked him to convey my thanks and regards.

The other point it was nice to be able to make with a genuine Canadian hockey icon in the room is that a major focus of the Six String Nation project is that we need to make room for all kinds of stories from all kinds of communities and perspectives in the ongoing creation of our national story. And there is never a better way to illustrate that by having the extraordinary David Leask on hand to perform a few of the songs he's written inspired by the stories embedded in Voyageur. We were fortunate that Larry Rodo had seen David bring the guitar to life in the "performance pocket" segment of my presentation at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts last fall. Larry was especially taken with David's "The Legend of Joe Labobe" about the Mi'kmaq shucking champion from Lennox Island so he got to hear that again along with the beautiful "Spirit Wrestlers" about the Doukhobour community of Veregin SK and "Against the Grain" about the legendary Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii. Having done three of these shows now with David, I feel like we could really take it on the road!

And I should take a moment here to talk about the rest of the people in that room at the Waterside Inn in Port Credit. Larry struck me, when I met him following my presentation at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts last fall, as an extraordinarily open and curious person - not what I tend to think of as your basic hard-nosed CEO-type. He was full of questions and enthusiasm and immediately asked if I did corporate presentations. Both in the conversations we had at the dinner before the presentation and his remarks he made in advance of the awards presentation that followed, he exhibited that same quality of wonder and gratitude. As much as the gathering was about the success of the business, it was just as much about people, highlighting the values of dignity and respect and creating a supportive environment. I confess I don't know much about the world of business but certainly the books and movies and articles about that world tend to showcase the prioritization of profits above all else and the pitfalls of making ambition the single driving force of a business means that people like me get a very particular picture of the kinds of values that motivate business. Not only did this company present a very different kind of impression - lead by Larry - but it seemed to be an attitude widely shared among everyone I met there. I had some great conversations with some lovely people who seemed also be full of wonder and curiosity and whose support of each other was inspiring.

Thanks again to Paul Henderson for his warmth and humour and for that amazing thing he did in '72 (7 goals over the course of the series too!). Thanks to Larry and his whole team at 4Refuel with a special thanks to Aurelia Alcaine-Hrubecky and all those organizing the event. Thanks also to the sound crew and staff at the Waterside Inn in beautiful Port Credit!

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Thank you Montreal, Thank you Leonard Cohen

Montreal Cityscape with Cohen mural We arrived late in Montreal, which was fine because we had a late reservation at Liverpool House - one of our favourite restaurants in the city. Having said that, we arrived a few minutes early and while they were readying our table we stood near the bar with an aperitif. I immediately recognized the gentleman sitting at the bar facing me as Member of Parliament for Ville-Marie/Le Sud-Ouest/Île-des-Soeurs Marc Miller, who had popped down to see Voyageur during our photo session on Parliament Hill two days earlier. He recognized me too and I went over to greet him (and chide him for not sticking around to get his portrait done). Who was he sitting at the bar with but Minister of Defence Harjit Saajan. Now that's a great way to start an evening out! But a great meal at Liverpool House was only the beginning. On now and through until April, the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal is hosting an extraordinary multi-artist exhibition in tribute to the great Leonard Cohen entitled Une brèche en toute chose/A Crack in Everything. And it just so happened that that night the gallery was open until 2:00am with bars, DJs and a whole scene happening - how could we not go? Besides which, a little known story about the Six String Nation project is that shortly after the CBC Television deal collapsed in early 2006, I started talks with an independent Calgary-based production company who was interested in developing something we could sell back to the CBC. I had imagined it as a series of performances with Voyageur set in locations from which the guitar had been built. For Montreal, I had proposed that we get Leonard Cohen on a stool in the tiny retail area of the Fairmount Bagel Bakery in his old neighbourhood doing a song while other famous Montreal artists pretended to bake bagels in the background. Remember this was just before the huge resurgence of interest in Cohen. The company approached Cohen's people with the idea and apparently he was interested! Unfortunately, CBC was not at the time and the whole idea fell through. It's one of my greatest regrets of the project. In any event, seeing the work of these global contemporary artists in such a magical and intensive setting - from the epically immersive multi-screen performance installation of George Fok to an intimate recreation of the great poet's garret - was more than mere consolation - much of it was truly a revelation. Perhaps not surprisingly, my favourite room was the poetry-organ piece by the genius sound sculpturists Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller. The following morning we headed for pastries at our favourite spot, Kouign-Amann, and decided to take the eponymous sweet, dense, flaky, buttery treats up to Mount Royal and found ourselves at the gates of the famed cemetery. Nestled on the side of the hill just before the north gates are two adjacent Jewish cemeteries, including the Shaar Hashomayim where we knew Leonard was buried and decided to make a little pilgrimage. It took us a while to find - especially among many other Cohen family plots - but we eventually found it not far from the small iron gate we'd come in and close to the road, topped with many small stones and messages of thanks and various tokens left by admirers. From there we continued up the mountain to the observatory. Gazing out over the city you notice this huge mural of Leonard painted onto the side of a building on Avenue de Montagne. See if you can find it in the photo above. We drove up from the condo on our way out of town the following morning to get a closer look and it really is magnificent - such a monumental and yet serene and beneficent tribute to a favourite son of the city. We had dropped off a bunch of stuff at Kate's brother's house in Cornwall on our way to Montreal in order not to provide further temptation for the city's notoriously fast-working car break-in artists and headed there to retrieve it (following a quick stop at the Glengarry fromagerie!) - listening to a huge Apple Music playlist on shuffle in the car as we went. Off the highway, down one arterial road to a smaller one and then the secondary road toward the neighbourhood. As we turned onto the residential street, what should come on the stereo but Madeleine Peyroux's rendition of "Dance Me to the End of Love". Our Montreal adventure was over and Leonard had accompanied us virtually the entire way. Thanks to Matt and Erin and the family, Jen and Jim and Mrs. Li.

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